Works of Art
The true beauty that exists within a work of art is the possibility for creativity that it opens to the observer. What passes for much art today generally allows little room for interpretation; it’s a simple mimicking of reality, twisted perpendicularly onto a vertical plane. The observer becomes a passive consumer of a pre-packaged art experience, with no room to engage their own imagination in the work.
This is why reading books is still so very important: it demands the active engagement of a creative space within the reader’s mind. Great works of literature can be interpreted through many facets, which leaves an opening for creative contribution from the reader. The same can be said for great works of music and film. When artists and directors spell things out too obviously, we are left to gulp down a medium of empty calories, with nothing to fuel our fire within.
Artwork doesn’t have to be this way. Even a blockbuster like The Matrix still left plenty of room for interpretation and nuance, for seeing the story this way or that way, without having the deeper meaning spelled out for us. Great works of art give us that freedom to create through the medium. Lesser works do not.
The Art of Works
There is an art to designing products and services. It too opens room for the creative potential of the receiver, which is to say, of the end user. Works of art and the art of works are, in this sense, unfinished business. They leave the hands of their producers while still incomplete and are only truly fulfilled by engaging the creative potential of the user.
Lego has become the world’s most powerful brand largely by unleashing the creativity of kids. But even Lego has shifted over the years, as the open-endedness of simple blocks evolved into the often maddening rigidity of Lego Star Wars, Lego Simpsons and Lego Scooby-Doo. As a father of two boys, I’ve done my time decrypting exacting TIE Fighter diagrams. Entropy always sets in though, and carefully assembled sculptures eventually degrade into the imaginative compost of a Lego bin so that a child’s unfinished business quite naturally roars back to life.
The art of our works gives rise to a quintessence or “fifth element,” which gives rise to the way a product is of service to the world. This is its customer mission, the medium through which a product or service is completed through its relationship with the user.
When users express themselves through a product or service in unimagined, creative ways, what emerges is the art of our works. Without that excitement, imagination and creativity, all we are left with is utility. We use the product, but do not love it.
Many of us form relationships with wedding rings, wallets, and well-worn pairs of shoes, as the boundaries of these objects blur with our own. We express ourselves through these works, and because they make room for the unfinished business in us, we cherish them.