As creatives, we rely heavily on inspiration. There are so many sources for inspiration, and sifting through them all can be a daunting, time consuming task. While inspiration definitely shouldn’t be downplayed, we can miss the mark easily by thinking that immersing ourself in the creative work of others will simply saturate our minds with creative ideas.
It’s important to consider that true creativity, at its source, comes from within. Whether it is influenced by other creative work is irrelevant to the creative quality of the work.
For the sake of our conversation, cybernetics (Wikipedia link) is the study of working within a constrained system of control. Cybernetics is an interesting study that spans many disciplines, and therefore can be generalized to almost any practice. A subjective definition that illustrates the scope of cybernetics comes from Larry Richards at George Washington University’s American Society for Cybernetics: “a way of thinking about ways of thinking”.
So how can I use it, practically?
Instead of focusing on what cybernetics is, let’s think about how the theory applies to a creative project.
When we approach a creative project, as we have stated before, we attempt to look for inspiration. But perhaps we are going about this searching in an incomplete way; instead of searching for external inspiration as is our original tendency, a creative cybernetic approach would attempt to search for inspiration within the project itself. Instead of thinking about what the project is (a cool looking website, a great looking poster, a logo), instead we look at what the project does. We look at the form and pattern, control and communication, and we in turn begin to create towards this.
A way that we can leverage this towards inspiration is by introducing artificial constraints within our creative projects. This was the premise behind Roy Ascott’s two-year Groundcourse program. Students would begin by studying illustration with given constraints that were often bizarre. For instance: “If a cough is represented by 5 jagged lines, draw the BBC Time signature“. The bizarre nature of these assignments was far different than traditional art assignments that may focus instead on previously created art (such as a prompt similar to the following: “draw a picture that is influenced by cubism”). The assignments continued to become more involved in the first year, moving towards 3-dimensional sculptures. In the second year, the students were asked to apply the constraints of a system to themselves by literally taking on a different personality than their own. For ten weeks, students would act and respond in opposition to their ingrained “nature”.
The program forced students to understand the power of control and systematic constraints, and the ways in which to work in and out of those systems.
In your next project, begin by examining the function and purpose of the finalized piece of work. What are the possible (both common and uncommon, expected and unexpected, “good” and “bad”) directions? What, if any, are the constraints that are already naturally on the project? What rules exist (both from a media format sense as well as a subjective, imposed sense)? What are some restrictions you could introduce that might provide a more finite sense of control over the project itself?
At the end of the day, inspiration is an elusive beast. We have ontological models of how to become inspired; perhaps we are more creative than we give ourselves credit for, and only when we feel constraint and pressure can we actually release our creativity.
Jonathan Cutrell is a 19-year-old student, freelance graphic and web designer, photographer, journalist, and musician in Cleveland, TN. He works mostly with small businesses and churches, but is passionate about artistic expression and community. He has also shared the musical stage with such acts as Paramore, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, The Rocket Summer, Brandtson, and many more. He is experienced in and out of a studio environment.