Simplicity — More with Less in Art
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It’s un-complicating what’s complicated.
For my purpose, simplicity is art.
It’s about a spartan house with less furniture. Making life easier. It’s about redoing my space to declutter my mind. About being able to take a deep breath in my own house. Hear myself think.
I remember one time, flying to Chicago. Upon descent, the pilot announced there was a high precipitation supercell, a severe sky condition phenomena with clear and detrimental impact on visibility. Oookay. Why not say it was raining? Pouring rain, maybe. There is aviation protocol, but why not be clear?
Simple things are far from easy. For everyone, but particularly for creatives. Arriving at simplicity via sophistication without appearing to put on airs is complicated. It’s about starting over until we have a story or a song appear simple when the reality is different.
It’s about what’s going on behind the scene. The process does not matter to the audience. The pilot, for example, let us see behind the aviation scene. Airline passengers don’t care. We want to arrive safely and know if it’s raining at our destination.
Simplicity, not simplification, is about delivery. Imagine if your lawyer tells you: affix your legal designation heretofore, when he could say: sign here.
If simplicity is important for lawyers and pilots, it’s vital in the creative world.
How many complicated songs do you know? Maybe one. Maybe none.
I used to think Don McLean’s American Pie was a complex piece of music. But it’s not. The reason I can sing it right now is because the chorus is beautifully simple. It’s a folk story, the most memorable part about rock & roll and the day the music died.
Even art that appears complicated is at its core simple.
Over the years, since my first short story found a home, I’ve worked with various editors. My favorite editors made me better not only for their story’s sake, but in general. They impressed upon me a simple fact: eliminate the superfluous, even if cutting through prose that sings to you.
That is a mix of skill and maturity. A sign of growing up as a creative.
BUT WHY SHOULDN’T I WRITE FOR MYSELF?
We’re our first audience, right? It makes sense to keep complex prose we might enjoy.
Sure, that’s how it starts. And if the ultimate goal is to be the sole audience, then keep it complex. If the goal is sharing a story then see it big and keep it simple, to quote Wilfred Peterson.
I wrote about the mind of a child reader in Start Again. The summer when I fell in love with writing. What I remember most is how easy the story was to grasp, even if the subject matter — fundamental change during the French Revolution — boggled the mind.
Why? Because the story was written with candor and clarity. Big emotions written in simple ways. The writer never pulled the curtain to offer a glimpse at what was going on behind the scene. The process remained hidden, allowing the story to flow on the page.
However complicated for the creative, for the audience it was simple.