What I Learned from John Maeda, I Used on the Beach

Mon, Mar 22, 2010

Blogs, Fearless Creativity

What I Learned from John Maeda, I Used on the Beach

Simplicity makes me breathe easier.  Complexity assaults me because I’m not close enough to what’s important or it overwhelms me because I haven’t stepped back far enough.  Stepping back aids organization while moving in requires elimination of extraneous noise.

Boneyard Confusion

In a recent “art adventure” we drove to South Carolina to visit Bulls Island near Charleston.  On the northern tip of the island is Boneyard Beach; a stretch littered with weathered trees long succumbed to salt and sea.  Erosion has left tree ruins stranded on the beach or in the surf predictable with the tides.  Its feeling is one of a surreal natural apocalypse.

I was born with, what they called at the time, a lazy eye.  The treatment was performing a minor operation on the eye muscle then patching the good eye to strengthen the weak one.  The result was a fix cosmetically but it caused my depth perception to suffer; my eyes never learned to work together since they were literally separated at birth.  While I don’t really know what it would be like to see in three dimensions I believe that my 2D view has caused me to be a fierce proponent of visual simplicity.

Approaching the beach was like entering a tree junkyard, I knew there was a lifetime of images to be found but none so obvious that I could start my typical point and shoot frenzy.  Boneyard Beach is pure visual complexity that’s often found as one wanders through natural beauty; your neither close enough nor distant enough to avoid an ambush of at least 3 out of 5 senses.

A Stab at Simplicity

I had given myself five hours on one day to find a few black and white images so I began searching through the confusion.  A few years ago, now President of The Rhode Island School of Design, John Maeda wrote The Laws of Simplicity.  I put these two into service immediately:

Law no. 1: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

Law no. 2: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.

Followed by,

Law no. 5: Simplicity and complexity need each other.

Law no. 7: More emotions are better than less.

And finally,

Law no. 10:  Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

The last two are the hardest to achieve in my opinion.  I want my viewer to feel as much as I felt on Boneyard Beach.  To do that in a flattened abstract version of reality is hard; good art is hard.  To achieve #7 we need #10 – searching for what is meaningful takes every ounce of wisdom I own.

John Maeda talks about simplicity in an entertaining TED presentation from 2007.

Visit MaedaStudio.com

Art, Artistic Expression, fine art, Photography, Simplicity

6 Responses to “What I Learned from John Maeda, I Used on the Beach”

  1. edwardboches Says:

    Great post. John Maeda is inspirational and, of course, like anyone who you admire, becomes even better when you can apply his/their teaching. Especially like Law No. 10.

  2. Mike Turner Says:

    Boneyard Beach photos are striking and beautiful. Nice work.
    And thanks for the tip about John Maeda. I’m going to track down his book.

    • Bruce DeBoer Says:

      Thanks for the feedback Mike. Give me a shout if you’re in Raleigh, I’m sure we have common interests, like coffee or other adult beverages.

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LnBlcm1pc3Npb250b3N1Y2submV0L3dwLWNvbnRlbnQvd29vX3VwbG9hZHMvMTMtcHRzLWxvZ28taGVhZGVyLTEuanBnIjtpOjc7czo3OToiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5wZXJtaXNzaW9udG9zdWNrLm5ldC93cC1jb250ZW50L3dvb191cGxvYWRzLzEyLXB0cy1sb2dvLWhlYWRlci0xLmpwZyI7aTo4O3M6Nzc6Imh0dHA6Ly93d3cucGVybWlzc2lvbnRvc3Vjay5uZXQvd3AtY29udGVudC93b29fdXBsb2Fkcy8xMS1wdHMtbG9nby1oZWFkZXIuanBnIjtpOjk7czo3NzoiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5wZXJtaXNzaW9udG9zdWNrLm5ldC93cC1jb250ZW50L3dvb191cGxvYWRzLzEwLXB0cy1sb2dvLWhlYWRlci5qcGciO2k6MTA7czo3NjoiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5wZXJtaXNzaW9udG9zdWNrLm5ldC93cC1jb250ZW50L3dvb191cGxvYWRzLzktcHRzLWxvZ28taGVhZGVyLmpwZyI7aToxMTtzOjc2OiJodHRwOi8vd3d3LnBlcm1pc3Npb250b3N1Y2submV0L3dwLWNvbnRlbnQvd29vX3VwbG9hZHMvOC1wdHMtbG9nby1oZWFkZXIuanBnIjtpOjEyO3M6NzY6Imh0dHA6Ly93d3cucGVybWlzc2lvbnRvc3Vjay5uZXQvd3AtY29udGVudC93b29fdXBsb2Fkcy83LXB0cy1sb2dvLWhlYWRlci5qcGciO2k6MTM7czo3NjoiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5wZXJtaXNzaW9udG9zdWNrLm5ldC93cC1jb250ZW50L3dvb191cGxvYWRzLzYtcHRzLWxvZ28taGVhZGVyLmpwZyI7aToxNDtzOjc2OiJodHRwOi8vd3d3LnBlcm1pc3Npb250b3N1Y2submV0L3dwLWNvbnRlbnQvd29vX3VwbG9hZHMvNS1wdHMtbG9nby1oZWFkZXIuanBnIjtpOjE1O3M6NzY6Imh0dHA6Ly93d3cucGVybWlzc2lvbnRvc3Vjay5uZXQvd3AtY29udGVudC93b29fdXBsb2Fkcy80LXB0cy1sb2dvLWhlYWRlci5qcGciO2k6MTY7czo3ODoiaHR0cDovL3d3dy5wZXJtaXNzaW9udG9zdWNrLm5ldC93cC1jb250ZW50L3dvb191cGxvYWRzLzMtcHRzLWxvZ28tdHlwZW9ubHkuanBnIjt9PC9saT48bGk+PHN0cm9uZz53b29fdmlkZW9fY2F0ZWdvcnk8L3N0cm9uZz4gLSBJbnRlcnZpZXdzPC9saT48L3VsPg==