The New Details

“One must always be prepared to learn something totally new.” —Remarks on Color, III-45

“God is in the details.” —Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Does the “totally new” exist? The saying “everything has been done” has been making its way around art and design circles forever, but is it true? Many think the advent of the computer has created many totally new kinds of art and design, from information visualization to rendered 3D animations and video games, but I am not sure I agree. Computers have made many new tools of both the hardware and software, and computers have also made for new processes we use in the creation of artifacts. But are the things we create with these or other tools really new, or are they just derivative of the old in shiny new packaging?

I think this is something worth consideration. We know that all art and design lives inside of a context: the context of history, of environment, of theory, of ideas. Art and design made by humans (or by a human-designed tool like the computer) comes from the context of all the work those humans have seen before. We cannot un-see that which we have seen, and we cannot un-experience that which we have experienced. How can anything be totally new when it all comes from what came before it?

For something to be totally, really, truly new it would be devoid of all context, of all memory. Given this apparent impossibility, nothing can be totally new. Instead everything is an evolution, a derivation. However, I do think there is a place for the new—and that is in the details. When we create art and design, what is often totally original and totally new is the details: how we have arranged form and color, shape and placement, organization and structure. From a macro view it is derivative, but from the micro view it is completely original.

God is in the details, and so is the new.

Written in response to the following reading:
Remarks on Color, Ludwig Wittgenstein