We Destroy to Understand

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We have all heard the phrase “good artists create, but great artists steal” at one point or another. In fact, we have heard it with probably just about every profession related to creation. Artist, musicians, writers, film directors, and philosophers: we say that the greatest of them steal what they create. But how? To simply steal would (and should) be considered plagiarism, no? It is because we have bumper-stickered this saying, and what it entails, for the sake of brevity.

When film a director pays homage to another film by use of a quote or camera trick, they are not simply stealing this piece, an entire process has happened prior to the choice to use this specific material. This process is the progression of understanding so that what is stolen may not only be used appropriately, but that its meaning is kept intact and germane. As in all pursuits in life, there are levels upon levels of processes and this is no different for understanding.

So what is this process that underlies our ability to understand? Destruction. Everything we ever come in contact with and everything we ever think about, we tear apart, strip it down and break it up so that only its most important parts remain. We watch films and will only remember a fraction of a full presentation, we remember specific melodies within specific movements in symphonies, and we focus on only certain objects in paintings. Why? Because those are what matter to you. Those parts sum up what the full piece means to you. What you remember is what struck you. We destroy a work of someone else, what is left is what we find impactful , important, and useful.

Let me talk about this idea of “destroying to understand” a different context. Academic journals acts as a strip shop of formalized and published thoughts. Every page you see is the product of this multi-level process of destruction, understanding, and subsequent creation for the simple goal of having this new product destroyed by both the new and old voices in a field of study. Scholars, academics, professors, they all sit and read these articles, making diagrams of causation and support. The mark down their questions, they compare their own knowledge, the try to find the claim of the author, trying to decipher its importance, validity, and over all integrity. After they do this, they may read the article a second time, they may just critique or question the author, they may never give it direct heed again. No matter what their following action is though, they are all left with some imprint from the text they read, they carry with them little, tiny, beautiful pieces that they will at one point bring into their own arguments. They use these pieces to construct a new article, and then they submit this article to an academic journal, and the cycle continues.

This process, this cycle is essential to how we learn, create, and advance. But what do you do with this? Well, do exactly what you were doing before. Change nothing in the way you create, because it is more than likely you already think about things in a similar fashion as I have outlined. Just recognize that this pattern (destruction, understanding, creation) is present, understand that it is natural, and understand that it is beautiful. We are creatures of creation, we are creatures of destruction, we are creatures capable of marvelous things. The prompt of The Beautiful Minds Challenge is not a challenge to change how you create: It is a task of how you think about creation.

Logan Davis
By: Logan Davis

Marlboro Class of 2017



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