Creative Process: Expansion and Compression

18 May

Expansion and compression in the creative process relates to the amount of time we are willing or able to allow for a project.  Expansion and compression in the creative process also speak to the amount of risk we can afford with respect to the project outcome.

Generally, an expansive approach to a project allows plenty of time for experimenting with new techniques, exploring for the first time or revisiting styles, forms, and mediums which are not currently part of your tried and true pallet.   A composer of short 20 second audio clips might stretch into the creation of a longer 4 minute track.  The painter in acrylics might explore the challenging and rich world of mixed medium.  The figurative sculptor might attempt an abstract subject.

Invariably, this kind of exploration, experimentation, requires time out for learning.  There is always a bit of a “leap of faith” involved with respect to the learning process.  Some of us can wander awfully far from our original path and goal, with respect to learning.   There is always the possibility that we won’t find our way back to the original project, or we will emerge from the learning with an understanding that informs the original project in an unexpected way, for better or worse.  We may result with something very fresh, a powerful new element, in the current piece.  We may need to rethink the project, to start from scratch, given the implications of our new learning, if we seek to continue the exploration – the expansive approach.

As we have mentioned, your current production pressures may dictate the extent to which you can take an expansive approach to building your projects.

We should always be evaluating just what we are trying to achieve with a project.  If we created something unexpected, can we afford now to start from scratch?  Perhaps this is the time to accept the unexpected creation on its own terms and let it fly – for the sake of a bigger priority – your currently compressed production cycle.

Our Composer of Art has 3 commissions to complete in a week’s time and several other commissions which are waiting for attention.  She has several pieces in progress to tap into.  Her current project explores some 12-tone compositional technique which is new to her – could involve substantial new learning – probably requires substantial testing and experimentation.  There are lots of unexpected results occurring – some delightful, some problematic.  Her rational approach is to open herself up wide to a product which does not necessarily reflect something totally familiar in herself.

Her daring approach is to let work go out rough, believe in the magic of the new piece, even as she only begins to understand it.  she applies her reasonable and tested techniques against everything that is new for her, and she comes up with something special, unique, albeit unrefined, and in a reasonable amount of time.

By allowing her works in the new medium (12-tone) to finish on the faster side, she can proceed to new projects, continuing to explore the new medium, and with each iteration of a new project in the new medium, her technique with the new medium strengthens.

so in effect there is expansion and compression going on simultaneously.  our composer of art compresses her production cycle for the sake of filling commissions, but she stays with a particular medium (12-tone organization) from project to project, EXPANDING her ability in this new style.

it is helpful to look at other aspects of our lives in a similar way.  we always strive to achieve the richness that comes from relationships, for example, that have built over the years.  but we also seek to expand our circle of friends and professional associates.  so we find ways to perfect the introduction, for example.  we COMPRESS the relationship building part (making lots of introductions), but we perfect and refine the introduction process itself (EXPANSION) and we are justifiably hopeful that these strong, focused introductions are fertile seeds which will germinate and bloom from the ground.

be very happy and sure in your process.  understand where you are at, and why you are making the choices you make.  expansion and compression is like breathing.  let yourself breathe.  you are always enjoying the benefits of expansion when you are in a state of self awareness and acceptance of your point in process.

the benefit of compression, on the other hand, is the ability to do one, discreet, bite-sized thing, over and over.  it is the benefit of increasing a social circle through a well practiced and reiterated process of introduction.  it is the benefit of developing a rich portfolio of works in progress by taking a well-worn technique of laying the foundation for a project and reiterating, by permitting learning and technique in a new medium to strengthen over a larger population of less refined works.

breathe in and out.  enjoy your artistic life.  enjoy the special gifts you have to share in your daily life with others.  enjoy the special way you get to see and understand the world.

spark on


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Posted by on May 18, 2012 in creative process


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