Ritual and repetition

A Reading Note

Richard Sennett on the dangers of letting the computer do the work for you:

The architect Renzo Piano explains his own working procedure thus: “You start by sketching, then you do a drawing, then you make a model, and then you go to reality—you go to the site—and then you go back to drawing. You build up a kind of circularity between drawing and making and then back again.” About repetition and practice Piano observes, “This is very typical of the craftsman’s approach. You think and you do at the same time. You draw and you make. Drawing…is revisited. You do it, you redo it, and you redo it again.” This attaching, circular metamorphosis can be aborted by [the computer]. Once points are plotted on screen, the algorithms do the drawing; misuse occurs if the process is a closed-system, a static means-end—the “circularity” of which Piano speaks disappears. The physicist Victor Weisskopf once said to his MIT students who worked exclusively with computerized experiments, “When you show me that result, the computer understands the answer; but I don’t think you understand the answer.”

Sennet, The Craftsman, page 40

Sennett compares the work of drawing to that of a tennis player who practices her serves over and over; in the routine that develops from doing something many times, one is able to fully know the act, to explore and mature within it. Twyla Tharp speaks of the same thing:

I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and the weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab….

It’s vital to establish some rituals—automatic but decisive patterns of behavior—at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, or going the wrong way.

A ritual, the Oxford English Dictionary tells me, is “a prescribed order of performing religious or other devotional service.” All that applies to my morning ritual. Thinking of it as a ritual has a transforming effect on the activity.

Tharp, The Creative Habit, page 14

Tharp’s ritual and Piano’s drawing and redrawing are where the creative act—the craft—occur.

Related books

The Craftsman

Richard Sennet

Sennett defines craftmanship as the desire to do a job well for its own sake. In so doing, he frees it of the bounds of carpentry or metalwork and extends the work of craft to that of the programmer, the doctor, and the parent.

The Creative Habit

Twyla Tharp

Tharp’s treatise on creativity applies as well to writing or design as it does to dance.