Creativity and imagination

I’ve always said that I have a logical/intellectual mind, but I’m not much good at artistic stuff – the ability to think in images rather than in words.  That’s still true, I think, but it may be becoming less so.  I’ve recently been challenged to re-think my approach by a couple of inspirational video clips.

The first is about Inge Druckrey, artist and designer, who’s the wife of Edward Tufte.  It’s previewed in this article.

Rather than retreading Druckrey’s biography—she was born in Germany in 1940, worked as a graphic designer in Switzerland in the mid-1960s, and has since held teaching posts at Yale, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Philadelphia College of Art, among other institutions—Severny tries to capture the essence of Druckrey’s magic as a teacher. Through interviews with former pupils, as well as surveys of her own graphic-design work and those of her students, the film shows Druckrey’s gift for teaching others to see the world through eyes both critical and curious. Teaching to See lets us, too, become her disciples.

You don’t walk away from the film with a single penetrating insight; it’s more of a grab bag of Druckrey’s practices, ideas, and projects. Little lessons crop up at every turn. In one sequence, Druckrey describes designing a concert poster for the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s performance of a piece by Beethoven. Her first idea was to use the contrast of light and dark, evoking some of the turmoil of the composer’s own life. A large abstracted B, made from a page of notation from one of Beethoven’s manuscripts, dominates the piece visually. Druckrey explains that the idea for the B was there from the start. Next, she used staff lines to create a letter E in the negative space adjacent to it. But she wasn’t sure where to go after that, so she stared. It’s important, she narrates, “to give yourself time to stare at it and see what’s there, what does it want, what’s possible.”

Throughout the film, these kernels of wisdom come not just directly from Druckrey herself but also secondhand from the recollections of several of her former students. One recounts how exacting Druckrey was as a drawing instructor—”I remember drawing a juice bottle and the constant correction, the constant back and forth; it could be very trying at times,” he says—but admits that when he finally began to see what she was trying to get him to see, namely the relationship of the ellipses and other shapes that made up that bottle, it was nothing short of a “revelation.”

There’s more at the link.

The video is 40 minutes long, but well worth the expenditure of time.  She describes how we must “learn to see” – i.e. use our eyes in a new, creative sense – in order to become more creative.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

The second video came as a confirmation of the first from the point of view of creative writing – something that directly involves me as an author of fiction.  Ira Glass has this to say.

Glass has produced a four-part video series for NPR titled ‘Ira Glass on Storytelling’. You’ll find the first part here on YouTube;  the remaining three parts are linked in the sidebar there.  Worthwhile viewing for anyone wanting to express themselves through storytelling – or any other creative art.


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