Is design humility possible?

I’m looking back at this rich thread and thankful so many people took the time to participate. The conversation touched upon exposure, tension, awareness and surface, among many other ideas, and we conjured up Bruno Latour, Kahn, Eisenman and Kengo Kuma. The two-week duration was luxurious — enough time for ideas to simmer, develop and branch, and ample space to focus. Much of my own engagement online is confined to short bursts of 140 characters or less, so the longer format has been especially refreshing.

Several commenters mentioned something about “removing the ego,” or a lack of ego or dissociation of the self from the creative process. I went back to the opening statement to see if I had suggested this in my choice of words, and unfortunately there is a hint of that in “Cage’s removal of judgement from his decision-making…” Just to clarify: the ego cannot be removed from any process, creative or otherwise. It’s central to the self and mediates between all aspects of the psyche and the external world. In fact, my own interest lies in what’s possible when the ego is very much present — strong, resilient and healthy — and flexible enough to allow decision-making to flow in from the external world (nature, chance operations, etc.). Instead of imposing judgement or personal taste from within, creativity might open up to something new — wider, larger views of beauty.

Thanks to the Philip Johnson Glass House folks for celebrating John Cage’s 100th with this provocative discussion, and for allowing me to host. I remain fascinated by Cage’s way of working. We’re still learning. I tried to explore this and my own definition of “design humility” in a forthcoming article, to be published this spring in the third issue of The Manual. Please look for it and let’s continue the discussion here!

One Comment

  1. What came immediately to my mind as I read the topic of conversation and later the John Cage quote about asking questions, is the remark of my friend and mentor, the late poet, potter, painter, author and educator, M.C.Richards (1916-1999). (Richards was a friend of Cunningham and Cage’s from their days at BMC, where she taught.) The remark, made long ago in a workshop, was directed to artist/dancer Paulus Berensohn, destined to become one of MC’s closest companions. She said that beauty was found not in what is arranged but in what is revealed. Which, in turn, gives rise to Goethe’s “… awe before the pure phenomenon”. Perhaps the part of us that can work toward the “revealed” and thus, the humility at issue here, requires, paradoxically, an enlargement of self-ness, not a shrinking away from our fear of “ego” but a befriending and strengthening that encourages the willingness to allow it all in, to resist the temptation to edit too readily which we mostly do according to our received values, whether they be traditional or avant-guarde. The thing that most impressed me about Cage, aside from his angelic humor, was his abject denial that there was such a thing as failure. And when one is following a process instead of end-running a result, how can there be? The late San Francisco poet, Robert Duncan, encouraged his students, of which I was one, to respect the misspellings and slips of the tongue that occur in the process of writing, as messages we are meant to follow, augment, and make inquiry of.
    It is a hard thing to do, to let go of what you thought you were on the way to, to open it
    up again and again, to be forever unfinishing….

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