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Wright and the Creative Mind
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jay



Joined: 02 May 2016
Posts: 222

PostPosted: Mon Nov 25, 2019 7:28 pm    Post subject: Wright and the Creative Mind Reply with quote

Most will agree that Wright was among some of the greatest creative artists this planet has seen. Such figures attract deep interest in their work, their personal lives, and an exploration of their creative approach.

Wright's famous quote about his creative process has always intrigued me:
"Conceive the building in the imagination, not on paper but in the mind, thoroughly—before touching paper. Let it live there—gradually taking more definite form before committing it to the drafting board."

I find this particularly intriguing because it suggests Wright leaned heavily on his ability to daydream the form of his buildings. Meanwhile, in the field of neuroscience, there's been an ongoing investigation into how the brain functions when the mind is allowed to wander. Essentially, when the brain is focused on a physical task, the "chatter" of the mind mostly quiets itself in order to concentrate. But when the brain has no immediate task, it switches on the "Default Mode Network", allowing the brain to network within itself, which is why it feels like our brains are "channel-surfing" when we allow our minds to wander. The neurons are firing off all over the place.....
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Default_mode_network

So if daydreaming is mind-wandering, that means that creativity––the functioning imagination––is an act of the brain free-associating within itself. Neurons networking all over the place. A piece of artwork, one might suggest, is the malleable product of the synthetic mind, which pulls stands of ideas from memories, fantasies, idealisms, etc, in a random but selectable manner that produces new and interesting works.

Further, a quote about creative drawing from this study....
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410786/

"A recent study on creative drawing found differential contributions of executive control and default networks during different stages of the drawing process. For example, regions of the default network were more strongly activated during idea generation, and regions of the executive control network were more strongly activated during idea evaluation. In addition, a functional connectivity analysis found increased coupling of executive control and default networks throughout the creative process, consistent with the notion that creativity requires flexible cognitive control."

So, the mind is most free-ranging and networking within itself when purely using the imagination....and the intellect is in charge when evaluating the work.

This line of interest was again provoked for me recently while reading a book called "The Dance of Life" by Edward T. Hall... Published in 1982, long before any Default Mode Network stuff, this following passage is worth contemplation.
(Note, when the author uses the word "extensions", he does so in a McLuhan manner, meaning any tool or device like a pencil or a television screen is an extension of the human body, something that evolves faster than the human.)

"Beethoven could apparently hear music in his head, but he did not hear the details, which Mozart did. Beethoven had to translate his music onto the page , and then work to get the written score to conform to the mental image (just as Einstein had to translate his visual and physical images into words and then into mathematics). Mozart, however, apparently not only had an incredible creative capability, but was also a simultaneous translator. Remember that all the notation systems and all extensions by their very nature leave some things out, so Beethoven's difficulty in writing down his music seldom achieves the perfection and congruence of what one hears in the head. Beethoven was famous for working over manuscripts. Being unusually sensitive to congruence, he would work and work until he found just the right note.

"The difference between creating inside oneself and creating outside by means of an extension is basic and crucial. The two processes are entirely different. It takes ten to fifty times longer to do things outside the body than inside. Several designs can be considered and rejected in the same time that one is putting ideas on paper. Extensions speed up change, but slow down productivity, particularly of an integrative complex type. The other essential distinction is between experiencing things sequentially or as discrete units. Again, the external sequential mode is much slower. The artist or scientist who sees a complex form all at once will have fewer problems externalizing or translating into symbols than the individual who has to tease his product out in bits and pieces, externalizing something virtually without form from his unconscious which he then assembles outside his body on paper, canvas, clay, or a dance floor."
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 18308
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Mon Nov 25, 2019 8:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you, Jay.

Thoughts while reading your piece: Alan Watts, West Coast guru of another century, reminded us that the mind, left alone, can arrive at answers to
questions which, if attacked vigorously, often elude us. As an example he spelled out an anagram. "Look at it for a bit, then move on to something else
for a while. When you come back to the anagram, its solution may come to you, spontaneously as it were . . ."

And---we have evidence from apprentices, and I believe from Mr Wright himself, that the hours before dawn were useful to him as moments when a design
might coalesce. Haven't we all experienced that, ourselves ?


Mr Hall seems to be elaborating on something that Wright stated, knew, felt, or had learned the hard way, that it's better to assemble as much of a
building as possible in the mind, before committing any of it to paper. As I opined recently, one line on the page can lead the designer down a path he
didn't intend to take. The result can make him feel that he has little control over his process, or its product . . .

S
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jay



Joined: 02 May 2016
Posts: 222

PostPosted: Mon Nov 25, 2019 9:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd also imagine that if the form is fully shaped in the mind, then it is more easily adjusted when changes are necessary. Its essence remains even if the details are altered.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 25, 2019 11:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That makes sense. A case in point, from Wright's oeuvre, would be most helpful---but I'm not sure that he ever committed his creative process to
paper, after the passages fairly early in the Autobiography wherein he seems to describe the gestation of Unity Temple. I say "seems" because, as
a spinner of fantasy and a known fabulist, Mr Wright would not be above romanticizing the details of his working method, if he thought the result
would be better understood or simply more flattering.

I would love to be reminded of another occurrence of such description, in any event, from elsewhere in the written or oral record. The tale of the
production of the first Fallingwater drawings has been told, in greater or less detail, by multiple Fellows, yet none of them is able to reveal what
went on in Mr Wright's mind during the months after he had first visited the site and the morning that the Kaufmanns were on their way to Taliesin.

S
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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
Posts: 9617

PostPosted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 2:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I cannot figure out how artists of any ilk could work otherwise, perhaps not to the last doorknob or F-sharp, but to establish the grand scheme, filling in the blanks along the way.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 11:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, you've got me there, I guess.

The point of Wright's dictum, presumably, was that nothing is put on paper until the entire idea is clear in the mind---and perhaps "idea" isn't strong
enough: maybe he meant the whole building ?

In this we see that it's a matter of degree, not of kind; that is, that Mr Wright intended the ritual in its strictest form ? Are we lesser mortals not permitted
some slack, in that regard ? In fact, apprentices record that he would provide a plan in sketch form, along with an elevation or two, and it would be
the apprentice's job to fit the plan to an appropriate grid (also stipulated by Wright ?), and to work out a completed scheme for submittal to the master . . .

S
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jay



Joined: 02 May 2016
Posts: 222

PostPosted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 10:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I cannot figure out how artists of any ilk could work otherwise


I personally don't know much about the process of architectural design; I'd assume most architecture is created nowadays by people using a computer mouse to draw boxes on the screen.... Or in the case of Frank Gehry, to take crumpled up wads of paper and then sketch them on a pad and then hand them off to computer whiz's to engineer them....?

I've spent more time learning about writers/novelists approaches to the craft, and I've found a mixed bag of authors, some who form their stories before writing any words on paper, and others who sit at the typewriter and just let the story come as they write. (The latter being the "romantic" image of the "writer"...)

For example, I read an interview with Japanese author Haruki Murakami awhile back where he told of his process, which is to "daydream" his stories while writing his first draft. He said he spends about 6 months on the first draft, then 'can see what the story is', then spends 8-10 months on the second draft, and then additional drafts which I forget the timeframes.

As the quote of Edward Hall I copied suggests, this sounds like an inefficient way to create. Of course, efficiency is hardly the first priority of an artist, so that's not to belittle the "inefficient" process, if that's accurate.

One might wonder if Wright's ability to create in the mind helped to amount such a large body of fairly diverse works. He had what, something like 1000 designs in his 60 year career? Not all of them were unique from each other, obviously, but still, that's an average of nearly 20 designs per year, for 6 decades straight. The scope of his creative output is such a marvel.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 12:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Comparing buildings to books is a bit apples-to-oranges, isn't it ? In any event, the design of a building involves far more than the conception of an
overall form and exterior expression---of course. The process, ideally, is one of "growing" a habitable structure, inside and out simultaneously, but not
before the needs of the client, the demands of the site, and local and/or universal codes, etc etc, have all been taken into account. Quite a trick---
and not one of "using a computer to draw boxes on the screen" or to conceive or compose a building by sketching on the back of an envelope or via
a crumpled sheet of paper . . . need it be said ?

Where does the idea come from, then ? Some designers are happy to let the problem propose the solution; that is, by factoring in the necessities and
desiderata and making a design that incorporates all of them. Would this be "form following function" or "form and function [as] one" ? In the absence
of willful form-making or extraneous ornament, the result of this exercise might look like an early Bauhaus-related design---quite enough for some
ideologs, at least ?

Others would say that "great architecture" is made by those who find this lacking, who must add something of themselves into the mix---willful form-
making or not, decoration or "intrinsic ornament" (take your pick) being the least that such a designer will consider "enough" . . .

Bach, a designer of music, and Wright, a composer of buildings, both in my view started with an Idea for a "piece." No one "needs" music, while many
clients do need a building---but in either case the poet-composer takes a notion of form and content and, using the materials and instruments at hand,
makes something that will satisfy another mind. Those "materials and instruments" will usually be previously employed or freshly conceived forms and
details, large and small, combined in new ways, responding to a fresh conception to make a unique object. It is the designer/composer's imagination
and experience that will be drawn upon, to engage in the always-pleasurable if occasionally vexing process of conception.

S
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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
Posts: 9617

PostPosted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 2:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A friend asked me to design a vacation house for him in Panamint Valley. We talked about 15 minutes, and I scribbled a thumbnail sketch within a square inch. David said, "That's it!" and I drew up the plans exactly as I had realized them at the conversation. I knew what it would look like before I went beyond the scribble.

He didn't follow through with the building, because of cost. But he came back for a moratorium. I told him how to build a different type of house, more free-form, using material he could acquire in the valley. I didn't give him a preconceived plan, just a general scheme. He built that one. I never went to see the house; Panamint Valley is over the hill from Death Valley. I don't do deserts.
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jay



Joined: 02 May 2016
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 4:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Comparing buildings to books is a bit apples-to-oranges, isn't it ?


Well I was responding to Roderick's regards to the "artist".... Meanwhile music and architecture have hereby been accepted comparisons, so I don't know why literary form wouldn't be?

Architecture can be viewed as "art as object" or "art as experience", while music is viewed primarily as "art as experience". Literary works are "art as experience" as well... I confess that my interest in architecture needles far on the spectral end of "experiential", as opposed to the sculptural object. The drama of movement through Wright's buildings--musical and poetic--is comparable to the sequential journey of a literary work.

Also, I have no problem comparing apples and oranges; both are delicious fruits, juicy, sweet and round!

We also might take into consideration the fact that the photography of architecture has a much larger reach than the buildings themselves. The image of the building, whether interior or exterior, seems to transcend its direct experiential qualities which a person receives while living or visiting the space. Of course, Wright mastered the image, the experience, and the object itself.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 27, 2019 7:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fair enough. It seems that each of the arts---music, theater, film, literature, architecture, sculpture, painting---shares at least something with one or
more of the others. One aspect to consider is the temporal: which of them can only be appreciated with the passage of time ? Another is visual: which
can be taken in, at least initially, via a single image ? And how many of them combine two or more particulars found in others ?

It is true that architecture can be appreciated in more than one way. A photograph, or a group of photographs, can capture some of the essence of
a building. A film taken at and in the building, much more so---potentially.

We agree that the fullest appreciation of a structure can be had only by visiting or, ultimately, by inhabiting it. Like painting or sculpture but unlike music
or literature or film, however, two or three still images can convey much of what the architect has accomplished---which may explain why architectural
photography is considered crucial to the understanding of a work which the viewer has not or cannot visit ?

(No new ideas here; just recapping some basics. Please continue . . .)

S
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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 28, 2019 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Art begins in the mind. There are no apples vs oranges arguments here. It is all the idea, no matter how exterior forces determine its evolution.

The process of creating art and the experience of it after the fact are two different subjects.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 28, 2019 6:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Truer words are seldom heard---or read . . .

If I repeat once more my favorite mystery quote, will the Muses favor me with a revelation of some sort---maybe the author's name ? Here is yet another paraphrase:

"In architecture, the built structure is just the unavoidable step that comes between the drawings and the photographs."

I think RG's statement relates to that would-be truism ?

S
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Roderick Grant



Joined: 29 Mar 2006
Posts: 9617

PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2019 2:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

SDR, your laurel wreath is on its way via FedEx.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
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Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2019 3:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice. I knew all this typing would pay off, one day !

(The T and E on my 10-yr-old Apple keyboard were no longer legible, and I found I needed a lighted keyboard---so I treated myself to a B.FRIEND Mac-compatible one. No sticking A !)

S
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