Creativity: Expression vs Order

I had the joy of visiting Galerie Michael in Beverly Hills, CA where numerous rare pieces of art are on exhibit. My personal preferences are in strong lines, use of color, and texture, of which Rembrandt’s sketches stood out for strong lines and Renoir’s impressionist paintings had me observing from various angles to catch the light’s response to the mixture of layered hues. Admittedly, too, Picasso drew me with his boldness but left me feeling a bit stressed and confused.

Regardless of our opinions on art through time, I believe we can agree that in order for creatives to make their work stand out from others they must not only learn how to express themselves in their given craft, but they must also do so with some form of predictability and order. While on the surface, some might argue that creativity or art focuses purely on expression, the two are not in conflict, but are in partnership with each other. Let’s take a deeper look.

Order occurs on two levels: 1) within a work, connecting on a logical or emotional plane (see our prior discussion on innovation and expression) and 2) repeated in subsequent works, making them all identifiable as the works (or a collection) by a particular creator.

Clearly, Elvis Presley followed these principles throughout his music career. Rather than being a one-hit wonder, he repeatedly captured his audience with his unique draw, smooth tones, and expressive hip-twisting, propelling him from a beloved Southern Gospel soloist to the King of Rock. To this day, whether hearing “Amazing Grace” or “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” the voice of Elvis is one of the most recognizable voices on radio. Expression plus order helped to fuel his success as an artist.

Training college students in graphic design and video editing has provided numerous opportunities for me to observe young creatives. At first, they often get enamored with the ability to express themselves with their new tools, but without order their work can get so busy the objective is lost. For new video editors, excitement might lead them to insert a different transition between each clip (Note: applicable to PowerPoint users, too!) on their timeline, not realizing that their creative expression has overshadowed the need for order. As they develop, students begin to grasp that creating must happen within boundaries (order), and so the principles of proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast grow to serve as meaningful guides.

In most all cases, we need to pair expression and order together for our creative work to be meaningful (and marketable!), but we can also recognize that there are some instances when disorder might be acceptable, or even appreciated, such as in creative expression that flows from the outpouring of emotion. As such, deep worship, an impromptu song, or other emotionally driven expression might lack any recognizability to an observer on the outside of the experience. The painter in great despair who splatters ink on the canvass… The woman overtaken with love who breaks a bottle of perfume and uses her hair to bathe her Messiah’s feet… while such expression is “live” observers undoubtedly find themselves at a complete loss while attempting to contemplate the full implications. While, again, these are rare circumstances, they are artistic measures, and they are often unrepeatable; therefore, they have little-to-no marketability. I would consider such creativity without structure or order to be more for “an audience of one (or few).”

In the end, there is really no conflict between our need to express ourselves and order. In fact, the more we embrace the two the greater our creative voice can connect with our world. Learn to hone those definitive edges, truly finding where your niche resides. There are too many copycats!

Things to Consider:

  • As you think about what you want to express through your creativity, contemplate the elements you will use to provide ordered predictability within your work. Is it thin lines, not thick, or maybe a hidden message in each piece? Will the tones you present flow with four-part harmony, or will you maybe regularly choose shrill sounds to communicate duty and stress? Will you direct horror films that teach about the otherwise unknown beauties that we fail to perceive in normal life, or maybe Rom-Coms that force audiences to consider some of the tough issues in society?
  • Are there any other times you can think of when order might not be necessary in connection to creative expression?

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Video Producer, Director, Writer, Editor.