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The Intersection Of Creativity & Artistic Evolution- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

The Intersection Of Creativity & Artistic Evolution- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD


The Intersection Of Creativity & Artistic Evolution


We invite you, dear Artist, to have a look at a chapter of our forthcoming book, The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation.

The blog posts of the last years are making their way into a new form, a collaborative effort to synthesize the themes that have been swirling about. You could say they’re evolving. And that is the subject of today’s post.


Evolution Chapter


Evolution and life are inseparable. Everything that lives, evolves. It’s still an open question as to how it all got started, but that’s another book.

Evolution is a general phenomenon of complex adaptive systems. These systems are characterized by having agency, which means they are composed of many different separate and at least partially autonomous entities that are reacting to their environment while they simultaneously change it with their actions. That includes us as humans.


We modify our environment to suit us just as it modifies us.


Complex adaptive systems are also characterized by nested structures, one within the next, like Russian Matryoshka dolls. Our bodies are full of many other microscopic living things that help us metabolize, digest, and fight disease. We literally, as Walt Whitman said, “contain multitudes.”


Each of us is a whole ecology of living things.



Russian nesting Matryoshka dolls



And we contain the ability to abstract evolution in our brains, themselves the product of evolution.


We contain ecologies of ideas, new ones entering, old ones leaving, some being created internally, all the time.


Thoughts collide in our conscious and subconscious mind, sometimes surprising us. Our brains are full of neural intersections where great things happen.



Image of neurons in brain



In Steven Spielberg’s film Jurassic Park, the character Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) opines, “Nature finds a way.

Just how does Nature find a way? Nature does lots of experiments, the variation we talked about earlier.

And Nature takes copious notes—the results of experiments are passed from generation to generation as an amalgam of DNA and proteins. This allows the living world to keep on keeping on, it is living proof of its own efficacy.



DNA image from electron microscope



We humans find our way by cultivating an attitude of unfolding, of going to the edge, into the unknown, and continuing to go to that edge in our art. Specifically, in Chapter 32 we discussed variation in regard to experimentation. The other main ingredient of evolution, namely, selection—which maps onto artistic constraint, which we also explored, is about decision.


Artistic Evolution


In summary, what can we learn from evolution as artists?

  • Do lots of experiments and take notes
  • Try new things and relate them to things you know
  • Be mindful that results might take a while
  • Let artworks die in your stead
  • Don’t stand still, anything that does becomes a target


And finally, remind yourself of this: Being an artist is about continually evolving your art.


With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


Want to get your own adjacent possible going? Grab a copy of Book #1 in the series, The Adjacent Possible, available in print and ebook editions HERE. 



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