Saturday, June 28, 2014

What Airplanes Taught me About Creativity

This week I am working on a new 36 x 48 inch painting of Organ Pipe Cacti...cacti that perhaps fall under that shadow of the more famous and iconic Saguaro, but one which is still very much a treasured part of the ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert.  Also, it should be noted that Organ Pipe National Monument, which is home to many such cacti, has been long regarded as one of the more dangerous National Monuments to visit.  It sits right on the border with Mexico, and I certainly hope that, in the future, it can become a more peaceful and visitor friendly place - where the whims of mankind would do better to give safer harbor to our natural treasures.

I should say also that I never write blogs to suit my own vanity.  I write them when I feel that I have something worthy to say, or share about my work or the arts in general.  And something that has occupied my mind more and more lately is a strange artistic comparison that I feel between airplanes, and creativity.  I thought this might be worth exploring...

On the surface it might not appear that aircraft are acts of creativity.  But I think that they very much are.  Most especially military aircraft.  When conditions present themselves where an airplane needs to have a certain kind of capability to do what is required of it, a great deal of creativity - and one might even say, counter-creativity is needed in order to make an airplane that can do things that have never been done before.  Or one that does known things better, faster, or in wartime - a more lethal way.  This is not to congratulate warmongers for the great rivers of misery and destruction that they have wrought on the world.  That is an abhorrent feature of human nature.  Rather, this is simply to contemplate how aircraft represent creative solutions to problems posed.

One of the most stirring examples is the World War II era German Messerschmidt 262, - the world's first fully operational jet fighter.  In the dying throes of the Nazi regime in 1944-1945, it is well known that Hitler and his regime turned to what he called "Wonder weapons" that could somehow salvage a German victory against overwhelming odds.  As German cities were pounded night and day by British and American bombers, German engineers pressed into service the Messerschmidt 262, in hopes that it could stem the tide that was then turning against Germany.  With untold thousands of piston engined fighters and bombers numbering the skies all around the world at that time - suddenly there appeared the Me 262 jet fighter, which could outrun the American P-51 Mustang by a full 100 miles per hour.

I have long been fascinated by this airplane and even built a model of it.  When I am in need of reflection I sometimes even hold it and look at it, and allow myself to think about it as a kind of catalyst for contemplating new solutions to problems - even in painting.  It is a question worth thinking about; how then do we create new solutions that change the paradigm entirely - without borrowing from the past?  What happens when we disregard the old rule book, throw that sucker out and just write a new one?  The Me 262 is an interesting thing to contemplate because it represented, in aviation, the act of throwing the rule book out.  That there have been essential and pivotal times when that act was necessary.  There are countless aircraft that prove this.

Fortunately, the disgusting, racist, and inhuman regime of the Nazis did indeed suffer the inevitable defeat that was necessary for human civilization to stand a chance at flourishing.  I can say with no hesitation that the marvels of German aircraft engineering in all their breadth and scope would never excuse or erase the terrible cruelty exhibited on Jews, and others, by the Nazi regime.  I take great satisfaction in knowing the great fleets of Mustangs and Spitfires proved too much for even the modest numbers of Me-262s that saw combat.  But the presence of that airplane did not go unnoticed, and some may not be aware that there were very well organized British, American, and Soviet efforts at procuring German technology, including the Me 262, after the war was over.  The moment they had defeated Germany - they wanted to get their hands on this aircraft, and others.

Part of being a good artist is to be able to comfortably allow the flow of creative insights, from whatever source.  Many artists I know are into music deeply, because they feel that cross pollination with musical inspiration.  But when I hold my model of the Me-262 somehow I gain the courage to sometimes throw the rule book out, and try to rewrite a new one.  The confidence to put that first line to that first new page, of a book that has not yet been written - that is what it really means to be an artist. 

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