This old house (where ideas come from)

Quick summary:

This entry is about creativity, how ideas form, the places we are most creative. Creativity is of course a large topic. I am interested particularly in the creativity that responds to the dynamism of contemporary culture and more particularly in creativity that takes place in commercial contexts for commercial purposes. (Other entries on this theme can be found by going to “categories” and clicking on “creativity watch.”)

Full text:

I just took my cat Daz to the vet. The vet occupies a house that is probably 120 years old. Daz and I sat in the waiting room, keeping a careful eye on an enormous sheep dog and the office cat who wasn’t much smaller. Daz is normally a champion talker, but in this case he wasn’t letting out at much as a murmur.

I began to see that a door frame in the house sloped badly. Over 120 years, the house has developed pretty bad posture and now leaned heavily in one direction.

I started wondering why it is that places like this, in neighborhoods like this (the Plateau) in cities like this (Montreal) in cultural domains (the francophone) are so conducive to creativity. This is part and parcel why bohemians always occupy neighborhoods that are tumbled down, old, decrepid, and coming apart at the seams. Something about this urban desshelvement seems to aid them in their reckless pursuit of the new. (And I don’t think it’s wise to say: they occupy these neighborhoods because they are cheap. We know have modernist suburbs that have fallen on hard times and no artist community ever takes up residence there.)

The door frame is a friend of creativity because it evokes the world from which it came (the creative world of design and conception) and it how leans towards the world in which it will be a mere memory, a recollection.

The door frame is a friend of creativity because it signals its origins and its future, and is not very dramatically marked by its present, corporeal, actual form. I wish MoveableType allowed for drawing (because, really, how do you think without images) because in this case what we need is a box marked “the real” that shows a tiny arc that begins in the lower left hand corner rises not very high and then exist in the lower right hand corner.

In a door frame, neighborhood, city and culture like this one, creativity enters and takes form in the world, but it is always evocative of the creative domains from which it came and to which it will return. This is why its a good place in which, with which, to think. (Maybe.)

I heard a museum curator recently speak sneeringly of the bobo phenemonon. (This referred to the very interesting book by David Brooks called Bobos in Paradise). The curator was particularly contemptuous of the middle class professionals search for an “urban redemption.”

He seemed to be implying that creativity and bohemian neighborhoods were just for artists (and, of course, curators). But in fact now that everyone lives in a dynamic world, now that every corporation is obliged to be responsive and changing, creativity is the way we live in the world. It makes sense that middle class professionals should want to live in places that are conducive to creativity.

It also makes sense that museum curators should sneer at them for being faux bohemians. Curators have no clear that the world of business is now at least as creative as the world of the artist. They do not know that the world outside the protected domain of the museum has ligquified by dynamism. They do not understand that creativity has moved from being the special domain of artists to becoming a mainstay of capitalism. It is no longer the place we go for new ideas. It is now the first order and the principle grammar of business. Creativity is the dynamism with which we respond to dynamism.

3 thoughts on “This old house (where ideas come from)

  1. Steve Portigal

    The May 2004 Metrpolis mag has an article – not online – egad – by Karrie Jacobs entitled “I am the Uncool Hunter.”

    In this article she describes a trip to Frederick, Colorado, a tract housing depot near Denver that has a new development where they’ve built single-family dwellings that look like lofts “tricked out in industrial brick and steel with names like the Firehouse and the Cannery.”

    It’s a really fascinating piece.

  2. LK

    steve, thanks for that post. i was in a godforsaken suburb of washington DC the other week, the crystal city area of arlington, virginia, and in the middle of a cluster of faceless corporate hotels linked by nondescript malls themselves linked by underground walkways were some new “loft” residential developments. basically in a suburban industrial park. as if though the mere use of the word makes the product desirable to a certain demographic group.

    in my hometown of vancouver the part of the city with buildings called things like “the firehouse” and “the cannery” is yaletown. it is one of the most ridiculous parts of the city, the complete antithesis of what creativity is. at a party the other night with a bunch of 20 something artists (i am neither 20 something nor an artist, but fortunate enough to know some) we decided that if yaletown’s “firehouse” and “cannery” type buildings had rats in the vicinity the neighbourhood would be infinitely cooler and that better ideas would emanate from it.

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