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The nature of creative work: art, fiction, and futures

Georgia O'Keeffe

Artists, writers, musicians, and other creative people muse over what it is that they do. We can learn a lot from their exploration of what their crafts mean, and what they are for. So I try to pay attention to what they have to say.

I recently explored the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, which displays quotes from her among the paintings. I liked these thoughts on her work:

Nothing is less real than realism … Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things. –1922

If I could put down accurately the thing that I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at – not copy it.–1976

Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or a tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is the most definite form for the tangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.–1977

It may surprise some people that I say it, but a futurist’s work to describe the future is just like the painter’s effort to make an idea or an experience, visual. Foresight is not about reproducing something objective for others to see. It’s about changing how and what they see as they look at the future.

The work of writing scenarios, or any analysis called “the future of…” is rooted in what we try to know about the future, but it’s a game of selection, elimination, and emphasis, as O’Keeffe saw her task as a painter.

In fact, when I write a scenario, I work knowing that the world of 2030 or some other future date has much that is the same as our world today, but with plenty of changes showing everywhere. My task is to help people understand those changes, not item by item, but as a part of a whole system. Things need to seem different from today in my scenarios. The important changes need to stand out, but be part of something whole, and partway familiar. Like O’Keeffe, I have to try to put the lines and colors of this future together so that they say something.

When writing fiction, I follow the same goals. I need to know a lot about the story’s background, but what I share with the reader is a selection. The details that matter to what the story is trying to convey. It’s a process of selecting, eliminating, and emphasis.

 

Image: Library of Congress

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