Inspired by David Pye Part 6 – Invention and Conclusion
What Does Quality Mean?
In the previous essay I introduced Pye’s concept of diversity and explained why it is one of the most important components of a work of art. In this sixth essay, the last in this series, I want to conclude my presentation of Pye’s work by looking at the concept of invention and how it relates to the different stages of the artistic process.
Invention and Design
Pye does not talk specifically about Invention. He talks about design which he sees as the starting point for the creation of a woodworking piece, or a work of art. However, I believe that invention is present in his philosophy of art because the invention is the starting point of all works of art.
We saw in this series of essays that Pye places design before workmanship. His famous statement, that ‘design proposes and workmanship disposes of makes this clear. However, design does not come out of a hat, as if by magic. Design is the outcome of invention. Invention provides the idea. Then, design makes this idea visible. Finally, workmanship transforms design into a three-dimensional piece. Pye’s concept of design is therefore closely associated with invention.
Invention is the process of finding an idea or principle. Design is the process of applying this idea or principle. A design is therefore invention made visible, for example as a drawing or as the verbal description of an idea. Design is the next step after invention. First, the artist has an idea, an invention. This can happen in a dream, while taking a shower, walking, meditating, or doing other activities. Invention happens unexpectedly. Invention is then followed by design. Design gives form to invention. It makes it come to life. It is the offspring of invention.
Creating a photograph is an invention. Creating variations of a single photograph is also an invention.
Invention comes from the Latin word inventio which means discovery. In ancient Greece, inventio was the method used for the discovery of rhetorical arguments. It was the first of the five rhetorical canons: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.
I find it worth comparing Pye’s design-workmanship dualism with the Greek five-parts canon of invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery. Pye does not include invention in his system so to compare the two we must start with the second of the Greek five parts canon: arrangement. Following this approach, arrangement in Pye’s system becomes design. The last three parts of the Greek canon, style, memory, and delivery, have to fall under craftsmanship since Pye’s system only has two parts.
In ancient Greece, inventio was used to prepare speeches. This is why style, memory, and delivery are listed in the canon. When giving a speech, one needs to have style to be memorable. One needs to have a memory to remember their speech. Finally, one needs delivery skills to give their speech eloquently, with clear pronunciation and tonality.
In this series of essays, I am talking about the visual arts with a focus on photography. In the visual arts, memory and delivery are different than in speech. First, photographers do not need to remember what they want to say. Their photographs speak for themselves because photography is a visual medium. Second, photographers do not deliver their messages themselves during a live event. Creating a photograph is not done live, the way a public speech is. Landscape photographs are created in the field, processed in the darkroom, either digital or chemical, and finally matted and framed in the studio. The entire process takes place away from public viewing. There is no fear of poor delivery because when the photographs are presented to the audience, the work is completed. The print presentation, or the show, is the only public aspect of the photographic creation process.
This comparison between Pye’s two-parts process and the Greek five-parts canon brings up interesting questions. Did Pye simplify the invention process to cater to the modern world desire for faster invention? Was part of the invention process lost between ancient Greece and today? If we follow Pye’s approach, today we no longer invent, arrange, find a style, memorize and practice delivery. Instead, we design and we craft. The process is faster, streamlined even. But is it better? Certainly, we save time. But does this saving lead to better quality art or does it lead to the production of a larger quantity of art?
Software updates provide an opportunity for invention. This image was created with the February 2022 Lightroom update using the new Luminance, Sky and Brush masking tools.
Sources Of Invention
The two most common sources of invention are play and error. Photographers play with their cameras, trying different angles and compositions of the same scene with different lenses. Or they play with their software, trying different adjustments to find ways of using the software in a manner that other artists did not think of yet. Or they play with the printing of their images by creating different versions of the same piece. Or they print their images on different papers, or in different sizes, to find out which one looks the best. Play leads to discoveries. Sometimes it even leads to the invention of a new style, of a new way of representing the world.
Errors can also lead to invention. Making a mistake is sometimes the key to discovering something new, something we did not think of before. In art mistakes are not necessarily a negative thing. When creating art, making a mistake can lead to a happy accident, meaning the creation of an unplanned work of art which turns out so well we decide to keep it. We would not have created this work if it wasn’t for the mistakes we made. However, once it has been created, we decide to keep it because its artistic value is unmistakable. We may even decide to create additional works using the same mistake-based approach.
Invention does not apply only to single pieces, it also applies to projects, or groupings, of images.
Pye wrote The Nature of Design in 1964 and The Nature and Art of Workmanship in 1968, respectively 58 and 62 years ago. A lot has changed since then. In his time Pye worried that workmanship, and handmade items, would vanish. He believed that we would live in a world in which everything was produced with machines using the workmanship of certainty approach.
As it turned out this is not the case. While it is true that the vast majority of the items we use are mass produced, the craftsmanship of handmade items is alive and well. In fact, there is a resurgence of interest for items produced with the workmanship of risk, both on the part of artists and of collectors. Techniques thought to have been lost are being brought back to life in crafts such as woodworking, forging, leatherwork, and more. The creative arts also see a similar approach, mitigated however by the higher level of difficulty of selling art versus selling crafts. The useful aspect of handmade items such as wallets, bags, furniture, knives, etc. makes them far easier to sell than artistic items such as paintings, photographs, drawings, and the like.
There is a good reason why only a minority of people are buying items made with the workmanship of risk: these items are expensive. Objects made by hand take a long time to create and make use of high-quality materials, thereby raising both the cost of labor and the cost of materials. The retail cost of items made with the workmanship of risk is therefore much higher than the retail cost items mass produced with machines or in factories using the workmanship of certainty.
The outcome is that items created with the workmanship of risk are unaffordable to many. Mass-produced items on the other hand have low production costs because they are made quickly with lower-quality materials. While they lack the diversity of hand-produced items, their low cost of production makes them affordable to all.
Inspiration leads to invention, as in this photograph inspired by the cloud paintings of Maynard Dixon
Series Summary: Where Are We Now?
Over the course of this series, we saw that photographs are created on the basis of design. We saw that this design is a combination of location, composition, and processing. We saw that the photographs of the artists who came before us can be approached as designs that can be used as models for our own photographs. We also saw that most of us start by creating images that are inspired and influenced by the designs of those who came before us but that, over time, we make small but constant modifications to these models. After years of practice, these modifications result in the creation of images that demonstrate a unique personal style. This process can take longer for some than for others because it requires asking and answering difficult personal questions. Some quit along the way while others press on because for them creating art is vital.
Next, we saw that we can approach the creation of a photograph by using a craftsmanship of certainty or a craftsmanship of risk approach. The former guarantees a known outcome and is exemplified by re-creating the designs of those who came before us. The later does not guarantee a specific outcome and is prone to the vagaries of the creative process.
Pye’s concepts of workmanship of certainty and workmanship of risk influences artists to either play it safe by re-creating pre-existing work or to take risks by creating new, never-seen before work. However, because a work of art must, by definition, be unique, using a craftsmanship approach that guarantees uniqueness is desirable, even if it brings with it an undeniable amount of risk and uncertainty. This means that taking risks is an inherent aspect of art. Art is risk, is the point I make in the fourth essay.
Midday colors are desaturated and contrasty.
Altering the color palette turned midday colors into sunset colors, transforming the scene.
In the sixth essay, I introduced the concept of diversity, which Pye sees as the cornerstone of art. Diversity can apply to the entire work of art, or to details of its fabrication. In either case diversity can only be created by human hands, by the artist. Machines cannot create diversity because machines produce the same outcome time after time while artists can introduce variations at any time during the creation process.
I concluded this series with invention, which I believe precedes Pye’s concept of design. Invention is the idea. Design is the description of this idea. Invention is part of the Ancient Greece composition canon which I believe is still relevant to today’s artistic process.
As I mentioned at the start of this series, for the purpose of clarity I proceed step by step in my study and presentation of David Pye’s concepts and in my dissertation of the subjects of Design, Risk, Workmanship, Variety, and finally Invention and Art. To help you review the path we covered, here are the essays in this series, in chronological order:
1 – Art and Design
2 – The Designs of Previous Artists
3 – Art of risk and certainty
4 – Art is risk
5 – Diversity
6 – Invention and Conclusion
Attempting to give a photograph the look of a painting was the inspiration behind this image.
About Alain Briot
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops with Natalie and offer Mastery Tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing, business, and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography, and How Photographs are Sold. All 4 books are available in eBook format on our website at this link. Free samples are available.
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Author of Mastering Landscape Photography,Mastering Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography, and How Photographs are Sold. http://www.beautiful-landscape.com firstname.lastname@example.org