Archive for the Capitol Category

The History of Creativity Part I or Men in Black

Posted in Architecture, Art, Capitol, Corcoran School of Art, House Post Office, Longworth Building, Photography, VCU on November 16, 2011 by smpiv


I’ve written this one in my head any number of times.  I’ve written it in my head going south on the NJTP.  I’ve
written it in my head going north through Scranton.  I stopped writing it in my head when I realized I was on 87 vs. 287 and had to be sure I didn’t miss the Cross Bronx.

I thought that I would throw a lot of art history at it and go through some long winded dissertation on the state of art over the last two hundred years, but……

Am I creative?

Well I don’t know, but I think I’ll tell what it means to be creative to me-my own little story.

I build things.  Always have.  I disappear into my creations, I mean way gone.  Models, forts, rubber band guns, rebuilding my bike–anything with my hands.

I’m a perfectionist.  So much so that if it isn’t right–just right–I’ll destroy it.

In a nutshell I am both a creator and a destroyer.  I’ve always had that; it just took time to make it work for me.

I would love to say that I was repressed, that others held me back from my passion, that no one recognized my
genius, but until I was twenty three years old, there was nothing to repress, held back or recognized.  I was your
average, aimless young man.

Most Likely to _________?  I was most likely to do what?  I was so ill defined I didn’t have a clue what I would like to do.  Like most people, I had a long list of things I didn’t want to do, but no real handle on what I could do.

It wasn’t until I was twenty three that I made a move that was of my own volition and desire.

Family, friends and strangers had long said I had an artistic bent and, in truth, through my humility I thought  they might just be right, but I didn’t know what to do with it.

My work history following graduating from college was sketchy at best.  Through the lens of a poor economy and no discernable talent I went from one minor job to another.  A short—eight days—stint in the military would have given me a good foothold into the working world.  However it was there that I made my first Big-boy decision—a career in the Navy Supply Corps was not what I wanted to do with my life.  I dis-enrolled (DE’d in military parlance).

A brief career as a baby photographer (six months) was a first step toward my future—a horrid experience on the whole, but I had a knack for the photographic aspect of the job.

And then one of those odd jobs that leveraged it all—the House Post Office, pitching and delivering mail.  Such a mindless position that I had more than ample time to think about things.  What to watch on TV, what to have for dinner that night, oh and what to do with the rest of my life.

I was living the single DC life in Silver Spring, Maryland, just where East West Highway makes a hoop-di-doo to
avoid going through DC.  It was a short walk to the Metro that took me to the House Post Office in the Longworth Building and then, later, to the Crypt in the Capitol Building.

I don’t remember the particulars, but I do remember my friend David Barnes convincing me to put together a
portfolio of my photographs, drawings and doodles and apply to the Corcoran School of Art.  He was one of those people who told me I had a talent, maybe not a gift, but at least a talent.  He was big into penny-stocks, so he was used to betting on long-shots, but it was enough to motivate me.

And damn if they didn’t accept my application.  I was thrilled for a day or two, and then horrified that perhaps they didn’t look closely enough at my work and had made some egregious error.

I was convinced before I got there that I would be surrounded by young da Vincis, Picassos, et al.  At twenty three I was the old man in the program and probably more nervous than I would have been had I been seventeen.  As it turned out I had more talent in my pinky than most of these darkly dressed pretenders.

As an aside, our culture has this misconception that if you are antisocial, quirky, gay or can’t match your socks
that you must have a creative disposition; that you must need an outlet; that your “problem” can’t be discerned by inkblots, but by creating them.  For this reason I wasn’t surrounded by the aforementioned artists, but by a motley collection of antisocial, quirky, gay, and non-sock-matching people with varying levels of talent.

Just for clarity, except for the gay part, I was a high functioning antisocial, quirky, and non-sock-matching member of the group.  I blame my inability to match socks on my color blindness.

My point is that creativity has no recognizable look.

But there I was, a pig-in-shit.  The Foundations program was one of my more lucent periods.  It was a
moment in my life when my skipping stone touched down.  Everything was fresh and new.  Everything I had imagined I could do with a blank piece of paper, a blank canvas, a piece of clay was all put before me.  It was a door unlocked.

I had entered the program with all intention to continue with photography, but as one new media after another
presented itself I wasn’t so sure.

My walks from the Corcoran to the crypt in the Capitol Building usually included a stop at the East Wing, the Hirshhorn, the Renwick, the Air and Space, the Museum of American Art and the Portrait Gallery—obviously depending on the day, but to that point and since had never spent so much time in art galleries and museums.  Their creative collections are immense and they were washing over me.  It was daunting and inspiring.

While I was at the Corcoran, and later at VCU, I never called myself an artist, but when asked I said I went to art school.  Most of my friends referred to themselves as artists right off the bat.  I had no such pretension.  In a lot of ways I still don’t.

So what does it mean to be creative? I still don’t know. I am now an architect—come to by a very roundabout route, but one that has taken every creative instinct that I’ve had and put it to use.  I think what I’ve done is best summed up by the notion of the creative instinct.

Like any animal that works on instinct I have very little to explain the whys, whats, and wherefores.  So sadly I can’t tell what creativity is or where it comes from.  For me twenty-three was the year I woke up, took my life into my own hands, for better or for worse and walked down my own creative path.   And it is fortunate that I have creative outlets for I could very easily live in my own head at a greater distance than I already am.

So there you have it.  Probably an unsat answer, but at least what it means to be creative to me.