Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On the Origins of Innovation... and Art

A recent study suggests that innovation consists of five separate processes: associating, questioning, observing, networking and experimenting. Sounds reasonable enough. But what about art? Is it the same process as innovation?

Let’s do a thought experiment. We know that the mind has tremendous powers of logic, coupled with the ability to synthesize diverse concepts. Given a sequence of numbers 2… 4… 6… it predicts 8. Given the knowledge that protons and neutrons pair up to make atoms, the mind can easily extrapolate all the elements in the periodic table. Nothing artistic here.

But when the mind is afforded knowledge about evolution and genetics and the role of DNA, using all of its powers of reason and logic, it is unable to predict the existence of kangaroos. Why? Because kangaroos and giraffes are accidents of nature, produced by unpredictable mutations.

As it turns out, nature wields her artistic brush with her eyes closed.  She relies on happy accidents in order to innovate. Does the creation of art require a similar unpredictable serendipity?

Anyone who has ever worked in watercolor knows that we often rely on similar “happy accidents” for interest and texture in an under-painting, a sky or the foreground.  We flood the paper with colors letting the water and paint do its own mixing.  A “bloom” is created when a wet stroke is placed alongside a nearly dry area.  Pigments, water and watercolor paper must cooperate with the artist’s inspiration for art to happen.  Have you ever finished a piece and wondered “how did I do that”?

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