Creative Destruction

We’ve heard this term spouted by those who want a gloss of legitimacy to pour over the violence of their actions, the hollow emptiness of their motivations. Everything from firing workers to starting wars has been done behind the rationalization that it is creative to wield destruction, after all, without that Asteroid killing those big, bad dinosaurs, where would we be?

Within the realms of art, usually at least a bit removed from doing actual harm, there is still the habit that we may willfully employ destruction as a creative act. Collage, for example, is based on the violent rending out of context of fragments and then the re-organization of these fragments into some new coherence.

Perhaps there is a point at which truths about creative destruction shift from an accurate reflection of the way things are into a toxic simulacra, a fetishized act of internalized violence that, while it is intended to reflect and take advantage of a truth of nature, is in fact, just another way willfulness does violence to the world.

It’s just struck me the way in which there have been traditions espousing the abandonment of our willfulness that have really been about abandoning our willfulness and following the mandates of the willfulness of our “superiors.” That we should be, “Humble before the mighty!” Especially when there is a caste ready and willing to show us what that mighty will wants of us and how we might fulfill its wishes! In this formulation, humility is just another tool for domination. It is humility towards an end. This is not humility at all!

Let’s get back to collage. Collage sprang out of the Cubist Moment. The great insight of Picasso/Braque – the two were caught up in a rare dynamic in art. Two willful and driven egotists working together like mountaineers tied to each other as they traversed rarefied heights above tremendous precipices, their work almost indistinguishable from each other. Was this an early and visual instance of Bohmian Dialogue?

What was at stake? In art, perhaps what is always at stake, if the artist is sincere, is meaninglessness. When an established form and its assumptions and habits are abandoned, and intuitions are followed that lead off in an unfamiliar direction the risk is that the result is meaningless.

The reason the old path is abandoned is that it has become increasing fraught and problematic. While it is easily deciphered, that very ease gets in the way of its ability to carry meaning. The ease itself is a statement that amounts to a lie. That meaning can be transmitted without effort.

Effort is confused with talent or facility or with a narrative of striving for its own sake. This can cover over increasing irrelevance in an old form. It can also camouflage anxiety over whether a new form can carry meaning also. Here is one way in which – at the time, not in the public relations narratives built up later and mostly by others, though Picasso was a master of self-promotion… – the modesty, even homeliness of early analytical cubism, was a sign of a risk taken – one that only later became a reflexive stylistic trapping as convenient and as empty as any earlier form of virtuosity.

Following insights into the existence of the surface as a field, instead of seeing it as a perspectival screen or window, opened up the possibility to embody meaning in forms that were holographic. – This term is difficult and fraught today with many levels of misunderstanding. I’m afraid we’ll have to stumble along a bit before it comes clear… Let’s just say that if we stay close to its original meaning: like a signature, we can’t get too far lost.

When we look at a signature we see a sign that represents an identity. When we look at any fragment of a signature – if we are knowledgeable and experienced in handwriting – we can find that identity present in each and very fragment of the whole. Even if the signature is torn into pieces, we can take each fragment and “read” the whole in it. This implies a relationship between an object and its existence as a sign that can be “read” or perceived in a certain way. It also brings up a quality that we find all around us if we care to look attentively. It’s not just signatures that are holographic. Bohm’s insight was to take this and apply it to the universe as a whole and everything within it. At least for now, we don’t need to get into the technological “hologram” and the way it works or to get caught up in any possible mechanism for how and why it works or how the universe might actually be a two dimensional hologram that we perceive in four dimensions. Let’s just stay within what we can grasp directly.

Once we begin to see a surface as a field and marks on that surface as actions within fields. Once we begin to see that our perceptions not only can, but are primed for multiple readings of multiple fields superimposed on each other and all inflecting our readings of themselves and the others, we find the experience of making and or perceiving a work of art as a practice into the interface between perception and the world. Our sense of the world begins to lose the objects-in-a-Euclidean-space of our habitual conditioning and we are opened to the multiplicity of relationships that make up our world and our perceptions of it.

This begins with simple aspects of the way marks on a field orient themselves into a spacial massing of form that holds a taught relation to their two-dimensional place on the surface itself, but also through to the way color and value: light and dark, are in no way absolute – we don’t make something brighter by making it whiter, this can only go so far. We do it by juxtaposition with darkness. The same with blueness or redness, or any visual aspect of an image. Each part of the field relies on aspects of every other part to achieve a coherence that we can perceive. This carries over into other less obvious forms of expression. We make marks and read them as reflections of aspects of reality. We perceive in them weight, direction, movement. They may rhyme – in a myriad of possible ways from the visual to the psychological – with each other and with our experiences of the word. They take up rhythms. These also reflect. There is some level of mimesis or a sense of literally reflecting the visual appearances we are accustomed to seeing.

But, these reflections are inescapably linked to all of the aspects of the image that tie it to this overall holographic sense that we can recognize the whole in its parts and vice versa. The ultimate weight of meaning we ascribe to the image of stuff arrayed on a surface that is a field is inextricably linked to the way it exudes this holographic quality. Whatever else it may “say,” it says this first, “The universe is one and we perceive it only as we are aware of this unity.

Now, let’s get back to collage. It is a rending of contexts and a tearing of the fields its elements might have originally been a part of. I say might, because with the “classic” raw materials of collage: photographs from advertisements in magazines; or scraps of newspaper text and images; or even as with Rauschenberg’s physical collages, items of industrial production taken from the trash; these were not seen as parts of fields in their original settings. They had to be torn clear of our habitual assumptions for their qualities within fields to become apparent. This is a hint at a distinction between the kernel of truth within the trope of creative destruction and its toxic simulacra. What may have appeared to be a violent tearing out of context, a violent action, was actually the rescue of these elements from the violence in which they were being held – and through that violence on things, to challenging the violence being done to the people who were trapped within the assumptions that violence supported.

Another way to look at it might be through a relationship with anger. Much is made of the angry artist tearing away at his materials – aren’t they always male? – in fits of rage at the world and its injustices. I would say this is more a violence of that world of injustice to attempt to bring the artist back into its fold. Art may express something that some people read as emotion in certain ways, though this is more problematic than it might at first appear. But, art cannot be made in anger. This is the great fallacy of those who find art’s ways alien. We tend to confuse the reaction with how the thing was made. For art, as for anything, to be affective, it cannot simply be the fossilization of a strong emotional reaction into a form that will them somehow, bring about a like reaction in a viewer. let’s leave Kirk Douglas miming an insane Vincent van Gogh out of this!

Politicians and business “leaders” making pronouncements on the necessity for creative destruction are operating at this level. Their willful misunderstanding of what it means to be creative, and the distance between that form of “destruction” and the violence they are happy to unleash on the other, confuses the reaction for the action. Their destruction is not creative. It is merely destructive. It is violence unleashed upon the world. They are driven by their elite panic, by the “unintended consequences” of their actions – which are actually the only possible result of any action that tears at the fabric of the whole in an attempt to wrest advantage for the self. In their panic they then do more of what they know. They up the ante. They escalate.

At some level this does approach, and perhaps will even exceed, the kind of violence done by natural accident, such as the arrival of an asteroid. On an evolutionary scale they will have contributed to an opening of new possibilities for other agents. But they are completely deluded if they think they will be among them. What will remain are opportunities for cockroaches and viruses.

The creative destruction within a collage, or a painting, or a written work that knocks at the limits of our sense of sense; is an opportunity to practice our sense of what wholeness means. As Bohm said of Art, reflecting on the root in the term to artifice, that it is an act of discovering what is fitting. It takes what is broken and finds how it fits. In such action there are aspects that could be called destructive, but they are not of the same character as destruction, as in a violence done to the world.

Even within art. We fail when we take creative destruction to be a willful act. When we rend a context out of impatience or out of anger, even if this is only within the realm of artistic endeavor, we are doing a violent act. This may lead to creativity but only in the accidental way that our asteroid did. It is only in letting go of that willful violence – and all willfulness is violence – that we allow a place for creativity.

Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

6 thoughts on “Creative Destruction

  1. Just this weekend listened to the radio: there was an interview of a professor in the new Aalto art/technology university (here in Helsinki). He was talking about how we need to have new entrepereneurs who are more aggressive, innovative and emotional. Yup, exactly. Although in my experience, the only times I can be innovative is when there’s no pressure – idleness is really creative for me. And it is impossible to be connected to one’s emotions if there’s aggression around. So this person, a professor, had not given any conscious thought to what he was saying. Just words sounding good. A lot of people seem to be doing this nowadays. I guess it is a bit like the repetitive birdsong, meant to convey only: I’m here, I’m here. My desire for meaning makes many a song sound worthless. Maybe those ones with worthless songs have a dress that could give joy to my eyes?

    I am reminded of that big picture of GW Bush made of photos of soldiers dead in the war. One could make a peace-sign of those soldier photos. The witness can then choose what they see: mindless killing or peace, love happiness etc. Or take a step backwards, look at both and…then what?

    Tuning to the channel of meaning, synchronicity, support, is hard when there’s so much white noise that is masked with all these catchy phrases. Yves at naked Capitalism said something like: the press is so thick with propaganda that it takes an Enigma machine to pull out any real messages
    ( I feel I’ve been trying to be this Enigma machine to myself all my life. I don’t know what I have to show for that.


    1. “I feel I’ve been trying to be that Enigma machine to myself all my life. I don’t know what I have to show for it?”

      Maybe – I mean I know exactly what you mean! I’ve done the same! – Maybe what we have to show for it can be that we see that while there is constant pressure from our conditioning to keep looking at the propaganda and expecting to find truth, that we can have insight into the futility of it and just stop.

      When we are exasperated, angry, with those – like that professor, the bastard! – we are angry at that quality we feel is still there within us. That quality, in some form, is what holds us to continue to look for answers, somewhere, everywhere. We are fed-up with this! Yet we continue. This is the source of anger we then direct at those who reflect this quality back to us.

      We live, anything alive at any time always lives, in an environment that has a high degree of noise to signal. When we are focusing on whatever we require, our attention – if we practice attention which is the lack of inattention, which requires diligence of us, we simply pass that which is noise and remain open for what will be of use.

      When we strive, “trying to be,” we get in the way of attention. We are not diligent, taking pains to be careful. We are insistent and we expect our will to be done.

      I just completed watching a video series of Bohm and Krishnamurti, The Nature of Mind. Bohm at one point towards the end says, “We’ve been conditioned to the absolute necessity of maintaining attachment.” This is what leaves us in this trap. Instead of being free to accept fact as it comes to attention, we keep looking for it! And in this pushing, we distort it, and we remain mired in illusion.

      It is a step many of us have taken, but it remains a step, something mired in time and something that is not ever going to lead by its own internal “logic” “beyond” itself.

      At sea, looking for whales. My desire to see them keeps me seeing false clues. Every splash grabs me and I try, I strive , to make it fit my preconception of what a whale would look like. “It’s a frigging whale! Whales are gigantic! It should be easy to see them!” These thoughts keep racing through my mind as my focus is tossed here and there and everywhere at once. But there is no care. No diligence. While I’m caught up in this striving I miss the actual signs. They are over there while I am looking here. They are subtle when I expect something brutal and large.

      If I let go of all that. I simply attend. I don’t seek after any “attachment,” looking for quid-pro-quo, “If I see a splash it must be a whale!”

      Then I am free. I inquire. I look with curiosity and an acceptance, a wonder at what is there. I see a splash as a splash, not for what I wish it to be. When a hint of whale appears before me I see it. It is even more miraculous than that. When this is in full-flow I end up looking at precisely the right spot at the right time and I see the whale.

      But had I tried to do this. If I try to “recapture” this “ability” by willing it into being it won’t happen. The sea is again not the sea, just noise made up of “false signals.”

      There is a clarity in how badly things are working today. That the Enigma is less hard to penetrate than it may have been when the lameness of everything going on was less obvious; is a gift to us today. I don’t think this has ever been true in this same way before. But, if we are to make something of it, we need to stop being trapped in the game of solving the riddle! The riddle is now not only futile, but easy! So, let’s do something else.


  2. Hmmm…bastard…Is that a joke? I mean, being born outside of wedlock has little to do with anyone’s capability to observe coherence. Moron would do fine. Although what you said made me see something in myself: I have always thought that I am the freak. It is, after all, me who feels the pain when people babble inanities. The professor, obviously, is just the sort of a person willing to make all the poses required to be some sort of top dog in some clearly defined sphere. Knowing the rules and playing the game. My inablity to observe the limits of the game has been a painful handicap. I can’t enjoy the pretty sounds of those words exactly right for this game, as I smell the nasty reek of war with reality.

    I like that Krishnamurti’s speech on the dissolution of the order of the star ( but somehow can’t read his books. But what you say about coherence in the other post (I’m too lazy to make 2 comments) is interesting. To me it seems the ability to observe coherence is a rare feature in humans. And that special blindness that enables people to act in a way that totally contradicts what they say: this is the ticket to normalcy. I never had that ticket, and that has certainly had all sorts of consequences. But as I have had chance to look at this for a long time – and think – how can I be certain if I am coherent or not myself? Is there one front in that war with reality happening in me? But this is an incredibly interesting area: leading right to the limits of the knowable and onwards… There’s an article about anosognosia (, which succeeds in showing how we all have to handle the border between the unknown and unknowable – that was an eye-opener for me.

    Some time ago it came to me that I have been too attached to truth and knowledge. I had been fixated on them, and that has started to crumble as I have started to look at it. But now I am a bit like a ship without anchor, no land in sight and the old map turned out to be inaccurate. Where do I sail if I stop looking for the continents of truth and knowledge? If this journey is not for finding truth and knowledge, what is it for?


    1. Kriistina,

      Yes, that was a joke….

      In a sick society anyone who resists its blandishments is bound to see themselves as “freaks.” This is a mechanism that maintains the current self-world-view. Letting go of that self-assessment frees us of the trap of blaming our selves. This can create enough space in our attention for us to begin to see through the traps of Ego within us as well as in the ways they affect others. feeling bad about our situation does no more than maintain Ego.

      How about a devotion to intelligence and compassion? Truth continues to exist even when we realize that knowledge is limited. This realization is a form of knowledge too, and it illuminates a truth.

      We are “in the dark.” Knowledge is limited. This does not paralyze me!

      At various times in my life I was afraid of the dark – not only or even most severely as a child! The dark fills with our projections. This is what we fear. That there is darkness – lack of illumination, that the whole of existence is not a brightly lit room is not a curse! Can you imagine what that would be like? Instead we have “enough” light, especially if we are diligent and careful with it. And the fact that there is darkness means we can see where and when we are busy projecting! And then we can not do it! This is really quite simple. The vertigo of following the limits of knowing to its edges is just another trap if we remain mired in it.

      A lot of what you write about seems to be working around the edges of our assumptions about security. We expect that something, weapons, aggression, knowledge, truth, will make us secure. We obsess on various things to create rituals for ourselves that will maintain a sort of trance in which our desire for security is cocooned. Some do this by hiding in a war on reality, but we all have the tendencies to take anything and twist it around to fit this purpose. In this way anything can be co-opted into our own version of a war on reality.

      Security is an illusion. If we allow our intelligence and compassion to come into play we can see that and smile. Intelligence, in the form of proprioception, reminds us that we are the ones working ourselves up into anger or fear, no one else. Compassion brings us forgiveness and shows us that there is always something to be done to extend its reach. Dealing with the unknown unknowns is part of proprioception. It is perhaps the most difficult part. This is why it requires diligence. The hapless bank robber is a mess at it because he has no sense of how one engages with reality. He is trapped in layers of illusion culminating in the stupidity of thinking that armed robbery is an answer to anything other than what to do with one’s time for the next fifteen to twenty years! Rumsfeld is a moron, an idiot with a high IQ, who plays at profundity while indulging every conceit his Ego throws at him. The New York Times exists as a place to vent off the concerns of a certain segment of the population that still believes there are authorities to turn to to answer our questions. It’s articles always return the restless sleeper to his slumbers.

      We are on this voyage, we do not know why. We can attend to what is present and in this connect with all that is. Or we can obsess after security or after purpose – there is plenty that comes to our attention to be done even without any absolute knowledge, and without the illusion of absolute knowledge we are better equipped to do it!

      Gaining insight into the limits of futility and finding ways to connect and create serve us better than reflexively looking for boundaries as a way to hem us in. Since knowledge and our capacity for understanding truth are limited, they are boundaries, continents not as places to inhabit, but as barriers to our sailing.

      Any form of narrow focus is a form of inattention. There is infinity to explore – and I don’t mean in space ships or on vision quests, but within an active engagement with what is and in bringing our attention and creativity to bear.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: