Graph Paper is the Road to Hell!

or..."If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him

A simple notion, concepts are wonderful and necessary tools we have to have in order to live in the modern world. But for human creativity and the human soul, define that as you will, they are anathema. Try this, make a mental leap and imagine Buddhist enlightenment. It comes when you recognize your true self, the oneness of all things, and this can only happen if there are no filters, and no conceptions (much less PRE-conceptions).

I offer up that short of total mind blowing enlightenment, we can catch glimpses of this through creative acts. At those “AH HA!” moments the idea comes through of its own accord…let’s say “Inspired”. We may have been trying to solve problems by using tools and concepts to handle the data in front of us, but the inspired innovation is born as if of its own accord.

There is hard mental work preparing for the inspiration, but the flash is without attachment, even if it is immediately put to work adapting known concepts.

So why is graph paper the road to hell?

This comes from thinking about the late designer Richard Sapper, who (I am told by a friend who would know) really disliked using graph paper during the creative process. Which you might think is just a technical observation about the best way to loosen the mind with approaching a problem. But for some reason I always remembered this dictum and thought it was deeper than that.

The same friend mention above, suggested I read one of Sapper’s favorite books, by his early mentor Romano Guardini, called Letter’s from Lake Como by. And this quote from it really struck me

“Machines are steel concepts. They lay hold of many things in such a way as to disregard their individual features and to treat them as though they were all the same.”

Machines are steel concepts” Man! That is a great phrase. I bet it is even better in German

Anyway, it reminded be about Sapper’s graph paper aversion (OK, maybe another mental stretch, but bear with me). Graph paper presupposes right angles and it would be hard not to fall into grid like and “pre-conceived” thinking. So in a way the Graph gives us concepts in paper. Not as poetic as “Steel Concepts”, but the graph lays hold of any ideas and treats any of them as if they are the same, with the same lattice nature.

AND, if these fleeting moments of creativity are those few times we let go of concepts and see into the world’s true nature…well, to avoid that divine spark means to embrace its opposite.

From Third Letter: Abstraction…

Mind and spirit are not abstractly universal like a formula that fits all things of the same type. They are life; they are concrete. Concepts, however, are abstract, mere forms, signs, abbreviations of thought, means of simplification, cation, and, in a final sense, aids.

1 comment:

David said...

Oddly enough, these graph paper pads used to be required for certain engineering classes in college. I use no paper with lines or graphs.