I took the Adobe Creative Type quiz the other day and was surprised to find that I tested as an Artist. They do qualify that you’re probably all the types and may even change types depending on your stage of life or what projects you’re taking on right now, but I’ve never thought about myself as an artist for so many inane reasons, like “I’m not an art guy” or “I don’t have the background to understand art,” or “it’ll cut into the time I need for useful skills like math.”
It’s fitting that the tagline for the artist “Seeing beauty, creating beauty” coincides with the title of what I named my newsletter “Bridging Paradoxes and Discovering Beauty.” I’ve come a long way from feeling that beauty is beyond my domain to actively seeking it out in everything I do. The traditional kind of beauty I thought about as a kid only existed in the passion of Delacroix , the preciseness of Michelangelo, or the disquiet of Munch. I didn’t realize that beauty was everywhere, disguised in different forms. When I became fascinated by things that didn’t follow that traditional definition, I was struck by the same sense of wonder and awe that I got when looking at art. I started to realize that beauty was all around, in combining chemicals into an entirely new substance; in building fake worlds, swaths of neighborhoods at a time, through a string of words; and even in ascertaining the truth to an unsolvable riddle from the composition of a few simple facts. I found that beauty is also a cool, cloudless, summer night, the infinite layers of the night sky dazzling brightly, and a quiet forest with wisps of mist streaming between the slumbering trunks, and also a heavy breeze carrying a single orange leaf away from the changing trees.
Beauty can be found in everything as long as you know to look and you look to appreciate. How do we embrace that mindset of gratitude for the beauty around us rather than pining for the perfect beauty we are taught to grasp for? Some substances, like psychedelics, change your mental pathways to appreciate more of the beauty in everyday life. People say that they never look at trees the same way again, appreciating them for their complex beauty underlying the surface. Are there other ways to encourage this mindset towards every moment, to be grateful for the little things in life?
Life becomes so much easier when you can be grateful for the small things that give you joy: a good latte, or just a slightly more palatable one if you’ve been failing to make your own, an effortless conversation, a bright day after a week of thick clouds and fierce wind, the light draining from the horizon reflecting against a city skyline.
Although beauty can be found everywhere, there’s a palpable difference between the sort of timeless, simple beauty of something known and the vibrant, shocking beauty of the unknown. While the former is everywhere, the latter is more commonly found in the seams between things, the joints where you go to combine and compose and remix. This kind of beauty is heavily connected to novelty—we find manifestations of new ideas to be beautiful, skillful renditions of the same old to be mediocre. Raw skill isn’t key to this beauty; rather, the key is finding the magical mix of skill and imagination, with a dash of insanity.
Direct demonstrations of skill start to beautify once you start to put different things together, to experiment with what could be rather than what should be. It’s like when you learn the mechanics and rules of any skill: how to draw straight lines and create planes and introduce shadows in drawing or using conditional logic and manipulating the DOM and operating on data in programming. These basic rules tell you what’s possible and set the environment that you get to play in. Once you understand those basic skills, you can keep sharpening those areas, getting really good at making intricate shadows or really good at DOM wizardry, but they don’t mean anything in isolation. It’s taking those deep skills that call out to you and combining them with other areas, whether in the same domain or not that renders something that others can identify with.
Some people create for practical purposes: they find an idea that is profitable and feasible and work to make it happen. Others build for aesthetic reasons: they have a vision that they can’t get out of their mind to the point that they need to bring it to life, regardless of how outlandish it seems. Building for aesthetics allows you to pursue an idea purely out of a desire to make it a reality, which empowers you to go past traditional guardrails of practicality and efficiency and enter dreamland. This is great for exploring a crazy idea because it stretches your mind for what options to even consider. The downside is that you might make something that is entirely detached from how real society and real people operate, an idea that is too abstract or crazy for anyone to relate to. The trick is to walk the fine line between the two modes of operation, following your instinct for beauty while connecting it back to everyday reality. As a creator of beauty, you have to cycle between dreaming and listening to build the bridge between the tangible and the fantastical, charting the path from our current world to a new, imagined world.
I love the freedom that comes from creative expression, how you’re able to take a blob of an idea, a thing without substance, and bring it into the world, mental fluff made into solid matter, is real-world magic to me. I feel the most alive when I’m working on bringing an idea to life, to actualize the metaphor that reverbs through the chambers of my head.
This is the 17th installment in my experiment of publishing raw, lightly edited mini-essays every day towards achieving 100 public pieces. Check out the rationale and the full list here or view my evergreen, longer pieces on my website.
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