Software Frameworks and Creativity

February 17, 2014 at 11:02 pm Leave a comment


Recently, I worked on a project where we developed a software framework. We based our framework, including the program structure and package names, on the proven results of other groups. The goal was that developers could seamlessly move between applications based on this framework, and the massive reuse of common code would reduce the number of bugs. It also included a testing framework.

We had a new developer join the project, and it was decided that he did not need to follow the practices that we had established, or use the framework. It was felt that forcing him to do such would stifle his creativity. It was ultimately decided that our practices, including package naming would differ from the format all other groups because we were not bound by their standards. The new standards were defined by the new developer who was reluctant to use the defined standards.

Historically, in the arts, all artists followed an apprenticeship program, and all great artists are the result of this system, with perhaps the exception of Caravaggio, who had minimal training.

Michelangelo worked in the studio of Ghirlandaio, and da Vinci in the studio of Verrocchio. As apprentices / assistants they learn the mechanics of the craft, by doing such chores as mixing pigments. This meant that they inherited a substantial wealth of experience, and emerged from the process as fully fledged artists. But, even then, they realized that their training was not complete. Da Vinci was a strong advocate of the intellectual knowledge of artists in a period when artists were becoming expected to not just have a knowledge of the arts, but also of literature and even write poetry. This was to move the arts and the status of artists from that of craftsmen to that of professionals. Although Michelangelo was a very literate man, and a writer of poetry, he still was the target of da Vinci’s barbs about how he was always covered in marble dust.

But, even as mature artists, they realized that they did not have all-encompassing knowledge. When Michelangelo was commissioned to do the Sistine Ceiling, he realized that his knowledge of frescos was not complete, even though he has apprenticed with Ghirlandaio who painted some major frescoes in Florence. Therefore, Michelangelo, employed assistants to help him prepare the fresco surface, and apply the pigments. He used this approach to learn from his assistants and then continue later without them, having learnt the craft.
Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael are often referred as the giants of the renaissance, and later artists are commonly referred to as standing on the shoulders of the giants.DeChirico

The arts is full of examples of artists reaching back into history for insights and to learn from the masters. Classic examples are Picasso, Degas, Alma-Tadema, Jackson Pollock and Giorgio de Chirico (the precursor of Surrealism).

Without the work of Michelangelo, there would be no Caravaggio. Without Ghirlandaio, there would be no Michelangelo. It is based the building on the previous knowledge of others and ourselves, that we make our greatest advancements.

There was originality in the Renaissance, but this was always based on a solid foundation of the past when it was available. For example, Da Vinci’s Last Supper is radical in that Judas is placed on the same side of the table as Christ. The Sistine Ceiling is radical in composition. But both works are firmly anchored in past tradition, and other conventions of representation.
As mankind has progressed, education has become more extensive. This is because each generation has to learn what all the prior generations knew. It is this progressive accumulation of knowledge which is the progress of mankind. Man is capable of great creativity, but it is always creativity based on a solid knowledge of the past.
This combined knowledge does limit our possibilities, but it removes the drudgery of making decisions about the mundane.
Years ago, I saw a BBC documentary on hypnosis. The subject was told that they were driving a car. Suddenly a child ran in front of the car, and they hit the brake. They used the right foot. There was no conscious effort to decide where the brake was. It was a mundane option that had been removed. How many drivers would say that having the brake on the right side would damage the ‘creativity’ / joy of driving? Using defined rules removes the mundane, and permits energy and choice to be applied to the truly creative elements of any work.


Degas: Apotheosis of Degas Created after Ingres’ Apotheosis of Homer.


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The 80 / 20 Rule One Size Does Not Fit All

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