Sometimes it’s much easier to get started when you define what it is that you aren’t going to do.
Wire’s aesthetic was built on subtraction, a consistent withdrawal of superfluous elements. “The reduction of ideas, the reduction of things down to the minimal framework—it just seemed completely natural,” explains Colin Newman. “By closing down possibilities, you very often open up possibilities. You have infinite possibilities of simplicity and subtlety within a frame.” Natural minimalists, Wire pursued a negative sensibility, defining themselves in terms of what they were not…
“The only things we could agree on were the things we didn’t like,” observes Bruce Gilbert. “That’s what held it together and made life much simpler.” Recalling some unofficial Wire rules, Graham Lewis summarizes this negative self-definition: “No solos; no decoration; when the words run out, it stops; we don’t chorus out; no rocking out; keep it to the point; no Americanisms.”
(If that story sounds familiar, I used it in chapter one of Keep Going.)
In the book Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment, David Levine tells of “The Worst Assignment I Ever Gave.”
Hoping to get the students to find their “artistic allies,” Levine passed out a bunch of art magazines to his students and told them to find an artist they liked that they’d never heard of and report back the next week to the class.
The assignment was a total failure: none of the students liked anything they saw.
So Levine told them to come back next week and give a report on an artist they hated. Bingo.
“The students performed totally engaged, specific, ten-minute critiques, followed by adrenalized argument… which inevitably led back to a positive discussion of each student’s own practice.”
What I found interesting about this turn of events was how much easier it is, as a first step, to define your own position negatively, and how the beginnings of articulating taste are almost always through discovering what you don’t like.
See also: “The Negative Approach.”