Practical Theory Mental Scaffolding and Neural Architecture, a basic primer on some of the structures we can build to support our ideas.
Now before I start talking about the really advanced forces that can affect the creative process that I've learned about over the years like conceptual apraxia and the different methods that we can use to traverse the various domains of consciousness such as, oh, trance induction, guided meditation, self-induced hypnosis, mind altering substances, there was a lot of research about the effects of LSD on artists done back in the seventies that's worth checking out if you're interested in that sort of thing as it certainly helps to explain why music underwent such a radical paradigm shift during the pharmaceutical revolution, and the one that I prefer to use while writing, reconstructive memory. Which in an overly complicated nutshell is the most stable and logical method we can rely on as it doesn't require us to relinquish some measure of our autonomy while in the open state and instead allows us to remain objective observers rather then passive witnesses to the events that are shaping our creative endeavors. So if anyone ever tells you to just let go while being creative and feel the flow, kindly tell them to shove it where the sun doesn't shine as that kind of nonsense is what gets people into trouble in the first place. Its one thing to go off and explore other worlds folks, its another thing entirely to forget how to find your way back. But I've digressed quite a bit, so let's instead talk about some of the things that I do (or don't do) whenever I want to structure an idea while still exploring its possibilities. Now assuming we're still working in the conceptual phase, which is when all of our ideas have a vaguely nebulous and ill defined shape, in which case they can still absorb or collect thoughts, feelings, impressions, attitudes, beliefs, etcetara, etcetara, as once an idea passes the conceptual threshold however it then begins to take on those properties which will serve to define its material form while separating itself from those which will not, before that point it exists in a way that's very similar to the biomorphic field that suggests the shape a plant will one day take which is why morphic field theory and morphic resonance in parapsychology are such interesting fields to study but that's getting ahead of myself, the different way we structure ideas is important to understand not only because its what allows us to pick them up and put them down again, but also what allows them to stand up to scrutiny as once we pass them along to others without a recognizable structure to follow, the question of well how does this part work can cause the whole thing to crumble. And while ideas tend to fall apart all the time, it can often be very discouraging when first starting out to be unable to live up to the expectations of those around you as being able to articulate an idea is almost as important as being able to execute an idea. At least that's been my experience, and since a lot of people tend to get intimidated when I talk the reverse also holds true as being able to do prove you can do a thing matters more when it comes to actually publishing and producing a body of work as in terms of business, talk is cheap, actions are what matters. But resolving that particular dichotomy involves understanding the relationship between the audience and the performance and that's not what I'm here to talk about today. So, because intangible efforts cannot be seen by others, what are the kinds of tangible results we can learn to recognize that will allow us to affirm in our own minds that yes we are making progress.
Well, first there are the kinds that I don't like as they often involve large investments of time and effort that you can't actually get back and tend to achieve very little in the way of writing or drawing. They're also a fantastic way to waste time as they usually allow us to procrastinate while at the say time giving us the illusion of productivity. And if you've already guessed idea webs and brainstorming then congratulations, you get to skip this next part. Now if idea webs and brainstorming are your cup of tea, first the associative nature of ideas informs us that the words we use to describe something not only serve to anchor our intentions, but also contextualize the information involved in ways we might otherwise not expect. Which is one of the more truly obnoxious things about english as a language as translations are often more dependent on the position of the listener then the position of the speaker which means that any argument I make must also contain either emotional clauses and conditions or rational and logical clauses and suppositions in order to support the rhetoric involved otherwise they can simply be dismissed on the basis of relying on fallacious, specious, or circular reasoning. Don't even get me started on all of the different dialects of english that are currently in use and how regional variations tend to arise or I'll be here all day. Now to give you an example of what I'm talking about the compound word idea web contains the premise idea, and the modifier web, but a web is sticky, and I don't know about you, but I want my ideas to flow as smoothly as possible across the page so that the reader doesn't have to fight to figure out what the hell it is I'm actually talking about. Which is one of the reasons why I prefer to use terms and words that invoke specific instances rather then generalities such as comprehensive overview rather then idea web because not only does it contain the definition but the direction and purpose are all in alignment with the intended goal. For instance if I were to sit down to create an idea web that's all I would to end up with, an idea web. Which means I have to take not only the additional step of converting that idea web into a completely different set of representational images but I've already gone off and expended a great deal of my creative energies as well. Now if I have a comprehensive overview of the structure of the ideas I wish to work with, I don't have to try and translate between the two concepts in my mind at all and figure out where they hell in my conscious domain they might of happened to wander off to and what kind of trouble they might have gotten into. And if that sounds very structured and logical well, it's how I've trained myself to think as the only thing that can overcome instinct is training, and since I grew up watching Sesame Street as a kid I've had a lot of time train myself to think using the words, one of these things is not like the other, one of these things doesn't belong, which is not only a great way to learn how to think objectively, but the fact I can still remember that song twenty years on is a testament to the power of specially encoded information and the enduring creative brilliance that can be found in Jim Henson's work. Now as for the problems that arise when we talk about brainstorming, well I don't know about you but I suffered from juvenile epilepsy as a kid and the idea of a storm going on inside my brain isn't exactly a thought that engenders positive feelings and emotions, so just as the question how do I break into the industry carries connotations of destructive or violent force, any word or phrase that doesn't establish positive or healthy connections to ideas that are sustainable and easy to work with are typically only being employed to either generate excitement or deflect people's attention away from the underlying issues that are involved of which the speaker in question has difficulty either discussing or elaborating upon. And if I just ruined idea webs and brainstorming for you forever then you really haven't lost anything of worth now have you?
Okay, now that that's out of the way let's talk about the some of the questions that I ask whenever I sit down to write or draw because if an idea can stand up to even a modicum of scrutiny, then it stands a much better chance of being a workable idea rather then just an interesting idea. Which is an important distinction to make when it comes to stepping out into the professional world because the attitudes and expectations that exist when we are just doing something as a hobby are very different from the ones that will surround us whenever there's money on the line. And before anyone says you should only ever be a writer or an artist if you truly love the work, ask yourself what would've happened if Juliet ever had to darn Romeo's socks, or if their passion for each other would have truly endured if they actually gave up their names and lived among the peasantry. Tis neither a hand nor a foot my ass, yes, Shakespeare is introducing a powerful idea to the audience in the form of an existential debate that couches the true meaning in simile and metaphor but it doesn't change the fact that if we follow that thought to its logical conclusion then we're forced to confront the realities of the time in which the play is written and if you didn't have a name back then technically you were somebody else's property! Oh, to be able to live on love and dine upon air, to sup the morning dew and want for naught at all. Scuse me while I go and wash my mouth out with vomit, its not that I happen to dislike Shakespeare's work, far from it, I just distrust anyone who presents his ideas as anything other then a giant middle finger waved in the face of the aristocracy and the sovereign power of the time because his work is hellishly subversive if you know what to look for and not only did he manage to slip some impressive feats of wordplay past the censors of the time but he did it while embracing both the sacred and the absurd. Few artists can manage to pull that off by the way, and its of one the true hallmarks of mastery, but I've gone way off topic again so let me just build on that example I've just given by saying that there are three things every audience looks for in a work and you only need two of the three in order to get their attention. Ideas, themes, and execution. This is part of how you win the first war by the way because in order to first become familiar with an artist's work you must also be willing to become invested in that work and without a familiar or recognizable point of entry the considerations that are going into that particular part of the decision making process will become exponentially more complex as time goes on until they reach the point where sustaining that process becomes untenable and either we divest ourselves of the associations that have already formed or become frustrated with the lack of emotional satisfaction and walk away. And as any artist can tell you, people walking away from your work is a bad thing, but people walking away in a bad mood is a career killer. So because ideas, themes and execution are the most easily recognizable aspect of any work they make up the bulk of the mental scaffolding we use as artists and writers because not only do they allow us to then define the outline of the questions we wish to ask but the objectives we wish to achieve while doing so. This is where a lot of conventions and tropes come into play so I'm going to keep it simple and stick with the genres that we typically encounter when we're just starting out as narrative voice and its attendant philosophy doesn't begin to express itself until much later on.
For themes we have:
Science Fiction. Which deals with themes that involve changes in society or ideas that explore the potential social disruption caused by advances in science and technology. If you want to know more about the origins of sci-fi and how the movement actually got started in terms of becoming a popular medium then check out the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury as they're typically considered the founders of the genre.
Fantasy. Which deals with the individuals journey and the effect that the changes they themselves experience have upon the world or their place in society. Tolkien was the one who modernized fantasy in terms of the way we know it today as before he came along it was more about the services that a leigeman paid to his king, think what we now refer to as Arthurian Fantasy, but then again a massive social disruption such as the first world war was bound to shake up the way people thought about swearing oaths to monarchs so yeah, if you've ever wanted to identify the points in time when the traditional forms of cultural expression under went major paradigm shifts, look for social disruptions. That's what I do.
Horror. Oh boy horror, existential, paranormal, spiritual, psychological, pick a flavor folks cause horror is like an evil version of Baskin Robbins and while there are so many different cultural variations on horror as a theme, the one thing they all have in common is the goal of isolating us physically, emotionally and psychologically. Now there is no way in hell I'm going to go into the best ways of achieving that as I don't need a knock on my door from one of the alphabet agencies, don't laugh, it happened to John Clancy when he wrote The Hunt for Red October, so if you want to know how horror works as a theme that I can talk about, but the psychology of fear on the other hand, you're on your own for that one.
Mystery. Hmm, I have mixed feelings about mystery as a theme, I've written a few of them, I've read a handful of them, and I've seen more then my fair share of them played out on T.V. so what I have to say about mystery is this, they're one of the most formulaic and linear themes we can work with as no matter what form they take, by which I mean paranormal, supernatural, scientific, forensic, locked room, whodunnit, youdunnit? they all borrow heavily from other genres as the stakes involved are always going to be either introspective or interpersonal. Don't get me wrong, I love a good police procedural and noir is by far one of my favorite themes to write about, its just that the hit or miss nature of mystery means that you either make the clues too obvious or too obscure as I've read mystery novels where the crime is solved but the perpetrator is never even mentioned in the book at all. Now whether that was an intentional move on the part of the author as a form of social commentary on the nature of caste systems and the untouchable members of society I'll never know, it just taught me that resolving things off screen in a mystery is one of the worst possible ways to end a story as there's an essential difference between conflict and confrontation as you can have resolution without conflict but you can't have resolution without confrontation. Life just doesn't work that way, fiction or otherwise.
Now while this is just the basic tetrad of genres that we see whenever we walk into a bookstore as fiction and non-fiction are indexed according to the Dewey decimal system and why mess with a good thing, there are subgenres and regional genres that play into cultural identities such as the Spanish picaresque novels and Japanese Light novels that deal with subjects and themes that English speaking countries typically don't, but that's because for reasons I'm not going to get into at the moment English as its written has a bunch of rules that make talking about certain concepts all but impossible, believe me I've tried and more often then not they end up sounding like hot garbage, which is part of what motivated me to learn how to draw as visual cognition works on a very different set of principles from ones involved in the literary process, theme is what allows us to establish the tone of the work without it sounding out of place. And since we have to work within people's initial expectations before we can change them, try changing them from the outside some time, history has lots of examples of how well that kind of thing goes over, we must work within the boundaries of convention before we're able to expand them. Or in other words it doesn't matter how good your ideas are or how you plan to execute them if no one knows where to put them in the first place. That's what neural architecture is for, it gives us a place to put our ideas and a way to find them whenever we may need them. So when I ask myself, what are my ideas, what are my themes, and what's my execution, what I'm determining is where those things fit within my internal database and the inferences and references that support them because if at any point in the process I come across the words I don't know, its a sure sign that I need to do more research, not throw my hands in the air in give up. Self-determination is a skill that can be mastered folks, and learning how to be creative isn't something we fail at because we lack the discipline or the will to make it happen, or because we've convinced ourselves that we don't have the natural talent or in-born ability that some people have claimed you've either got it or you don't, but because we haven't experienced the essential feeling of success enough times yet, and the best thing about success is that its cumulative. If you do it once, you do it again, and again, until finally it becomes a natural extension of you that the rest of the world can't help but recognize.
That's it for today folks, until next time. Have a good one.
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23 September 2016 at 12:53:33 MDT
Practical Theory, an artist's guide to understanding the hidden world of art, is a blog in which I'll be discussing all the weird, strange and semi-mystical things I've encountered while researching the emergent principles inherent in the transdisciplinary nature of art. So if you've ever wondered why art works the way it does, or if your just a fan of seeing if words can be weaponized in a way that can make people's head explode, check it out!