Monday, November 22, 2010

Open Sections

Structure and Creativity

Recently Jon Stewart did an interview on Fresh Air. Talking about the “Rally To Restore Sanity” he referred to the rally as a beautiful “format”, an “outline that could be filled”, as though it was a drawing. He referred to “The Daily Show” as first and foremost a structure. A structure with a composition, a set of segments that could be used for whatever was currently important. These metaphors emphasize organization as visual structure. Every area of life could be organized more artfully, which could open more areas to creativity. It wasn’t until I had the format of this blog that I could release the ideas unfolding here. They were roiling around in my head but resisted being locked into a specific book, which would have restricted their scope. Applying a point of view and personal philosophy to what seems important at the time of writing keeps it tied in to the rest of my life. A good structure releases creativity on a whole new level. The brain’s reward system loves the prefrontal cortex, the newest evolutionary level, where imagination and analysis work together, finding connections and correlations. The use of our highest powers stimulates the pleasure system, which pushes ideas and invention even further.
People are unhappy and dulled when they aren’t making use of what they can do. The life-force wants to bloom, for us to extend our capability. Stewart’s emphasis on the program’s structure points out the freedom afforded by working with a preset format. The personality and character of a TV show is created by starting with an idea translated into a format, a composition, then within each segment anything can happen.
The consistent form with specific proportions is evidence of a visual component to any structuring. Just recently someone on the radio was talking about the need for a multi-disciplinary structure to look at climate change saying “We do it in a dry journalistic format when maybe a picture would suffice.” Paolo Soleri was an ecological consciousness decades ahead of his time, designing whole communities as integrated wholes. He felt we needed to re-envision our whole strategy for civilization. “Rather than a mad prophet ranting in the wilderness, Soleri has proved to be a voice of reason.” as the Guardian wrote not that long ago, “Nobody wanted to hear his diagnosis of the ills of US society, but it has been proved right - the car-centric, inefficient, horizontal suburban model has left us in poor shape to cope with climate-change problems.” In science beauty is the guide to a good theory. Our inherent aesthetic sense could guide us to a more beautifully functioning whole. Artist Mel Chin shows us an aesthetic for healing the wounds of the planet. Using plants that are hyperaccumulators to leach heavy metals from the soil he created a living mandala to focus our attention on what is possible. It’s time to heal the disharmony in the United States by creating a well-composed format for considering all problems in relation to the dynamics of the whole. Where proportions are ugly, the solution is wrong. We’d avoid all kinds of damage if we used this basic human capacity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010



All forms of organization require an overview, a proportional distribution of forces and resources. Good organization creates a balanced structure where the various elements are mutually supportive and in harmony. The composition of the whole should be the goal throughout.
The size of the windmill at Lewes, Delaware made me rethink my attitude regarding wind for energy, particularly where the context has not been considered. It so dwarfed the little buildings around it, it was like it had been placed by a race of giants and was totally out of harmony with the historic coastal town. I have read that residents are having health problems and there are complaints about the noise.
If the effort to reduce global warming creates disharmony in the whole, it’s not a good or lasting solution. The prospect of a line of windmills off the Delaware coast worries me.
I’ve taken refuge in the healing power of that unbroken horizon for decades. It’s an antidote to the constant visual activity of daily life. We respond physically to the space around us, our bodies in constant unconscious adjustment to where we are, particularly wherever there is motion.
The way the soothing repetition of the waves extends into the stillness of the horizon stretching the whole width of the visual field is deeply healing. Before we rush headlong into to solving a problem without thinking of the less tangible but more important repercussions to our collective mental health we need to step back and think of the aesthetics of the overall picture. I was startled to hear that it’s against the law to argue against windmills or cell phone towers on aesthetic grounds as though such considerations are frivolous and irrelevant. The look of the windmill at Lewes is an image of humanity as insignificant, worker bees at the base of a monumental shrine to a megalomaniac technological consciousness. The structure of a windmill may be beautiful in itself but to put it in the wrong context can be grotesque. Competition and the priorities of material gain interfere with creating an overall harmonic structure. It doesn’t have to be that way. In France I saw a cluster of windmills in a large empty plain with no villages nearby for them to measure against and the proportions worked. The land was big around them and empty of reference. Seeing it from a high-speed train was all the more appropriate to the picture. The modern can co-exist with history. Progress doesn’t have to dehumanize. Everywhere I went in France I saw consideration of beauty and harmony of form, thoughtful proportions and plantings, even in traffic circles. If we’re going to learn the art of living, attention must be paid to our integration with our surroundings. David Bohm wrote that creativity was an act of “fitting”, looking for what works best with the existing structure.
The restorative power of the ocean coast is not just in the waves and smell of salt water, it is the continuous horizontal line, its stillness that is so restful. To break that up will not only destroy that healing power it will create a new visual wound.
Art would not have existed throughout human history if it had no deep-seated value.
Modern culture underestimates the human need for harmonic form. It heals by entrainment, infiltrating our perception with a beneficial order. Thinking in categories shields us from the requirements of the whole. But the blatant disregard of the harmonic integration of all involved systems is irresponsible. Our pilgrimage to a place of beauty is led by the wish to heal and fortify what is best in us. Whether an individual is drawn to
the coast or the mountaintop (also endangered) the human need is clear. Destroying what visual beauty is left is an assault on the soul of the species.