Reub's journey

22 April 2011

The third idea

My husband John is a forestry professor, and also a musician. John mentioned getting a message from DL, one of his fellow band members, who was musing over a process he had noticed while playing improvisational jazz.

He remarked that in an improvisational tune, somebody usually begins with the initial idea, a structure on which to build.

The initial idea is tinkered with, and changed. Musicians think on their feet, and unlike most visual art or writing, there is no chance to take back and edit what you put out there in a live performance. So from somewhere, out tumbles a second idea.

Composition Number VI, Wassily Kandinsky, 1913
According to DL's observations, the most original and exciting outcome is produced when a third idea emerges.

I suppose it makes sense that the third idea would be more complex and layered. I wonder if this sequence plays out in other realms? When I make 3 meals in a day, is it the third one that will be the best? Did I do a better job raising my third child than I did with the first two? OK, obviously there is something amiss with my analogies here; I had better stick to the arts: writing, performing, creating.

Maybe it works like this:
1. It's really hard to get things right the first time.
2. You have to struggle a little. Change things.
3. After you have tangled with the elements, out comes the vision.

People think it comes easy to artists, that if a person is gifted, why it just pours out. But the creative process isn't a snap. It's as hard as one...two...three...


  1. I think it is more about layers...not times or events. But I am not a musician.

  2. well, I can tell you from a personal standpoint art is not easy although that is the standard perception. some pieces do flow out but that does not mean their making is a breeze. and some pieces look good in my head but when made they fall below my expectation and need to be reworked.

  3. it's so true - even when the words and story fly out of my fingers/brain and onto the page, the work has only just begun . . .

    intriguing about the power of 3 . . .

  4. I wonder at the specificity of "3." I bet it might be "4" or "6" sometimes. And I don't mean to underestimate the very first idea; it's like the bone structure of everything.

  5. I've often heard that the three most common moments of creativity for artists are the bus, bath, and bed.

    I'm beginning to think about the (very complicated) ideas of Charles S. Peirce in my scholarly work. He talks about reality as being understood as the experience of "firstness," which refers to the potential qualities that exist in an encounter, "secondness," to the actualized qualities of the object of encounter, and "thirdness," finally, the medium through which ideality and actuality come together in experience. This is difficult stuff to think about. It would seem that worldly experience, viewed this way, is influenced by our preconceptions of it and heavily dependent on our ability to think through the possible meanings of the encounter. Thus, there is no experience of firstness or secondness in and of itself, but encounters with the ideal (or imagination) and the actual are also encounters with thirdness.

    The real and the imagined come together to create... child number three?

  6. Bus, bath, and bed works for me. All of this other stuff has been giving me a headache lately. Still, there is the nagging feeling that...something is going on. Maybe I should read more about it.


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