Art for Connecting the Dots

Getting Ready for the 21st Century Workplace

Viewmaster, 2015 Collaged & Toned Cyanotype Print. 17” x 11”. Limited edition of 12 (Variable). © Jonah Calinawan

You already think like a computer. I’m not sure why you are reading that article.”

What my work colleague was talking about was a recent article from the New York Times on Computational Thinking. Colleges and universities are starting to offer courses on how to think like a computer to solve problems. The article gave an example of making a food buffet more efficient by considering where cutlery should be placed: at the beginning of the buffet line or at the end of it? It should be at the end, so you’re not balancing cutlery along with your plate while you get food.

Yeah that makes sense. That’s logical.

It got me thinking about how this type of thinking, the logical kind, the gantt chart type-​of-​thinking (i.e. this goes first, this goes second, etc.) is not creativity, in the sense of what happens in the artist studio.

Maybe there are two kinds of creativity. There’s the creativity that arises from linear thinking and non-​linear thinking.

Types of Creativity

Logical — this is the kind of thing where you look at something and you say “yeah that makes sense.” The buffet line example goes into this category. Most of business creativity may be in this area. Apply industrial assembly line thinking into something, and efficiencies and inevitable solutions will come up. “Yeah that makes sense.”

Illogical — This is the kind of creativity, where you stand in front of the artwork and you are simply awestruck. You say — “how on earth did this happen?”

Or you completely reject because you don’t understand it.

Most people didn’t understand impressionism when they first saw it in 1874. People at the Paris Salon (the “establishment” place where painters could exhibit their work) thought the paintings were unfinished and amateurish. One critic Louis Leroy said, “Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished!” Impressionists didn’t follow the conventions of painting at the time.

But you know what? That’s inspired work, where there is a sense of awe that comes up in your audience because of the sheer audacity and beauty of the artwork.

The illogical kind of creativity produced master artworks like the statue of David by Michelangelo, Picasso’s cubism, 3d perspective as invented in the Renaissance period, or David Hockney’s joiners (that inspired my own artwork as I wrote in this blog post.)

Simply being in front of these works create awe. Impressionism, cubism, expressionism, modernism, any art-”isms” you can think of, initially falls in this illogical creativity category.

It could also be a business model.

Über and airbnb don’t have physical assets of their own except for an app that connects people who own cars and houses to people who want a ride or a place to stay. They own an intangible idea. That’s inspired. That’s illogical creativity. And just like in art, these innovative ideas become mainstream and “normal” over time. Internet businesses like amazon, facebook, google, seem so normal now, but just a decade ago, those business models were inspired work.

Is illogical creativity better than logical creativity?

I don’t think so.

An advancement in your artist studio or your workplace may start out from an illogical leap of creativity and then refined by the logical creativity.

Which brings me to what my art mentor used to say:

Most people’s artwork is not new. What they are really doing is implementing, not creating.”

That’s what it is: the illogical creativity is creating; logical creativity is implementing.

This might be a useful framework to consider when thinking like an artist at work.

Certainty is not creativity. If you are already certain of the answer, well you are implementing. There will be little illogical creativity in that.

If you don’t know how you’ll end up when you start a project (whether in your workplace or in your studio), well that’s exciting isn’t it? If you’re lost, with an unknown destination, then that’s where illogical creativity comes in.

Think Like An Artist At Work

We can learn from artists. We should unpack this concept of illogical vs logical creativity. In what way are they the similar and in what way are they different? Are the requirements the same for each one?

We should look at how artists approach their work. And try to apply that at the workplace.

In the 21st century workplace, all workspaces will be artist studios.