Throw some stuff against the wall and see what sticks
I want to learn how to make beautiful things.
But when I aim for beauty I end up getting stuck. I inevitably start trying to avoid creating ugliness—or worse—mediocrity. I think this is a product of our collective narrative around efficiency and focus. We believe that true beauty is economical, and that true experts never create anything ugly or mediocre. This is a trap. Ugliness and mediocrity are an inevitable bridge to the creation of beauty.
I’ve come to believe that the best way to create is to create everything. To be profligate, spendthrift, extravagant. To make and make and make and let the rest take care of itself. That, after all, is what nature does.
In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard examines this property of nature. She wants to know: what makes beauty in nature? She finds that nature’s beauty is a function of its infinite intricacy, and the whole book is itself a study of that intricacy.
And how does this intricacy come about? “Evolution, of course, is the vehicle of intricacy.”
Yes, in order to create the intricate being that is you and everything around you, millions and millions of beings—large and small, arthropod and mammalian, aquatic, amphibious, and terrestrial—living and dying over millions and millions of years had to come before you.
Most accounts of nature seem to find that nature is economical and perfect. Dillard thinks you can disprove this by simply opening your eyes.
“Look, in short, at practically anything—the coot’s feet, the mantis’s face, a banana, the human ear—and see that not only did the creator create everything, but that he is apt to create anything.”
She describes the African Hercules beetle which is so big it “drones over the countryside at evening with a sound like an approaching airplane.” Or South American ants some of whom act as storage vessels for honey “with abdomens so swollen they cannot walk…regurgitating food to the workers when it is needed.”
When it comes to nature, anything goes.
Of course, selection acts on the forms of creation.