Discipline vs. Freedom

27 Aug 2003 (Wed)

“It’s not wise to violate the rules until you know how to observe them.” — T.S. Eliot
“I don’t think anybody can be creative [dealing] with people sitting around a conference table.” — Charles Shultz

Paul Rand - photo from commarts.comTHESE DAYS, i’m once again intrigued by the concept of duality — just like earlier days when i was continually fascinated by many apparently contrary sayings of wise men such as Laozi, Buddha and Kahlil Gibran.

Was reminded of this while showing my Engineering Communication students a Graphics Design video last Monday evening. The narrator was introducing the key steps to successful design: (1) Purpose, (2) Media & Arena, (3) Supplies & Results, and (4) Discipline & Freedom.

YES, Discipline & Freedom! Seems like a paradox, doesn’t it? Yet, it ties in closely with what have been written in many biblical and mystical texts that I have loved. And with what Paul Rand (1914-1996) wrote in the A.I.G.A. Journal for Spring 1951:

1. Designing is not capricious arrangement.
2. Freedom of expression is not anarchy.
3. Understanding of the nature of new materials is not a exercise in novelty.
4. Functional form is not streamlining.
5. Order, discipline and proportion are not a Greek monopoly.
6. Simplicity is not nudity.
7. Space does not mean ‘empty space’; nor is ’space articulation’ the arbitrary placement of things in a void.
8. Sensitivity is not fussiness nor is it preciousness.
9. Glass bricks do not a modern house make.
10. Lower case letters and sans serif do not make modern terminology.
11. Montage is not synthesized confusion.
12. Cropping and bleeding are not the prerogative of a Blue Beard.
13. Texture is not exclusively a physical experience.

Farnsworth HouseLIKEWISE, German architect Mies van der Rohe (1886 – 1969) is famous for his ‘Less is More’ and ‘God is in the details’ maxims. Throughout his life, especially in the last 20 years of his work, Mies tried to create contemplative, neutral spaces with material honesty and structural integrity through a glass and steel (sometimes also known as ’skin and bone’) architecture. His later works provide a fitting denouement to a life dedicated to this ideal of a universal, simplified architecture.

However, as Paul Rand pointed out, “Glass bricks do not a modern house make.” i suspect, as usual, a proper balance of Discipline & Freedom is key. In many ways, Mies’ architecture resembles Zen architecture in spirit — elegant and minimalist (but no simpler). It is achieved, i think, through one of those rare ‘Eureka’ (or what some people might call ‘Nirvana’) moments after lots of exploration and experimentation.

IN A SIMILAR VEIN, Picasso is famous not only for his abstract Cubist paintings but also for his earlier naturalistic paintings. Ditto for Zhang Daqian — initially well-known for his imitations of Chinese master paintings and later for his innovative splash ink technique. As T.S. Eliot has pointed out, and i extrapolate, it takes a master of rules to innovate and create true breakthroughs.

Interestingly, Robert McKee (author of STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting, and said to be the consummate screenwriting teacher) made a similar point during a 3-day seminar in Singapore last January: “The Miniplot (minimalism) and the Antiplot (anti-structure) cannot have any meaning without the Archplot (classical design) as the reference point.”

Again, i see Discipline & Freedom!

(see Discipline & Freedom II in OnlineLearningTeacher)

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Posted by J.K. in Art, Learning, Media, Visual | View Comments |

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