Submitted Date 12/03/2019

Thinking Outside The Box

Thinking outside the box is liberating and can get your creative juices going. You do not have to tell anyone if you don't want to, but it can open a new door that allows you to think and approach your work differently.

In the late 1960s, I took off for a weekend at the beach in the fall, Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina to be specific. When I arrived with a few friends I felt this wonderful sense of relief because I was away from a grueling job and I was with people I enjoyed.

Around that time in my life, I was making a number of small pen abstract drawings and had developed a kind of alphabet not unlike the work of Paul Klee whose work I had studied and admired.

At the beach, my friends and I went down to the shore and sat on a bench looking out at the sea at night. Then suddenly and spontaneously, almost without thinking, I began to draw these figures with my feet in the sand. What happened next is hard to describe. I came down off the bench and began to draw in the sand with my hands and feet. I drew my new kind of alphabet all the way down to the breaking waves. With an entire empty beach, I had no restrictions. Soon I had covered about a hundred feet. For a few minutes I admired my work realizing that in a short time it would all be washed or blown away, but even that idea seemed appropriate. Soon after that, we went to a restaurant to get a bite and I did not think much more about it.

Years later I realized that I was an early creator of what came to be called EarthArt or LandArt or Earthworks. While it was mostly an American movement, there was a somewhat similar movement in Italy known as Arte Povera, or Poor Art, meaning art made from dirt and stone. EarthArt had a number of aspects: it used the basic Earth as its palette, it was simple and it could not be sold in a gallery as it did not have a commercial value. Also, it was vulnerable and would change as the Earth forces of wind and rain played out.

While the idea of making art directly out of and in the Earth did not follow for me, the wonderful sense of moving my entire body as I worked did have an effect. Later when I took up photography, I enjoyed the physical side of photography, of moving in an environment to find just the right vantage point and angle for a shot. And in a fast-changing situation, I learned to move quickly as events unfolded.

Every artist should at some point try things that have never been tried, experiment with things that have never been tested, combine things that have never been combined. This does not mean that you have to present this art to the public -- maybe you do, maybe you don't. But trying different things -- especially those things you were told by teachers or in art school to never do -- is very freeing and can often lead to new ideas.

But thinking outside the box has many different aspects. In another example, I learned to tame, so to speak, the million volume library at the University of North Carolina by thinking outside the box.

Wilson library was considered one of the best university libraries. It had over one million books and a thorough card catalog (yes this was before computers) to help us students find what we wanted. To obtain a book, I needed to copy down the library book number which was the Dewey Decimal System number that arranged the books in categories and sub-categories on shelves. I then took this list to the desk and the assistant there would go get the books which I would then check out.

There was only one problem. The card catalog descriptions were too general. For several months I would check out various books only to find that they did not have the information I wanted.

Finally, in desperation, I put together a long list of about twenty books that I wanted to check out. When the assistant looked at my list he blanched. It would have taken him an hour to get everything. "Tell you what," he said to me. "Let me give you a stack pass, and you can go get these yourself." I could not believe my ears, I could actually go to the shelves and look directly at the books.

This, then, became my standard method of finding just the right books for my work. I would make a list of books that were in each category of the Dewey Decimal System, get a stack pass and then go to each section when I could look at the books directly. First I looked at the Table of Contents, next the Index of each book and finally looked at a specific page that described what I was researching.

Since the books were arranged in categories, I could go through a number of books that were right next to each other on the shelves until I found the right one. When I wrote my papers, my professors were impressed that I had found unusual information, information that they, often, did not know about.

This ability to think outside the box when researching things has helped me immensely in the computer age. I now know how to glance at hundreds of articles to find just the right ones. In this information age which so much information, the key is to quickly assess the value of a page.

So these are two very different examples. Since "we are thinking outside the box" there is no standard way to do this. Just let your imagination loose and fly away

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  • Ashley Aker 8 months ago

    This reminds me of convincing myself to act, instead of think. As a student I was very reserved and obedient, I wasn't a risk-taker. The amount of experience I gained from simply trying something else, experimenting, or going against common thought can be astounding. Most things are attainable as long as you can convince yourself that they are. Thank you for sharing!

    • Rick Doble 8 months ago

      Ashley, Acting changes the way we think -- good observation.