Simplicity and Repose


Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things – Isaac Newton

Interpretation gravitates to the complex. Maybe all human systems have a natural inclination toward convolution, like stormwater sprinting downstream. Bureaucracies certainly hint at this drift. There is refuge to be found in the minutia of complexity.

The principles of interpretation aren’t complex. The rules are limited; the doctrine is easy to grasp. The role of the interpreter is to simplify the complex, not to complicate the simple.

What is difficult to master is the practice of interpretation. The underpinnings of interpretation can be fathomed in a single sitting; the skills that are required demand time, patience.

One can master art history without being an artist. One can become an expert in modern American poetry without being a poet. There is value in art historians and literary critics.

And certainly, one can learn the principles of interpretation without being an interpreter.

The role of the interpreter is to simplify the complex, not to complicate the simple.

Interpretation, as a practice rather than a subject, is mastered through the application of simple principles using skills and intuition that are gained through years of repetition and practice. These principles and skills are means to an end, not ends unto themselves.

The end or objective of interpretation is revelation (Sam Ham calls this objective epiphany). This objective defines interpretation. Revelation is what separates interpretation from its relatives such as technical and scientific writing.

The techniques used to achieve this objective are as numerous and as varied as the people who have mastered the practice. A guitar may have only six strings, yet no two guitarists approach the guitar with identical technical skills. A work of art may consist only of paint and canvas, but the techniques used by a painter are as individual as a fingerprint.

An interpreter gains more than skills with practice; an interpreter gains intuition. A standup comedian quickly learns how to read the crowd. An interpreter learns how to gauge his or her audience. A comedian counts laughs; an interpreter counts revelations.

An interpretive approach that provokes revelation is successful; one that doesn’t fails. Interpretive success or failure, or which techniques are better or worse, are arguments that are only meaningful within the context of revelation. Otherwise, these debates only complicate the practice of interpretation.

Guerrilla interpretation is an applied approach to the craft. At the heart of this approach are the basic, elementary skills that must be mastered to become a practitioner of the interpretive arts. Knowledge and creativity are critical to the practice, as well. Yet without the skills, knowledge and creativity are impossible to express or apply in a way that stimulates revelation.

Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art – Frank Lloyd Wright