The box


I’m shamelessly quoting from Penelope Trunk because I’m glad she’s there to put this in such a simple and direct light. I see students in my design classes running back and forth over the same tired ground and it’s rare to find anything fresh and new in the art department of a community college. I used to think of it as puppies walking through their own poo and calling the newspaper “art”. Her examples are much better than mine…

“It takes tremendous expertise in order to get out of the box. You have to have years thinking about the box, and watching people put things in, and then you have to have an idea that you recognize as fitting near the box but not in it. (Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Outliers, says this process takes 10,000 hours.)

Most composers, for example, learned to compose by following rules. John Cage has a composition I love, titled 4’33”, where the pianist sits down at a grand piano on stage, and for a little over four minutes, he does not move. The music is the crescendo of the audience growing restless that they have no idea what is going on.

John Cage studied music and thought about music for decades before he could recognize his ability to create music by annoying the audience with silence.

Grant Wood studied under popular teachers of his time, learning the mainstream painting techniques of his time.

Only after decades of not feeling like he had his own style did he stumble on a stylized way of painting that made him famous.

If your goal is to present fresh new ideas, or old ideas in a way that people have not heard before, then you must have as your goal, first, to learn all the rules and become an expert at following them. Your long hours of practice will enable you to find your own spirit within your field, and it’s likely to be out of the box.”

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