Wednesday, September 23, 2009

DESIGNfiles: natural contexts

When I was young, real young, I always assumed that the perfect partner for me would be someone who was wholeheartedly involved in the arts.  I imagined myself with musicians, writers, and painters until about a year ago when I met the cutest little vegetable farmer you've ever seen.  I've never looked back since.

It constantly amazes me the parallels between creativity in the "arts" and the creative process of growing and nurturing plants.  Just one afternoon of harvesting in the hot sun leaves me itching to get back to my studio and work.  I get so inspired!  This is largely due to the constant creative mindset a farmer needs to inhabit:  This isn't working, what does it need?  How can I stop this from eating that?  Why is this dying? How can I change what I'm doing to make this better, more productive, more fruitful?

With farming you are not redesigning or solving a man-made problem, which is generally rife with errors, misconceptions, and assumptions.  Rather, you are up against nature itself. It's a pure process.  You know there is some ultimate solution to every problem that is simple and efficient.  As the farmer, it's up to you to get back to this ultimate natural flow.  So while you are creating, you are also, in part, surrendering the need to be right or to take credit for your ideas.

I think that the simple, pure and detached mindset is essential to creativity.  However, that's not what I'm talking about today.  Today, I'm sharing a moment of brilliant inspiration I had while chopping up vegetables. 

I have been feeling frustrated lately because it seems that I cannot find things that I love.  I search the stores, the internet, the etsy, the blogs, the crafts, the fine art and rarely do I find things that I can love.  I find tons of things I like, but rarely anything that hits you in the gut with that oh-so-satisfying thrill of looking at something and knowing that it's just right.  This was in the back of my mind as I stood before a kitchen counter piled high with tomatillos and green beans gone to seed.  I pondered this dilemma as I peeled the husks from the bright green fruit and pulled the purple beans from their shells, pausing for moments to take note of the amazing colors that nature produces.  I put the beans in one bowl, the tomatillos in another, and like a good designer I ran for my camera:


I was feeling proud of myself and this little design exercise when suddenly it hit me:  these photos were exactly like all the things that I found so dissatisfying in art and design!  I had taken something so natural and pure and perfect, scrubbed it clean of anything I assumed to be dirty, ugly or unnecessary and plopped it into a context that was suitable and safe.  Acceptable.  Clean.  Re-inspired, I ran back to the unshelled veggies and reached once more for the camera:

Just look at these!  Now this was the satisfying moment I've been craving: the bright purples peeking out of the yellow blemished shells and the glimpses of green through the papery husks.  Then it hit me:  my job as a designer is not to edit and polish.  My job is to recognize the beauty of things as they are in nature and then find my way, my voice, my interpretation through these things.  Sure, the first pictures are nice to look at, but too soon they become boring and predictable.

So how can I use this in the creative process?  Well, I do think that a large part of this requires you to (here it is again!) return to the source of things.  Be completely honest with your materials.  Don't be sucked into what is considered normal, clean or safe.  The clean veggies are trends.  The natural veggies are design at its very core.  Why?  Because it's utilitarian!  Because the husks and shells are protecting the beauty within.  You are drawn in to the preciousness of the fruit by way of nature's elaborate design to protect it.  To appreciate the true beauty, you need to be aware of these intricate relationships and how each and every part is important and essential.  You need the ugly to appreciate the beauty.  Utility, that's key.

So this is what I will aspire to in my design.  In the meantime, I'd like to conclude with a picture that embodies this entire revelation.  Dries, once again, you've fucking nailed it!


SMB tech geeks said...

You do amazing work Kara & your pictures are a revelation ;0)

The pale observer said...

Hi Kara - just found your blog and was very intrigued by this post. I agree that the beauty lies in seeing the bright colours peaking through as they do in nature! Good lesson for us all :)

Holli in Ghana