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November 28, 2006

Contrarianism Is Creative?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

[The setting: Army barracks, South Korea, 1964]

One of the more artsy guys in Seventh Logistical Command's headquarters company was showing us the new suit he had custom-tailored in Taegu.

Since we GIs couldn't easily hop over to Hong Kong (at the time, a place noted for nice made-to-order clothing at reasonable prices), we had to make do with local tailors.

This was when South Korea was a largely isolated country, commercially -- not quite yet having signed a normalization treaty with next-door Japan. Although Koreans struck me as being hard-working, what they produced seemed shoddy because they didn't often have the chance to see what world-class products were like.

For example, I had two Harris Tweed sport jackets made, one of which had a botched collar.

To return to the subject, the dark brown suit had a "creative" cut. The trousers had no cuffs ... but the sleeves did!

Cuffed sleeves were hardly innovative; check paintings and artifacts from the 18th century, for instance. Unlike the large, showy cuffs from 200 years earlier, the sleeve cuffs we witnessed were just like contemporary pants cuffs.

In other words, this guy's concept of creativity was to pull The Old Switcheroo.

Yes, yes, styles can evolve via a contrarian dialectic. Skirts begin skirting the floor? ... then raise 'em (perhaps gradually) above the knee.

Nevertheless, I sometimes think that many post-1900 artists strive too hard for creativity (and not quality). When being "creative," they often simply produce something that opposes what The Establishment favors. Never mind that it's often the Establishment of 1910 that they're still rebelling against.

Blockhead that I am, I don't believe that art has to be creative to be good or even great. I think current art would be much better if artists placed creativity towards the bottom of their lists of objectives.

Even if creativity is the top priority for a given art project, being blindly contrarian isn't a guarantee of success.

And how did we react to that suit with cuffed sleeves? With mumbles of "Hmm. Interesting." Along with other noncommittally polite sounds. Far be it from us to stifle Genius.



posted by Donald at November 28, 2006


Phew, I'm glad you old G.I.'s didn't stifle genius!!

You raise an interesting question that I admit to not really having thought about in that way before. How important is "creativity"?

I guess it goes back to what one presumes the definition of the word is. I wouldn't have typically thought of raising and lowering hems, or adding or subtracting cuffs from a jacket, as at the high end of "creative". But designing the whole dress is "creative."

Presenting "Jingle Bells" with a new arrangement is just modestly "creative." (I'm not saying it doesn't require talent. But it isn't "creative."). But writing "Jingle Bells" is "creative." (Or fill in whatever song you prefer).

So...nothing new would ever happen if people weren't "creative." But just "creative" obviously isn't enough. Somebody "created" the Edsel, after all.

Posted by: annette on November 29, 2006 9:54 AM

The imagination is, in large measure, contrarian.

Think of the first cameraman who deliberately shot a scene with a hand held camera so that it would appear shaky. A contradiction of the central tenet of his craft: the framed image must be stable and clear for the audience. And yet his contrarian innovation, and insight, has added a whole new dimension to film.

No, it's too easy, and frankly a bit philistine? to mock the wierd new thing that strange kid has done.

Posted by: ricpic on November 29, 2006 11:43 AM

I actually think about the defintion of creativity occasionally, and I haven't come up with anything concrete yet. :)

Although, I think creativity at its core is nothing more than problem solving.

I don't think the reverse cuff story is an example of someone being creative. In fact, I think it shows a lack of creativity. Being different or doing the opposite isn't necessarily a trait of creativity.

If the reverse cuff was meant to solve a problem, then it could be considered creative.

Posted by: Steven K. on November 29, 2006 1:11 PM

Art should be crafty.

Posted by: dearieme on November 29, 2006 3:52 PM

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