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Creative Simplicity

An Alternative to Creative Chaos


sketchbook and pen

sketchbook and ink pen

Lavinia Marin, licensed to About.com, Inc.
When we think of a creative space, we usually imagine a studio filled with every art supply imaginable, a dozen works in progress on easels and walls, and pinboards covered in inspirational clippings, prints and memorabilia. Usually there's a bit of mess too, smudges and splatters and discarded scribbles.

For some people, this works very well. Their eclectic minds find this myriad of input stimulating, and they often pull new ideas from the jumble of imagery that they surround themselves with. For others, this kind of physical and visual stimulation becomes so much mental noise - real and virtual clutter that constantly trips them up, distracting, needing attention, and getting in the way. For them, an empty space - both physically and mentally - is the most productive space.

The idea of the human need for simplicity has been around for a very long time, and you'll find Roman authors complaining about the pace and complexity of modern life. Probably the best known author and inspiration to the more recent incarnation of the Simplicity movement is Henry David Thoreau, particularly as revealed in his book, Walden. He writes "I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." Most of us can probably think of a quote or two from Walden, even if it came via an internet meme or perhaps a movie. (Dead Poet's Society). Thoreau gets some flak and some consider him a fraud - I've questioned his veracity myself, on occasion - he only achieved his great simplicity with support from kindly friends and neighbors. In my own experience, the 'simple life' is not really all that simple. Wood must be collected and seasons observed, food prepared...it can be hard work and is not without planning and thought.

In terms of art practice, it's possible to achieve a level of simplicity without the hardships that such an approach to live might create. One simply chooses a point of focus, a minimal medium, and puts aside all else.

Personally I love ink. I love its intensity and directness and uncompromising qualities. There's a connection with Japanese art and Zen that I like. Your choices might be different - pencil, pastel. You don't need to ditch color, though monochrome mediums are inherently more simple than colored ones; it's all in the attitude. You might consider restricting your palette, though, if you find that choosing a pencil from dozen jars of colored pencils is slowing your progress and cluttering your thoughts.

Aesthetic choices too can be simple or cluttered; it might be about external observation, a broad landscape or a fine detail, but the key is in how you deal with it in your mind's eye. If the process of composition and decision-making as you draw is difficult, perhaps you need to change your point of view. Try a simpler object. Study the aesthetics of modern artists such as Brancusi, minimalists like Rothko; perhaps Giorgio Morandi. Or look through art history for more restrained examples of composition.

Simplicity isn't for everyone. For some it's cold, unfriendly, sterile. But if you love space, the white wall, the clean slate... the empty room is a place for you to move, to dance freely, to sing and hear an echo... to create.

Simplicity Quotes

Need more inspiration?

As I grew older, I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art. - Albrecht Durer

Nobility of spirit has more to do with simplicity than ostentation, wisdom rather than wealth, commitment rather than ambition. -Riccardo Muti

inspiration vs creative development (pdf).

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