Frank Gehry on creative tension

April 13, 2007

What would life be like if we spent more of our time in the creative tension between inspiration and action — in the “dangerous moment” when we’re caught staring down a blank canvas, paintbrush in hand? What if we weren’t afraid to be daring?

About a week ago, I heard about the opening of the new IAC building in New York. A flowing tower of white-paned glass, shaped like the billowing sailcloths of twenty yachts in a regatta, it’s another one of the unmistakable creations of Frank Gehry. Frank Gehry is arguably one of the greatest architects of our time, a man willing to step outside the bounds of what’s traditionally acceptible in his craft and truly innovate. Sketches of Frank Gehry is a fascinating and inspiring documentary about the man and his work. I’d been meaning to watch it for a while, and tonight I finally did.

Gehry is as much an artist and sculptor as he is an architect. He works in 3-dimensional shapes and textures and materials. His process seems almost messy and chaotic at first — incessant iterations of sketches and paper-based models with no real obvious direction. But then, something starts to emerge, a form starts to coalesce and you start to see that Gehry understands the design process as well as or better than anyone; working with his hands he is thinking by making.

Though on the surface “Sketches of Frank Gehry” is a documentary about an architect — a single man — what it really offers is tremendous wisdom and insight into the creative process. I took two key teachings from what Gehry had to say during his interviews:

Starting any creative endeavor is always hard. But a certain detachment from the outcome, and a willing to be daring in what Gehry called the “dangerous moment” between inspiration and action, will lead to your greatest work. There is no such thing as “there.” Don’t fall in love with some final vision — some picture in your head of your greatest work or greatest creation. Fall in love, instead, with the process. The process is what matters and it’s where the joy is truly found. The journey is the destination. If you are a creative — a designer, an artist, a musician, a writer, a hacker, a painter — take an evening to watch “Sketches of Frank Gehry.” It may just change the way you approach and think about the art of creating.