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The Column icon The Column: Issue 11

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

When Something Isn't, Is
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Late last year an award was given to one of the world's most powerful politicians. The man neither sought the award, nor was he proud of receiving what some might consider a dubious accolade. Nevertheless, his words inadvertently began to be quoted more often than before, and his creations found new life outside himself...

Out of Context

Context is everything. We experience the world from the point of view of our personal, social, and economic context. Some people call this our 'world picture'. Although each of us has our own unique 'world picture' we are generally social beings, and our desire to connect with one another encourages us to seek commonality.

Known Unknowns

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld won the 'Foot In Mouth' award for the following extract:

'Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know'

Feb. 12, 2002-2007, Department of Defence briefing

On reflection his words do make sense. The puzzlement and enjoyment we first experience when hearing his words is as a result of the repetition and qualification of the words know, known, and unknown. We laugh because it seems at first nonsensical, or at the least, clumsy. Gradually we piece together the context that each 'unknown' falls within.

The organisation and repetition of words, images, and sounds is the basis of much of our creative activity. Many artists trust their 'creative instincts', others prefer to create 'consciously', most combine their intuition and expertise. An artist who professes to practice purely 'intuitive art' is of course deluded as all that we do is a matrix of feeling, intuition, and reason.

The Poet In Us All

Donald Rumsfeld's words have been quoted as poetry. Although his words have much in common with poetry and they are without question thought provoking, I do not view his words as poetry nor any more creative than our daily conversational exchanges.

Although conversation is creative by its very nature, it is not 'consciously creative' which is a necessary state of authorship. Day to day conversations are not intended to be revisited in the same way as a creative work is. The purpose of conversation is not the same as the purpose of art.

Some may say, 'what about intuitive artworks, expressionism for instance'. If we acknowledge all unconscious creative activity as art, the word 'art' would simply be another word for 'life'. Language becomes meaningless. Art is a conscious activity that has a vital unconscious component, but it is not wholly unconscious. Defining art or creative people in this way limits its scope yet broadens our understanding of it.

Mr Rumsfeld did not intend to create poetry on the occasions detailed below although we could experience the extracts presented on this page as if it were poetry.

'I believe what I said yesterday. I don't know what I said, but I know what I think... and I assume it's what I said'

A spokesman for The British Plain English Campaign playfully commented:

'We think we know what he means, but we don't know if we really know.'

We create every day, every one of us. We simply do not view our formidable creative endeavours as special, but we're all doing it. That's not to say we should archive all our creative output, we live it. Perhaps when we read extracts like those below the twists and turns that stimulate our thoughts and imagination show us that art is as much a creative activity in the mind of those experiencing it, as an 'intended art':

You're going to be told lots of things. You get told things every day that don't happen. It doesn't seem to bother people, they don't. It's printed in the press. The world thinks all these things happen. They never happened.

Everyone's so eager to get the story before in fact the story's there, that the world is constantly being fed things that haven't happened.

All I can tell you is, it hasn't happened. It's going to happen.

Donald Rumsfeld: Feb. 28, 2002-2007, Department of Defence briefing

The Clarity of Self Expression

Most ordinary conversations, if presented in a particular context, will be experienced as powerful. Mr Rumsfeld's words are extraordinary, not only for the psychological insight they provide their audience with of the speaker, but because they are delivered by a man whose political influence was significant on a world stage. There's a poet in us all. I'll leave the last dance for you...

I think what you'll find, I think what you'll find is whatever it is we do substantively, there will be near-perfect clarity as to what it is. And it will be known, and it will be known to the Congress, and it will be known to you, probably before we decide it, but it will be known.

Donald Rumsfeld: Feb. 28, 2002-2007, Department of Defence briefing


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Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author. Mike is also the Creative Director of 2BrightSparks, a software company producing award winning backup solutions.

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