Wednesday, August 8, 2007


I've been thinking a lot (now's the time to run) about stricture. Specifically stricture in the context of creativity. Yes, creativity encompasses originality, and yes, creativity is in some sense defined by newness. But in order to have originality or newness, you must have a point of comparison or departure: the mossy old penny beside the nice spanking new one, or the ground bass under your variation. (Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence stuff speaks to this in a literary context, if you're interested).

Sooo...stricture (boundary, parameter, stenosis) is creative fuel, driving your generativity, sustaining it, and finally packaging it for attractive display. Of course, it's not that simple. There are, for starters, different kinds of stricture: parameters can range from simple (words need to fit on standard piece of paper) to complex (words need to form cohesive retelling of Beauty and the Beast), from familiar (western tonality) to less familiar (microtonality). They can also be imposed by a variety of internal (Schoenberg's 12-tone rules, for Schoenberg) and external (Schoenberg's 12-tone rules, for Berg) sources. They can be hewn to or they can be subverted. And then there's the problem of mutability: one person's creative impulse (the folia baseline) can become another person's stricture (the folia baseline). Even within a single piece of art -a sonata, say- a contrasting "b" theme can undergo variation. Phew.

But maybe all this variability signifies something. I've consumed a lot of "high art." I've also consumed a lot of "low art." But how do I know what's what? Partly, of course, because people tell me. But then how do they know what's what? I wonder if it doesn't have something to do with stricture. Does a person's perception of art as "low" or "high" vary in accord with the number, type, source, etc. of limiting parameters? Some possible independent variables:

number of parameters
complexity of parameters
familiarity of parameters
obviousness of parameters
degree to which parameters are subverted

You could probably test this, but it would be irritating.

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