Thinking: Art Imitates Idea Generation

Staring out from a friend’s balcony last winter, I got to thinking about the splendor of the evening sky even if its colours were dusky dark gray bleeding to even murkier depths.

<img src="thinkingart.jpg" alt="Night sky, thinking, art" />With its successive vertical layers, the encroaching night’s sky reminded me of artist Mark Rothko’s abstract paintings. In many of them, he layered both contrasting and complementary colours to form visually arresting effects.

Like all painters, he created his own hues (variety of colours) on his pallet and required them in volume. I mention that because it increases one’s appreciation of his work and demonstrates a point yet to be made.

<img src="gofa.jpg" alt="National Gallery of Art logo" />From Washington D.C.’s National Gallery write-up: “Rothko developed a painstaking technique of overlaying colors until, in the words of art historian Dore Ashton, “his surfaces were velvety as poems of the night. By the overlaying of different colours, he produced a velvety haze that compels and mesmerizes the eye, drawing you into its projection.”

Which is also how great ideas and concepts are arrived at: by overlaying them, one on top of another until the best idea is achieved or a more refined or dynamic version emerges. This requires it be shared with someone else, and preferably, many people.

In contrast, an unexamined idea is seldom sufficient to achieve a desired end. Creators are too close to it and thinking within the vacuum of their own minds, it’s very easy to make assumptions.

Knowledge isn’t Everything
I write this from personal experience having been swept up in a personal vision, that of a Web Usability service back in 2007. I’d been interested in that subject and had technical sales writing experience since the 90s, taken a class in it, read 4-5 books by Jakob Nielsen and Steve Krug, and applied what I learned in several of my client’s websites – with very successful results. They made a lot more $.

‘Figured that was it: good to go, ready to launch. However, recognition of the importance of Web Usability among the SMB (small-medium biz) market was low, i.e. scant. In fact, at that time, at least in Canada, websites were still only gaining credibility.

Months later, I realized that, while the idea was good, my thinking was premature. ‘Best to wait. But that was only after I’d spent a lot of time-and money-during that time.

Better Alternative
What if, instead, I’d sought the opinions of others in the Web industry, offered the idea up for debate and had it subjected to “So what? / What if?” hard questions and crushing doubts? Or better still, set up an open debate or even organized a Meetup group of my own to formalize the critique-overlay process.

How would it work? Each of us brings up an idea they’re working on and someone adds to it, expands it, critiques it, tweaks it, extends it or takes it in an another direction. Throughout, what is required is an absence or minimization of Ego and a “Let’s see where this goes” attitude.

Regardless of whether those involved had a vested interest in the process, successive idea overlays make for a much stronger concept. There’s also the possibility of finding others to collaborate with.

Let’s Finish with more Rothko


If you weren’t already familiar with Mark Rothko’s work, leaving you with the impression that he dealt primarily in darker shades wouldn’t be fair – or accurate; in fact, most of Rothko’s work was done in striking colours. Here’s a sample, but miniature editions don’t do him-or you-justice.

To really appreciate his work, one needs to behold one of his paintings in person. In a lecture at Utica, New York’sPratt Institute, Rothko told the audience that “small pictures since the Renaissance are like novels; large pictures are like dramas in which one participates in a direct way.”

Just like sharing ideas and sharing in them.

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