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Abstraction

The essence of abstraction consists in singling out one feature, which, in contrast to other properties, is considered to be particularly important.

Sparks of Genius, p. 72


Looking past the obvious is hard to do, especially when you’re up against a deadline. Our quick-to-consume culture has conditioned us to see the world in snippets…short bursts of stimuli. It’s marketed as “consumable” or “digestible,” but it’s a cheapened experience.

Root-Berenstein (2013) characterizes Werner Heisenberg, Picasso, and others, finding the root of abstraction in “finding the minimal visual stimulus that can be put on paper or canvas and still evoke recognition.” Consistently, the simple concept defined through an abstraction can be applied to the bigger picture.

This is hard because it takes time. There is significant effort in abstracting seemingly simple ideas, objects, or actions. With photography, it is difficult to capture an abstract idea because the camera lens gathers so much information with the flick of a mirror.

Identifying main themes in any abstraction will help with breaking down complex ideas. What patterns exist? How can those patterns be grouped together? What other patterns emerge as you break things down? Often times, in the process of identifying a theme or themes, you can combine ideas into simpler, more generalized themes. Repetition is key in this process because you can look for common threads. This also means that our first attempt can usually be thrown away. Abstraction, in its truest form, is the result of a process, not creation through obscurity.

Resources

Root-Bernstein, R., & Root-Bernstein, .M. (1999). Abstracting. In Sparks of Genius. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Categorized in: CEP891

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