Friday, March 13, 2009

Creating in Chaos

When life is uncertain (when isn't it?) creative responses to the world can seem confusing or futile. Well-known terrain, once solid, dissolves into watery currents. Old maps don't trace present, fluid movements. Time-tested tricks don't do the trick. Flailing about just makes choppy waters choppier. Suddenly, at sea, it's sink or swim. Other than "to be or not to be," the question is how to swim in ways that turn breakdown into breakthrough. 

For thousands of years, the old wise guys and wise women left clues to navigating uncertainty in sacred art and architecture. The geometry, iconography, and spatial forms they left behind are vital manuals for traveling wisely through a mysterious world. One example is the image above. I came across this painting of Christ creating the universe in an out of the way church in Toledo, Spain. I'd looked at reproductions of similar images before, but I didn't really see it until that day in Toledo. In the painting, Christ stoops over the firmament, plants the point of his architect's compass into chaos and carefully swings the arc of a circle, transforming formlessness into form. 

What I appreciate about this image is the universal depiction of design growing from the undesigned; that taking a humble stance and carefully drawing energies from the void is the sustainable process of creating organic order. It also reminds me that orderly structures that try to contain and suppress chaos will be swept away by shifting tides. On the other hand, structures arising from chaos have the support of its endless vitality.

For me, the uncertain times we're passing though call for the wise response indicated by this painting. That response is, wherever I'm swimming in my day, plant the point of my compass in the swirling currents and swing the arcs of design arising from that momentless moment in that placeless place. What flows into form may not be what I expected, but its vitality and particular design seem to provide just the right stepless step in the next phase of my course through the world.  

1 comment:

  1. Well stated. I also like how the unexpected can divert life, almost on a day-to-day basis. In spite of trying to navigate the chaos with our most well-laid plans, we can sidetrack to any number of paths, influenced by necessity, curiosity, synchronicity, fear, suggestion, and accident. In our quest for order, these forays into chaos are what provide the spice of life.