Field Notes: The Soul in the Detail

What is it to be original? What is it to be unique? These questions can easily haunt your mind when you’re staring at a blank drawing board in front of you. 

I remember waking up one cold morning after sleeping the night away in my little orange tent high in mountains. I put on my boots and coat and exited the surprising warmth of my nylon cocoon. As I stood up, a puff of vapor revealed the onslaught of cold against my breath. It was daybreak, on my shoulders glanced the first beams of sun over the eastern mountains behind me, and before me lie the valley I had traveled the day before, still shrouded in twilight. I looked up to the ridgeline on the opposite side of the valley. As the valleys’ gentle grade met the steeper slope, so did the grass meadow turn into thick pine forest. I remember remarking to myself, how many valleys, how many meadows and pine thickets must there be here just in the Rocky Mountains? And yet... I could hike, I could map, I could photograph each one, and still find that they are each as unique as a fingerprint. Viewed from a passenger jet though, the Rockies just look like an ever sprawling advance of green, save for the occasional eye catching geological formation, it all looks like repeating factors. But then, when you get in it, when you really get in it, each one of those innumerable peaks and valleys have the power to catch your attention and seal in memories unlike many other things around these days. They all have a personality, a distinctness all their own.

I think there is a strange power to creation. I mean that in a couple ways of course; in Creation, the world around us, the macro... but also in creation, in the creating we humans pursue, the micro. These two things, the macro and the micro are interlinked in their way of operating though. Science has its laws and formulae, its modus operandi, I think creativity does as well. It too has principles as real as any Newtonian law. But before you go thinking that I have made the arts too concrete and stiff, or that I myself have discovered these “creative principles”, let me first say this. Creativity may have some underpinning that is constant, but unlike science where the universe seems to align to the discovered principles we have. In the universe of creativity, it’s more like we’re in some strange rocket ship skipping around different dimensions in a multi-verse, sometimes we try something and it works completely reasonably, other times it couldn’t go more wrong. I suppose that’s why certain people surf or play jazz, it’s not control they’re seeking, but rather the beauty of improvising with what’s given to you. Ok back to what we were talking about... Creation & creation, macro & micro. What principle is it that can catch attentions and seal in memories, what is it that makes a thing original or unique? I believe the creative principle at play here is something I call, “the soul in the detail.” Details are miraculous things. Details separate, make distinct, make personal what you create. I’m not just talking about drawing a picture and spending three weeks on stippling, although that may be what the piece takes, I’m talking about something else, the “soul” in the detail. There is a lot of art out there these days, but I believe the people who succeed, who stand out, who blaze trails, have one principle in common. They spend a great amount of time discovering their “soul” in the detail, their distinct creative fingerprint that they inevitably, unwittingly after a while, sow into each and every created piece they produce. There is a time to learn from and gain inspiration through other artists you enjoy and value, but eventually, you need to find your own creative soul, your fingerprint, and develop it. I think really developing it is key, it’s something I ever endeavor to do. Develop it in a way that although trends change, and methods change, your creative soul remains a constant cord running throughout your creative life. When you sow your creative soul into the details of your work, that is the moment you start standing out, you start blazing new trails into unknown territory. That may or may not come with accolades, with praise from peers, that part isn’t guaranteed, what is guaranteed is that you will never lose passion for your work, and you will be truly creating. It’s in the small spaces you find the difference. Original works can be imitated, copied, or echoed, but they can never be duplicated, despite the best of efforts, because the creative fingerprint, the soul in the details is different.

Hope this little Field Note was helpful or thought stirring, let me know below in the comments!

Keep Creating!

Seth