Creativity is subtraction

This post is part 10 and the final instalment of an adaptation of How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me)this engaging and instructive essay by Austin Kleon, a Texan artist and writer. Kleon states that “when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.” What follows here is me talking to a previous version of myself, one 10 years younger, hopelessly naive and about to embark on a life in architecture.

10. Creativity is subtraction

Back at university, I was often shackled by the need for each of my design projects to somehow encapsulate my entire philosophy of architecture, to express every thought I had ever had and would ever have on the subject. But this is not how good architecture is made. Good architecture is as much about what you leave out as what you put in. Some of the best architecture I have ever experienced engages with only a few simple ideas, resolved thoroughly and with conviction.

One of my lecturers, the insightful and generous Alex Selenitsch, once taught me an invaluable lesson I have since come to call the teacup principle.

Architectural ideas require a reference frame to be understood. If your idea is to take a shape and transform it into something new, using an unidentifiable blob is no help at all. Instead, use an instantly recognisable form, like a teacup, so that the changes you make can be perceived as having originated somewhere.

This principle holds true for all architecture – subtracting the peripheral ideas that confuse or compromise your central idea will make your design more rigourous and your ideas more legible. In this age of abundance, the challenge central to all our lives is to cut out the white noise: less is most certainly more. If you can figure out what to leave out, you will be the one to get ahead, because you will be concentrating on what’s important to you.

Creativity is subtraction.


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