Monday, 8 November 2010

habit, repetition and novelty

I've been thinking about what Jim said a couple of posts ago about habit...

With 4 office moves in 5 years I'm getting pretty tired of shifting the furniture around. The thing with these suggestions which are supposed to make us all more creative and keep our minds flexible is that they take up time and attention. If we go on holiday we have all the time the holiday provides to do all kinds of new and stimulating things. But I'm sure you've noticed what happens when you go to stay in a foreign country for a while: you don't try to keep everything up in the air all the time, that would be exhausting. We seek routines and stability to make us feel secure and to allow us to focus on what really matters. In many ways it's habits that make a home not bricks and mortar. Maybe I'm wrong, perhaps creativity is all about making a habit of having no habits... sounds like a recipe for madness to me though!

There seems to me to be something very important in here about habit, repetition, actually narrowing constraints, your field of vision, which is the opposite of the equally interesting idea about forcing yourself into the new. McNiff talks about the value of working on a series, doing some small, contained thing, over and over, and about the surprises that can come out of working in this way.

This idea links to something else that's been in my mind for a long time, which is the idea of repetition and novelty. My father first suggested this to me as his theory of art, of what appeals to the human brain aesthetically. I've since discovered that someone like Derrida talks about something very similar. With my fascination for forms in nature, I realised that this is exactly what's so arresting about many natural forms - that there's a rhythm, a repetition of some basic idea, over and over, and yet each bit of the recurring pattern is just slightly different from any of the others. You can see this  in this photo from the New Scientist of ice:

Or in the patterns on a shell, or inside a cabbage...

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