Contemporary Practice – Week 5: Thoughts on Ideas

Week 5 Lecture & Resources

I particularly liked the idea of “thinking through making,” as highlighted by Kristoffer and Tom from Regular Practice, that Thomas Heatherwick uses as a method that’s central to his design and idea generation process, and also a way to overcome getting stuck in a creative rut. I think there’s a lot of merit in this approach, as I’ve often found that when this happens to me, switching over to a different problem or task, especially one that’s more hands-on, can generate ideas you would never have struck upon otherwise, perhaps because you’re briefly engaging a different part of your brain and allowing for some “breathing room” in the creative process, as opposed to forcing a solution.


One of Bruno Munari’s “Useless Machines.” Image via The Culture Trip

As I happen to have a copy of Bruno Munari’s book, Design as Art, I read the chapter discussing his “Useless Machines,” originally created in the early 1930s. His abstract mobiles were one method he used to question the idea of what is and isn’t functional. In one sense, they don’t serve a functional purpose, as in the sense of how you would traditionally define a machine, but in another sense, they are a carefully constructed kinetic sculpture that could be described as abstract art, which serves an aesthetic purpose, especially when you consider their geometric nature.


On reading the extract from Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, I was really interested in the passage describing the state of flow, a term coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

People who experience flow describe it as “a state of effort­less concentration so deep that they lose their sense of time, of themselves, of their problems.”

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow.

As an individual, I have definitely experienced the state of flow, where it’s possible to completely lose myself in certain tasks or creative projects and once in that state, it really does feel quite effortless, as well as quite forgetting or not realising how much time has passed or what’s going on around me. I also discovered this 2004 Ted Talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, where he discusses how flow is the key to happiness.


Below is one of the thoughts shared on the Ideas Wall this week (by Emma Richards), which also struck a chord:


Neural Networks

Screengrab from lecture (Alfred Anwander video)

I find visualisations of neural networks, such as those seen in this week’s lecture in the (very trippy!) 3D video by Alfred Anwander, really fascinating and decided to explore further examples and related imagery as visual inspiration. Some aspects of the motion graphics reminded me of coral reefs and others of lit-up fibre optic cables. I felt this could potentially provide a starting point for some ideas of approaches I could take to my line drawing. I found some really beautiful examples of cyanotypes, shown below.

Composite image -screengrabs from lecture (Alfred Anwander video)
“Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
Cyanotype illustration. Art by Lia Halloran for The Universe in Verse 
Early Cyanotype of British Algae (c. 1846) by Botanist and Photographer Anna Atkins.
Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Cyanotype. Art by Violeta Lópiz. Image via Art Pickings

Philosophies and Thinking Models

Tao Philosophy promotes the idea that there are no rules, and having a mindset which allows you to adapt to your changing environment & shifting circumstances. In principle, the idea is to harmoniously “go with the flow,” where you let go of ego-driven ideas & reactions and instead stay humble, question your preconceived notions, gain wisdom and learn to truly know yourself.

7 Ingredients of Creativity

I really liked this colourfully-animated RSA short in which Mathematician Cédric Villani talks about what it takes to come up with a new (creative) idea. I would broadly agree with his theory – the ideal environment for ideas to blossom is crucial, along with a certain amount of enthusiasm, inspiration and persistence.

First Principles Thinking

On the Ideas Wall, Harvey Richardson shared some information about Elon Musk, who is well-known for his innovation and lateral thinking. After doing some research on this for myself, I learned that he applies a method called First Principles Thinking to solve complex problems, whereby the problem is essentially distilled down to its component parts or most basic truths. This is then followed by questioning all your assumptions about the problem, and creating new solutions & knowledge from scratch, as opposed to the method of reasoning by analogy, or building on existing knowledge, assumptions, beliefs and widely held “best practices” that the majority of people use.

Mind Mapping

“A mind map is a visual representation of a concept or topic, similar to, but more complex than a brainstorm.”

Quote via pianoforte.com.au

Mind maps are a way of visualising thoughts using colour, symbols, imagery and words to help explore and develop ideas.

Example of a mind map by Ann English.

Workshop Challenge – Line Drawing

My final line drawing, inspired by the concept of mind-mapping.

Below are some initial tests from my sketchbook, where I drew some small shapes to experiment with different pens, line widths and drawing methods before I drew my final piece.


Visual Inspiration for my Line Drawing

I decided to illustrate the concept of a mind map for my line drawing, showing a cross-section of the human brain. I also wanted to visually represent the idea of “brain waves” and give a nod to literal maps by creating lines that mirror the contour lines typically found on them, particularly Ordnance Survey-style detailed geographical maps.

Detail of an Ordnance Survey map with contours,
showing the area near Loch Lomond in Scotland.

I was inspired by the beautiful work of Mexican artist Jessica Arevalo, whose series of Fault Lines pieces use line drawings to depict the ebb and flow of life, with its peaks and valleys echoing the appearance of geological strata

For line drawing inspiration, I additionally looked at Op-Art pieces by Bridget Riley such as Fall, shown below, as well as Nigel Peake’s book of Maps, which are emotional rather than factual maps.

Fall (1963) by Bridget Riley. Image via the Tate.

Reflection on the week

I enjoyed creating my line drawing, after spending some time soaking up inspiration, reading about different thinking methods, philosophies and ways of generating ideas. I like the way that the lines I created are somewhat imperfect, largely because I chose to draw them by hand – this is also a true reflection of the human experience, where things are rarely perfect. I like idea of creating emotional maps too, and feel this is something that I could develop/explore further.

Peer feedback on my line drawing.

On the Ideas Wall, I received useful feedback on my line drawing from my peers that also resonated with me, and provided some additional insights that hadn’t occurred to me.

The wide variety and range of different styles of line drawing on the Ideas Wall this week was really striking. It’s interesting to observe that there was quite a mix of diagrammatic-type approaches versus more illustrative solutions to the design task we were set.


References

Munari, Bruno. 2008. Design as Art. London: Penguin Modern Classics.

Kahneman, Daniel. 2012. Thinking, Fast and Slow. London: Penguin.

Goldstein, E. Bruce. 2014. Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research and Everyday Experience. 4th Edn. Stamford: Cengage Learning.

Villani, Cédric. 2016. Cédric Villani on the 7 Ingredients of Creativity. RSA Short. Available at: https://vimeo.com/156395652 [accessed 19 October 2020]

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. 2004. Flow, the secret to happiness. Ted Talks. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_flow_the_secret_to_happiness [accessed 25 October 2020]

http://www.heatherwick.com/studio/about/
https:/theculturetrip.com/europe/italy/articles/bruno-munari-futurism-function-and-useless-machines/
https://www.brainpickings.org/the-universe-in-verse/
digitalcollections.nypl.org/collections/photographs-of-british-algae-cyanotype-impressions
https://art.brainpickings.org/post/187586971945/art-by-violeta-l%C3%B3piz-from-a-velocity-of-being
https://gainweightjournal.com/5-epic-nuggets-of-ancient-wisdom-from-lao-tzu-that-will-open-up-your-mind/
https://medium.com/the-mission/elon-musks-3-step-first-principles-thinking-how-to-think-and-solve-difficult-problems-like-a-ba1e73a9f6c0
https://www.pianoforte.com.au/mind-mapping-for-enhanced-piano-performance
https://www.harrisanderelart.com/collections/limited-edition-art-prints/products/limited-edition-jessica-arevalo-fault-lines-365-days-orange-bouquet-dantan
https://www.harrisanderelart.com
https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/riley-fall-t00616

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