The Dance of Mystery in Art

by Chris Lorensson on January 9, 2011 with comments

This post is a follow-up to Lifestyle Minimalism

In a dance, there is a fine balance to be maintained in order to strike that perfect balance of strength and grace. If the male lead is too strong, he will overpower his female and thereby create an imbalance which destroys the beauty of the collaboration. If the female’s gracefulness steals the show, the dance is too weak and the balance is undermined. Only when the two work in harmony together can the perfect balance be struck, creating a beautiful ebb and flow like water flowing navigating through the obstacles in a stream.

This crucial balance is not to be confused with the path of least resistance— to the contrary, that path would be for either of them to steal the show, rather than to work together. Indeed, the balance is the path of most resistance— where the framework for mystery is broken.

The Framework for Mystery

As a visual artist, my job is to build the framework for mystery. This is again, a careful balance between the two. If the framework is over-designed or too rigid, the mystery cannot exist there. But if the mystery is too prominent, it will break out of the framework and have no context— making it impossible with which to engage.

In writing

As a writer, the easiest mistake to make is to over-explain, to offer off-the-cuff explanations of the given topic. This abundance of detail pulls the rug out from under imagination’s feet; it fills every possible area of thought with a cheap idea, leaving no room for the reader’s imagination to fill in the gaps. This is the framework overpowering the mystery.

Contrariwise, if I do not set the scene well enough to give the reader a basic context to use as a mental playground, they will shy away with too little to go on. There is not enough information to mentally, emotionally or artistically engage. This is the mystery overpowering the framework.

In photography and visual art

As a visual artist, I often feel the shame of snapping photos – it feels as though a simple press of a button is a cheap trick for making art. For example, I was shooting around town today and I came across a garage-door with years of layers of local artists’ tags on it. There is a history here; artists have, for some reason, identified this area and continually tagged it as their own. The owner of the garage has not bothered to paint over it in what seemed to be several years, for his or her own reasons. Then I walk along one day and freeze it in time, in a format that is infinitely copyable and distributable, taking any mystery out of what would have otherwise been just a tiny experience not lasting more than a few minutes.

As a visual artist and photographer, I feel I have a certain responsibility to be courteous and careful of the things I photograph, draw or design. I must honor its history and recognise that there is so much I don’t know and don’t understand. In this necessary humility, I feel as though I might pass into an area of honour in which, just maybe, I may be able to do it a service rather than a dis-service.

The balance itself

Many artists, particularly modern ones, use deliberate variations of the balance in their work; tipping the scales i one direction or another, sometimes for shock value. I am not a conservative person, but something about this practice jars with my sense of humility and honour. I don’t feel as though I have the right to take that liberty, but I suppose it’s a very personal decision to make.

For me, the balance is the goal in itself. I find it difficult enough to build the framework for mystery appropriately in each piece I do— I can’t imagine taking the liberty to purposefully offset this balance (effectively exploiting it for my own name’s sake).

Where all this is coming from

In considering the idea of requiring less as a step toward Godliness, I have considered my own artistic tools. A camera, a computer, my stationery and markers. These, for me, make up the very basic set of tools which I require. Though the funny thing is that I have not mastered any of them. This knowledge keeps humble, performing the same function as the work of others far more talented than I.


For 2011, one of my goals is to simply be mindful of my own requirements, and to take things for granted less often. The long-term version of this goal is that I want to be someone who wouldn’t bat an eye if my house burned down with everything in it. For me, this is a big deal because I’m a collector and a technophile – I like my stuff, electronics in-particular.

I often daydream. I think to myself

if all I owned was this pen, what would I do with it?

and I think of so many ways I would eek out every ounce of creativity. As a close and talented photographer friend of mine wisely said learn to master one thing at a time by limiting yourself to it. But nowadays this is difficult. Us in The West live in a culture and economy which affords us no end of luxuries—we can have most of what we want, and all of what we need. (A talented photographer could get incredible shots from the first ever crappy camera-phone, but I still can’t get a decent shot out of my £500 Ricoh camera).

I digress.

Perhaps I will continue this later.

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