When people begin to draw, they are often blocked because they conceptualize the world through concrete symbols that represent preconceived ideas rather than visual information. To draw one has to be able to perceive abstract relationships; direction, relation, proportion, and build towards an understanding through approximations and hypotheses.
This is exactly the same with thinking; the mind has the tendency to fix the world with symbols rather than perceive it as a series of relationships and a process. In order to deal with the complexity of the world, we have to filter, reduce and schematize; react quickly to what is useful or dangerous. However, as useful as our symbols are, they inhibit our capacity to see reality and to adapt, since we begin to ‘see’ the symbols as reality. This fixing of the mind is comfortable, but reductive and dangerous, because we begin to believe that those who use other symbols are simply wrong.
Invention and creativity take flexibility and adaptability; qualities necessary for survival. Yet we seem bent on standardizing and simplifying – “MacDonaldizing”. ‘Standard Operating Procedures’ block human initiative. Even the computer, new miracle of endless possibility, becomes a master, not a tool; we submit to the algorithms that are written for us and do what the computer can do, forgetting than we have powers way beyond those of the machine.
When I hear students complain that they “didn’t study Art History in a chronological order”: that a project ”did not have a precise enough brief” and that they “cannot create until they know a program”, I am at first shocked and then intensely worried. It shows a lack of imagination and flexibility; an inability to abstract themselves from the concrete and to move outside a fixed and reduced symbolic expectation of the world.
I frequently read reports concerning the necessity of developing autonomy, creativity and adaptability in our young; that, in the face of rapid change, it is necessary to understand principles rather than content – to remain flexible. Yet all a round me I see more and more rigidity.