Reasoning vs. Feeling

laag(z6CapeCod)September 26, 2010

Many landscape designers decribe themselves as having an artistic gift that allows them to do wonderful things through "feeling". I used to believe this as well, but have come to realize that this is not really the case.

I do believe that some people have a greater capacity to observe, and/or process what they observe. We could call that a gift, I suppose.

Some people have a greater desire to credit their abiities to a "gift" than a willingness to attribute it to rational thought. Perhaps it makes them feel special or puts them in an elite class that is inherently exclusive - if you are not "gifted" you can not become so and can never become what they are. Perhaps it is more innocent than that and they simply don't understand their own rational thought process. I really don't know.

I have come to believe that our subconscious is much more keenly attuned to our surroundings and much more observant than our conscious minds. This is what makes us "feel" what is working or what is not. Those whose conscious reasoning mind is aware of what his subconscious recognizes to a limited extent would likely describe himself as an artist and would be more likely to believe that they are gifted to sense what should go where.

A person who makes a greater effort to understand why they feel what they feel is more likely continually take the time to observe what is going on all around in order to better understand what his subconscious is "feeling". Those "feelings" in the subconscious transfer to logical thought when you ask yourself what makes you feel that way. The more you try to answer those questions, the more answers you find and you develop conscious reasoning. Yor thought process moves from the subconscious to the conscious and that allows you to directly correct negatives and create positives.

The more you understand, the more logical the process becomes.

Some of you may make an illogical leap to believe that reasoning equals technical and devoid of artistry or creativity. Many cling so hard to the notion that being artistic is somehow completely separate from rationality. Some may go so far to imply that rationality displaces artistry. I'll be very surprised if there will not be posts in this thread that will support this observation. Every time I bring this subject up that happens.

If my observations are true, this is good news for most people. It means that design can be learned as long as you have the ability to study, observe, understand what you observe and apply what you learn from those acts.

Again, I used to believe that to put together good landscape copmositions one needed to be born with some kind of "gift" or what some would call "an eye". The longer I do it, the more that I believe that it is an entirely logical process. The only difference is how much of it is processed in the background and how much is processed in the foreground.

Why is it more important to process in the foreground (consciously)? First because the more you are aware of, the more options and control you have. Secondly, it gives you a greater ability to describe things to your clients in order for them to get on the same page with you or to get you on the same page as them.

The latter becomes a huge part of functioning as a designer of other peoples projects. It is communication. You simply can not communicate to someone by owning a feeling. It has to be presented in such a way that it can be understood. If you don't understand what you are doing anymore than having it feel right to you, you are left without an ability to communicate how the client will gain that same feeling. That is an extreme deficit to have in a competitive field.

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I agree.
They say the more expert you are at something the more difficult it is to teach those skills to someone else, because the process you use becomes so automatic that it is impossible to break it down to explain it. I believe that is the "artistic" part that people reference. The process of observing, analyzing and improving is so automatic that it seems like an artistic gift but it is really an automatic process that comes from extensive study and experience.

Unfortunately if you want to sell this "artistic" knowledge or gift, one has to maintain the ability to communicate about the reasoning, process and goals so people will buy it.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2010 at 11:11AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

I do think "artistic ability" exists; just as some people seem to have an innate ability for math, or language, or physics, some people have a knack for spatial relationships and color. But I agree that the "knack" is an interest or curiosity combined with applied rational thought. It's not magic.

Communication might be thought of as marketing. Someone might have the voice of an angel, but if she only sings in the shower, the gift will remain undiscovered. Or, she could splash herself throughout the media as Lady Gaga, and the self-promotional communication could bring major success.

Okay, that's an extreme example. You don't have to dangle from a noose while dripping fake blood to get my attention. A well-crafted explanation of a refined garden design idea will do. : )

I've only interviewed a few landscapers, but their talents and the way they present their talents has been quite varied. None that I interviewed presented themselves as an artist. Several were very practical: "step one, step two, step three, this much money." One listened to what I needed more carefully: "because you want this, step one; because you need this, step two; because it's important to you, step three, this much money." That was good communication and he got the job.

I recently got bids from two contractors for a small bathroom remodel. One looked at our requests, banged out a fairly standard plan meeting all our needs with a competitive price. Another took us to see projects approaching completion, brought us samples of exotic materials, and did several complete re-designs of the bathroom, some involving moving windows and walls, with fabulous sketches of beautifully detailed bath ideas. Oh, and quadruple the price! Lots of art, but something was lost in our communication! : D

    Bookmark   September 27, 2010 at 3:00PM
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Have you read Vincent van Gogh's letters to his brother? When I did, I was totally struck by how rationally he describes his goals in painting; he may have cut off his ear, yes, but he calculated how to make his paintings look wild, as if created by an uncontrollable force.
Me (and others too, I'm sure) have been fed volumes of Romantic literature at school - that whole cult of the genius thing. (Guaranteed to be popular with teenagers.) And Van Gogh's letters made me ask, why did it take me half a lifetime to deconstruct such beliefs?
Not denying that gift exists, and that some have more than others, and that I still cannot always rationally explain why a certain space feels "wrong."

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 9:07AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I think some people do have a 'gift' but the 'gift' needs training and practise to develop to its full potenial. And those of us without a 'gift' - or a very limited one - can also improve our performance with training/study and practise although we will never achieve what the truly gifted can if they are committed to using their gift to the fullest. So, just as some gifted people fail to live up to their potential, some less naturally gifted people can achieve wonders through hard work, training, and a commitment to achievement. The vast majority of us less gifted people will fall somewhere along a spectrum of mediocrity :-)

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 11:01AM
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It's both--skill and talent. My grandmother was incapable of imagining visual things and used to tell me what she wanted for her house and had me pick out things to make it happen. I'm a horrible draftsman, but with practice I could be quite adequate. That doesn't mean I'd be a great representational artist--as some point, talent that I haven't got kicks in. But it means that I could communicate clearly through drawing.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 11:31AM
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I also agree that it is likely equal parts of both reasoning/knowledge and talent/innate artistic ability. I'm not sure you can have an unqualified success focusing on one without consideration of the other :-)

As with any other discipline, one can be trained in the 'techniques' of artistry - you can learn how to combine colors, develop perspective, correctly utilize the materials, create a composition, etc. But if training was all there was to it, there would be a whole lot more successful artists in this world!! Some folks just possess the ability to pull it all together better or create the right vision. Whether this should be considered a gift or not, I'll leave up to you but I firmly believe some are much more in possession of these abilities than others.

But gift or not, I don't think just artistic ability is sufficient, especially when it comes to landscape design. While it is an art, it is also a technical art and a mastery of the technicalities involved is going to put one much further along the road to success than just relying on whatever artistic abilities you may possess. This is where the communication comes into play - if one cannot successfully communicate that artistic vision to the client, either by drawing, verbal skills or even the dreaded Photoshop, then all is for naught. And you need the knowledge of the appropriate learned technology to be able to accomplish that.

In this manner I think it is a combination of both conscious and subconscious thought or processing - conscious in the learning or developing the knowledge base for the technology and subconscious in how one internalizes the vision and then reproduces it.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 3:16PM
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Interesting topic. Doing what you love is technical artistry. Read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Aloha

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 10:26PM
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peachymomo(Ca 8)

I recently had an experience that demonstrated this point to me very clearly, I didn't like the 'feeling' of something and it wasn't until it was gone that I began to understand the reasons I didn't like it. I used to have three very large camellias (trees more than shrubs) in front of my house, I never thought of removing them because they had beautiful flowers and were old and healthy. But when the LA came to our house she cocked her head at them and asked if we were set on keeping them, my DH jumped at the idea of cutting them down and they were gone the very next day. Now I realize why I didn't like the 'feeling' of them, they blocked our view of the yard and got in the way of walking in and out of the front door. I don't have to struggle to look around anything anymore and it's very refreshing. There has also been a dramatic drop in the number of spiderwebs spanning our front walk, and that is a very good thing. I realize now that one of the main problems with the landscaping around this house is obstructions to the view, in the back it's even worse - an old shed and a roof extension to provide shade block a good 60-70% of the views out of the kitchen window and sliders. I can't wait until those are gone too.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 11:20AM
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peachymomo, you also bring up the idea that the way we "experience" plantings and landscaping varies and makes a difference in choices. If a photo of certain landscaping as "curb appeal" is posted, in its usual one-dimensional format, someone might say, great shrubs, they ground the house, etc. But the person walking by and among them might experience it differently. Now, I realize that trained and experienced designers may be able to detect all of those elements and not be misled by the outside photo and/or see immediately when one design element encroaches upon another, but there might also be simply "experience" issues--one person finds a certain type or area of shade soothing, another oppressive. So maybe some design elements are highly generic and tend toward a universal wrong or right, and some are more neutral but may be wrong or right for a given set of goals. Or actually, it is more likely that the principle is not so neutral, but there are variations on how to achieve it.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 3:22PM
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Don't we all wish we lived in a perfect world? We could air brush our pictures or designs? Well that isn't going to happen to most of us. We can have the credentals that put us at the top of our trade but we are still artists of some sort. You know what works with what. Color, texture, foliage etc... How things grow and when. That is what we need to achieve for our clients. The bottom line is what the client wants. I know. Right or wrong we chase the job. It keeps all of us employed. Sometimes it is a sour taste. Or an eye rolling moment. But many times the client really does care about the all over effect. When I draw a landscape design, and I love the time I draw, so much consideration goes into this. Observation of the site is usually captured in photos that I have taken. I try to remember the feel of the area, the demensions of the area and what my client are trying to achieve. More times than not the client just wants the area to look good. They don't have a clue what the plant material does but the have a good clue about the hardscape. And the cost. Or so I have found. Does this hinder the artistic? Yep you bet it does. Does it make me think more inside or outside the box. Yep. Both. I tend to think outside the box. I want to know what the new trends are in eco friendly landscape design. I want it sustainable and astheticaly apealling. I want the design to preform the way I know it can. Does this scare me incase I am wrong? Oh ya! It dissappoints me that as a society the homeowner in many cases doesn't care and won't take care of the landscape. And this is just because it is a last thought to the homeowner or person contracting the work. This limits me and then I become bored. I can only design what the client wants and then well.... Give me a meadow to design or a urban landscape that feeds the community etc... and I will feel blessed. Even in my own backyard. Let me have at the drawing board without a time table. I'm there! Not that I will be any better than anyone else but I will be all over it willing to learn and create without causing a eco desaster. Encouraging the public to visit and enjoy, learn from and maybe use in thier own landscape. No matter how large or small that element may be.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 4:37AM
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I would argue that art is not stifled by limitations in that limitations are overcome by using creativity along with reasoning. The aesthetic outcome might be less than if it were not limited, but the more limits there are, the more artistry it takes to overcome it.

Over the years I have steadily moved from a mentality of wanting to create landscapes that I want while being burdened by the property owner to one of understanding the client (who often does not understand himself), solving his needs, overcoming and exploiting the site, and finding a way to satisfy my artistic outlet in the process.

In other words, I moved from starting with my art and making it work with the burdens of the site and client to working out the client and site and finishing with my art. It might sound like semantics but I assure you that it is a completely different way of thinking and has much more satisfactory results at all levels.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 7:08AM
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It should not be that different from other types of client-interactive creative "services". One type of art can be that you create a painting, show it in gallery and someone just takes it home and puts on wall. Also an architect ("buildings to house people " as opposed to LA) can design a spec home and someone likes and buys it. OTOH, most architects of all types work with the client and a site already bought and many specific wants and needs. A custom dress designer must take into account ( and flatter!) the client's figure.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 10:27AM
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So "artistry" may be defined as simply making the technical look easy.

There are often things that I don't want to understand or dig deeper into or try to disect them into their components as to what or how they work, because I just want to enjoy the experience as a whole. Sometimes knowing and experiencing the wizard is more fun than looking behind the curtain.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 7:46AM
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... but in the end, it was the regular guy behind the curtain who brings you home.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 8:51AM
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Laag, your thoughts bring back a flood of memories. When I first met with a potential client I requested a few minutes to walk the property alone studying the situation before being hammered with wants and dislikes and questions. That was my time to look for problems and the guts of the land. No artistry was involved in this study. This is where the basics you describe came into play. Until those matters are resolved if present, the artsy part has to wait for solutions. This is when you reach into your bag of education, experience and knowlege of local carpenters, engineers, stone masons, landscape contractors, etc. Once the technical is solved the art is designed around it. But, even the art of plant design requires a whole bag of tricks as one has to know all the technical information about each plant selected such as height, growing zone, bloom time, color, texture, spread plus other considerations. Van Gogh painted sunflowers. However, a landscape person has to know every technical detail of the sunflower family before selecting a variety to include in the design.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 10:18AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I would argue that art is not stifled by limitations in that limitations are overcome by using creativity along with reasoning. The aesthetic outcome might be less than if it were not limited, but the more limits there are, the more artistry it takes to overcome it.

AMEN. My best design work is always when I have limited it costumes, gardens, or theater sets. (Amateur events, all.) Even gift giving. My favorite Christmas gifts for others are always the ones I come up with during "lean" years. One has to THINK so much harder when one cannot merely throw money at a project.

Last week I did a freebie consult for some folks from church...they wanted me to come tell them what would live in their yard and they wanted a list of plants that would give their yard a more unified look. (They are clearly plant collectors...something I understand!) They had a modest budget.

I took a look around their yard...and told them that they didn't need any NEW kinds of plants...they just needed to repeat the things that were growing happily...and pull out the stuff that wasn't. Many of their happy perennials were at a point where they could be I'm hoping they'll do that. Add a few different cultivars if they feel the need for variety. Widen their paths from 16" to at least 30"....and combine a few of the bitsy beds into one larger bed. Nothing that was going to take a ton of money...just some time and sweat.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2010 at 1:11PM
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Depends on the customer. Or maybe you don't get neurotic ones who ask for 80 designs and still can't pick one--their preferences swinging wildly from one to the next, with absolutely-nots of the first ones being absolutely-yeses of the second.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 12:02PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

If they're paying for 80 designs maybe it really doesn't matter that they never choose one.

As long as you're not having to keep other clients waiting.

Three essentials for landscape horticulture:

- Boundless energy

- Successful avoidance of problem customers

- Friendly relations with those you do work for

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 12:21PM
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