The Cycladic island of Naxos is dotted with white, cube-shaped houses clumped along the hillside in spaced, diminishing lineups or stacked in a town labyrinth, an ever-narrowing grid climbing to a cloudless, cerulean sky. The edges are hard and soft with flat, angular shadows creeping across the summer walls in warm and cool greys. I’m a rubbernecker on the back of the quad bike, grabbing at shapes and inhaling feelings for future art meals.
On the neighbouring island of Mykonos is the lively town where a phenomenon familiar in advertising circles is booming, called “the Gruen transfer.” It gets the happy hoards just a little bit lost — acquiesced to the pleasant confusion of impaired spatial awareness. This manipulation — this “scripted disorientation” named for Austrian architect Victor Gruen — is the signature of the modern shopping mall but can work in casinos and art galleries, even in paintings. It sings in this tightly woven stone and marble labyrinth thick with caftans and leather sandals, line-drying octopi and their attendant pussycats. Novel and enticing stimuli — contained in a world — spark the magical “transfer”: our eyes dart, then rest; our body stops, and our pocket money begins to smoke.
But artists don’t acquire with their wallets, trading instead in a different kind of currency. In 2012, an art director named Linds Redding was diagnosed with inoperable esophageal cancer. He left advertising and started writing a blog, gathering perspective on a lifetime in the maze. Redding concluded that creative people are driven by a compulsion to make things and be seen — especially by their peers — and this can make us vulnerable. “Truly creative people tend not to be motivated by money,” wrote Redding. “The riches we crave are acknowledgment and appreciation of the ideas that we have and the things that we make.”
Redding’s was a cautionary tale to would-be creatives considering a glamourous life in golden handcuffs. Having been there, he urged that art is its own meaning. Keep your ideas daring, slow down and get lost once in awhile — the good stuff will come, and this is the real reward. “The compulsion to create is unstoppable. It’s a need that has to be filled.”
PS: “The trick to being truly creative… is to be completely unselfconscious. To resist the urge to self-censor. To not-give-a-shit what anybody thinks. That’s why children are so good at it. And why people with Volkswagens, and mortgages, Personal Equity Plans and matching Louis Vuitton luggage are not.” (Linds Redding)
Esoterica: In the Cyclades, the antiquities of the ancient Greeks and their continuing generations of successors adorn archaeological sites, the landscape and shop windows. Artistic expression exhales from the volcanic dust dunes and whispers amongst the olive leaves. The courage to think out loud demands a safe and nurturing environment, wrote Redding. “It has to be this way, or you will just close up like a clamshell… It’s like trying to have sex, with your mum listening outside the bedroom door. Can’t be done.” More of Linds Redding’s ideas on creativity can be read in his post, A Short Lesson in Perspective.