116 - The artist and the engineer

Hello and welcome to the The Spark & The Art creativity podcast. Thank you for subscribing to our weekly podcast, where we alternate between interviews with creative folks from all different career levels and insight and inspiration episodes. All with the intention you’ll get what you need to get your creative projects started and, more importantly, finished.

I’m your host Tucker and this week is part waxing poetically about the creative process like I normally do and part what marriage is about. 

Last week was an interview with my wife about how she views creative things and some of the projects she has done. During it we talk a bit about her mom’s artistic leanings. While I was editing it I remebered a picture of her mom and dad in front of a big rolling ball machine sculpture. If you've never seen one the are basically a big box filled with rails and ramps and conveyor belts and such and balls just roll around in there like part K'Nex and part Rube Goldberg machine. If I still haven't described enough for you I've put a couple pictures on the show notes page for this episode at TheSparkAndTheArt.com/116. So, now that you've either created some weird device in your head or you've looked up a picture of an actual one - imagine two people looking at it. One is a woman and one is a man they are both looking up at this machine with their heads cocked to the side. She has a jacket draped over her arm and he has his arms crossed across his chest. 

The woman is an artist and has done art her whole life. Painting, sculpture, textiles, drawing. 

The man is an engineer. He's spent his career in the oil and gas industry planning and building oil refineries and natural-gas processing plants. 

These two people are married and are both looking at the same rolling ball scupture. Both are engrossed in the installation and enjoying the weird big machine. 

When I see this picture I like to look at what's going on inside both of their heads. 

She is looking at the colours and the symmetry of how the rails and conveyors fill the space. The timing of the balls and how there never seems to be a space that has too few or too many balls rolling. 

He on the other hand is looking at the timing and the gears. The speed the balls as they roll along the metal rails. Figuring out what the designer must have calculated to balance the speed with the friction and gravity and ensure that the balls didn't go to slow to stop in the middle of the track. 

Two views of the same thing. This is basically how many people look at art. Some look at songwriting as a technical endeavour to carve out the perfect pop song and let the listener make up what the song is about. I’m on the story side of things. If you listen to the episode of the SongExploder Podcast with Rivers Cuomo of Weezer you’ll hear and excellent example of how this works. He uses spreadsheets with syllable counts of cool phrases he’s heard. Very technical in is approach. On the other side I once heard an interview with Liza Minelli where she describes her process of getting into a song where in a notebook she has the lyrics and on the left hand page and on the  right page she has the story of the song with notes about the scene that’s playing out over the course of the song. Really working out the story and emotion of the song rather than the technical bits of how it’s put together. 

What kind of creative stuff do you do? Writer, photographer, dancer? There is both technical skills and creative skills in everything. Are you getting where you want to be with your work? Are you focusing too much on the technical? Too much on the emotion? Even a story has both emotion and structure - which side is your strength and which side could you use a little help on.

The amazing thing is that once you know structure down pat you can work any emotion into it very easily. That’s why there are so many books and articles on story structure or the framing of a landscape shot. So many articles on painting techniques and photoshop tutorials. The reason they teach you an essay format in high-shcool english class is because once you have a structure it’s easier to get your point across. It’s also easier for the listener or reader because they don’t have to figure out how the story is structured they can focus on the characters and emotion. The challenge of course is figuring out what you want to say. 

But then there is giant rolling-ball machines. People recognize movement and colour and what metal is. They know what balls and conveyor belts are. But when you put them all together in an intriguing way you can get both the artist and the engineer to stop and contemplate your work. Even if it doesn’t have a story other than “this whimsical machine is made for you to enjoy”. 

You can always get me on twitter @sparkartpocast and now on the freshly minted Facebook group at TheSparkAndTheArt.com/facebook

Thanks for listening and remember: you won’t get the art without the work and you won’t do the work without the spark. 


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