Growing up as a kid, I was captivated by magic tricks and wanted to know how they were done. Pulling a rabbit out of a hat, the slight of hand, the magnets, the hidden cavity. They would have you believe that they were achieving something beyond the physical laws, that they had a supernatural power. TV shows and literature thrive in unveiling the surprising simple process of even the most elaborate illusions.
Creativity is the last remaining magic trick.
Western culture goes to great lengths to idolize and mystify it. “It’s a gift”, “It’s a talent”, “They must use the right side of their brain”. Paintings and artworks are highly prized, some running into the millions of dollars. The creative process in the mind seems elusive and magic. Society seems to think that creativity is only for a select few. The fanfare and mystique of creativity, adds to the performance.
Creativity is a simple process of random noise and judgement, two very tangible logical concepts. It’s a process. Like a magician’s rabbit in a hat. This doesn’t take away from the impact of the product of creativity, but it does dispell the super human status of the skill.
Creativity doesn’t just happen once in an artwork, it happens multiple times at different levels, in small amounts, but always with the same components of random noise and judgment.
A painter may start with a blank canvas and no idea of what they will paint. They then recall memories, images and emotions which all feed as both random noise and experience for judgement. They then choose a scene, the first round of creativity has occurred.
The painter will not recall perfectly all the details of the scene, but will have to choose how the scene would be composed. In their mind they imagine the horizon, the trees, perhaps a rock, or a stream, each time picturing in their minds different locations and shapes and judging aesthetic suitability. Another round of creativity has occurred, with many more elements of creation. Once painting with a brush in their hand, a painter may think ahead of the texture of the rock, the direction of the stream, the type of tree, the angle and amount of branches, the amount of leaves, and the colours.
They may stand back and look at what they have painted and decided to change an element. In this case, their single painting is one possibility of randomization and they have judged it to be substandard. They then picture other random forms and corrections and judge the most appropriate course of action.
That whole process is the sum of smaller decisions, with good judgement and a flow of random ideas.
Small things everywhere
This is transferable to music composing. Instead of visualising, like the painter, they play different melodies in their mind. Many musicians fluke a new melody. They make a mistake on their instrument or purposefully allow themselves to play random notes. With judgement, they select appropriate phrases.
It also works for the lyrics for a song. Lyricists, have a sea of words and language moving through their mind, and often randomise. How many words go through your head when you’re trying to find a word that rhymes? With good judgement and some planning the final set of lyrics, can inspire. But there are plenty of draft pieces of paper in the bin.
The end products from creativity can be very impressive, but an artist won’t discount their work as being merely time and small things. There is one exception though. Vincent Van Gogh famously said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together”.
Design vs Performance
At this point, it’s very important to comprehend two components of art. Design and Performance. Once a painting has been designed it’s easy to reproduce – or perform. Now, the painter may have refined their design through performance, however they are left with a blueprint at the end for reproduction. Music is constructed in the same way, and is easily reproduced by many musicians. Lyrics can be recited or sung to music by a performer.
So what part of art is actually creative? Often the performance is almost a robotic function. Jazz is combines performance and design at the same time. It’s the design, the improvisation that supplies the creative credential. Design is the crucial creative element. A painter creating the correct strokes on a canvas is simply a well practiced performance.
Random is inspiration
Randomisation can be, and is most often external. Anything we can receive at a low level through our five senses and at a higher level through those senses, such as emotion. An executive is often presented with several options, and uses judgement to select the most appropriate. They are not producing a painting or song, however their process is still creativity – to society a rather boring form of creativity. Software development is considered a very logical process, however the end product is legally considered copyrighted literature. How could something so logical be attributed a magic like status? This always conflicted in my mind before, however understanding creativity as noise and judgement in design and performance cycles, helped to rationalise creativity back to the mortal domain, and consequently allow myself to understand why software design is art.
I expect any artist who reads this article, to be beside themselves – “software isn’t art!”. But it’s the same as uncovering the secret of a magicians trick. Artists are rightly protecting their trade secret, which doesn’t bother me. I like the occasional magic show.
An expanded creativity formula:
R = Randomisation
J = Judgement
C = Creativity
C = J(R) – “Creativity is a function of Judgement of Randomisation”, as described above.
A break down of the formula’s components – and further insight of my perceptions of the lower level concepts – (more for myself to map it out)
E = Experience
A = Article to be judged – Perceptions though senses and feelings
J = F(A,E,K) – Judgement is a function of Knowledge, Experience against an Article to be judged
M = Memory
SFJ = Senses and Feelings and Past Judgement
E = M(SFJ) – Experience is a class of Memory, that of senses, feelings and past judgement