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Us and them, them and us.

Let us say, for purpose of this argument and this exercise, that creative people are different. By creative people, I am including artists, designers, architects, writers, scientists, mathematicians, chefs, and others who, for want of a more complex explanation, try to think of what can be rather than what is. Certainly, anyone can be creative by nature or endeavor, but they may or may not be driven to create something not yet seen, known, or made.

Creativity is not the same as problem-solving, although it is true that a problem can be solved in a new way. The world has lots of problems — more now it seems. But probably not if one reads history.

What is true now is that problems arise much more easily and escalate more rapidly than in the past. Consider the events before and after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre: a long and drawn out religious war between the Catholics and the Huguenots in the 16th century, both backed by and ignored by the papal seat; or Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938 – November 10, 1938 (again ignored by the pope); or the Capitol Riot on January 6, 2021. These are problems with deep roots and probably share lineage(s). And they will continue as problems — deep psychic problems — for years to come. We will need problem solvers to maintain some sense of order whether or whether not their actions can address the bigger issue(s). We will need lots of problem solvers, and the best of them may work in creative ways.

But getting back to creative people (as opposed to people who may work in creative ways). Creative people usually “don’t” solve problems, or at the very least, don’t solve the problems of others. They usually set up a problem(s) or question(s) of their own regardless of whether others are thinking in the same way. This may be a decisive act, but usually, it is because of a distraction so invasive that it eclipses everything else. Consider Stella’s black paintings, Carravagio’s use of light, or Zahah Hadid’s curves. Although they all seem like rational steps in the history of the practice, they were the result of those artist’s own investigation(s). There are many other such examples. What Stella, Carravagio, and Hadid also share is a problematic relationship with their peers (or at least a mythology of dysfunction). They weren’t working on a collective problem, collaborating and communicating with a community. They isolated themselves, at least in the beginning.

These three artists (and many others), for want of any better way to describe it, “disrupted” their times and their practices. These are epistemic shifts rather than constructive steps. It is also true that their “disruptions” were short-lived. No sooner than their works came to be known did their “problem” become part of everyone else’s problem, if only historically than actually. Object-ness, light, and speed quickly replaced expression, narrative, and structure. One day they were working out something “new,” the next they were referred to as precedent — the moment between these two events, if known, must surely have been “ecstatic.” 

Stella, Hadid, and Carravagio are three of many; but not that many. Those who make it into history books are either disrupters or exemplars, or disruptors first and then exemplars. History is more about change than about progress.