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The Path of Creativity

by Mark Peres

November 7,2008

We are living in amazing times. Our markets are deleveraging, Fortune 50 companies are near collapse, an economic recession is likely just beginning, and our military remains at war. On the local front, our second-largest bank has been acquired, people we know are losing their jobs and their homes, and long-standing charities are at risk. And yet, in the midst of all this, our nation and our city are rushing head-long toward creating a tomorrow that may be more vibrant than anyone imagines. As I write this, we are on the verge of a presidential election that will be written about for generations. We are shifting toward alternative energies, new media technologies are transforming the delivery of information, and grassroots creative expression is exploding. We are in a period of intense creative destruction – and the future, as always, is being written now.

I am fascinated by creativity – what inspires it, what it is, and how it unfolds. I am interested in its patterns and manifestations, in what it says and how it allows all of reality to become. In a class I teach at Johnson & Wales University called Creative Leadership, we have been exploring “the path of creativity.” Employing a brilliant book entitled “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art” by Scott McCloud, we have been exploring the six elements of creation: idea, form, idiom, structure, craft and surface. We have looked at how everything is a created act. We have seen how art explores questions of life, or how art explores art itself. We have discussed how great art and artists often do both.

Students in class are now seeing the world igniting in ideas expressed in form. Everywhere we look we see purpose, style, composition, skill and surface. In my home office right now, I see books on the shelf, photographs in frames, clothes draped on a chair, a laptop computer and a clock on the wall. Everything begins with an idea, an animating concept, that is given shape and expressed in a genre that is arranged with craft and finishing.

Suddenly, one's whole mind is filled with questions: what was the idea behind it? How did the creator define the problem? If we redefine the problem, would we have a different idea? Why did it take this form and not that? What if we changed the form? And why this idiom? And why was it structured this way? What if we rearranged it? And why this detail? What if we created a different surface effect?

In these turbulent times for our nation, what are we creating? The idea of America remains constant and constantly tested: a nation in which all citizens are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and to secure these rights, government is instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. (That one idea has been to politics what the resurrection of Jesus has been to religion. It is a stunning consequential notion that upends all that comes before and after it). America has taken form in a federalist union of states. Our idiom has changed from agrarian to metropolitan. Our structure includes branches of government, media and business. Our craft or competence has waxed and waned. Our surface is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of built environment and people. We are a flexible, resilient, dynamic nation that is, by comparison to most others, exceptional.

In turn, what is the idea of Charlotte? A forward-looking, New South city open to newcomers who come here to make money and live well. Can the idea of ourselves be different – something more powerful and significant? What form would that idea take? What will be the work of our citizens? How might we arrange our city? How deeply will we excel at our craft? What will be the surface that others see?

This month Charlotte ViewPoint celebrates its fifth year anniversary. We are so grateful to so many for creating what we are today. And yet we have ideas for so much more. We are just beginning our journey of asking questions, exploring context, offering content and bringing people together. Our mission is to enrich public discourse about civic and urban life. We ask that you join us in creating tomorrow today.

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