09 March, 2013

5 Things Captain Kirk Teaches You About Art


Why consider James T. Kirk, of TV's Star Trek fame, as an example for artists?  Mostly because of thing number 1, presented below.  The Kobayashi Maru story is about innovation, and I want artists (and other leaders who might be reading) to grasp some break-out thinking styles like that represented in the fictional stories of Star Trek.

Captain Kirk is the protagonist of TV's Star Trek, a 1960's science fiction drama set in the distant future.  Many forget that in the sixties, entertainment still relied on drama, instead of special effects, to carry the plot. William Shatner, as Captain James T. Kirk, dished up drama to an absurd level, and we ate it with a spoon. Star Trek and Kirk enjoy a cult following today, and it is fun to draw analogies from this fiction.

5 Things Captain Kirk Teaches You About Art

1. The Kobayashi Maru.

The Kobayashi Maru is the name of a fictional Star Trek training exercise where Kirk finds a solution that redefines the problem, especially when faced with a no win scenario.

Another way of explaining the art principle involved here is to describe lateral solutions.  A common problem in painting, such as which color to choose next, may be solved by choosing the local color (true, common color of an object), which is boring and expected, or by selecting the complement of the local color (the opposite color on a color wheel), which may also be expected. My favorite lateral solution: choosing an unexpected color anywhere else on the color wheel. This sometimes manifests itself as choosing the one color that is proscribed by good technique: it is garish, sick, and unexpected.  Now, you have a whole new set of colorist issues at play, and fun and enjoyment is revived in your painting.

2. McCoy versus Spock.

In Star Trek, Dr. Leonard McCoy is the ship's red-blooded, plain-spoken physician, and Mr. Spock is the first officer, a half-alien who is dispassionate, and over-burdened with logic.  They present a dichotomy of ideas when adverse scenarios confront our hero, Kirk:  emotioversus logic.

Artists have learned to seek out ambiguity.  Does it need any more explanation than this: the expanding of possibilities is increased by posing questions? Antimony is your friend, if you want to discover new paradigms.

3. Struggle Much.

CPT Kirk is a warrior character, an armed forces spaceman who battles seemingly invulnerable alien forces of the universe. Do we struggle as artists in the studio, when faced with the blank canvas?

Some have an aversion to the word "struggle" as a description of the artist's way.  Not me.  Certainly you have to admit there is a surfeit of creative inertia in the world, and especially among artists working today.  I want to overcome that force, to do new things, and I want to do that every time I approach the blank paper.  It is an inner struggle.

4. Thirst for knowledge.

James T. Kirk was called "a stack of books with legs." His insatiable curiosity about the universe drove him onward, and his broad knowledge helped him in troubled times.

Art is created, in part, by the out flowing of knowledge.  At the very basic level, it is knowing what things look like, so that even the abstractionist must use the image of things as a wraith; he avoids the look of things on purpose, or else represents images by other images.  

On a greater level, the artist knows what images have gone before him, and uses that knowledge to spring forward into new terrain.  The universe of knowledge available regarding art history, art, and the look of things is only the start.  Add to these disciplines the full gamut of liberal studies, and you begin to identify the role of the artist as greater than meets the eye.  Artists are cultural leaders because they study the universe, and represent it in new ways.

5. Skill.

A Starfleet captain of Kirk's caliber has a full and broad range of skills. CPT Kirk is the best of the best and much admired for his skills and abilities.

Skill is traditionally recognized as a key element in an artist's makeup. But, Modernist artists have said they are against skill.  This is well and good as a philosophy of art, but an argument can be also made to demonstrate the high skill levels of masters like Egon Schiele, Odilon Redon, and Henri Matisse. Matisse, at the apex of Modernism, is also held up as one of the great draftsmen of history.

Skill alone does not make the artist.  But, every artist realizes more powers and abilities accrue with time. Enhancing your skill level is a great pursuit. 


Finally, we admire CPT Kirk because he wanted to "...go where no man has gone before." You would do well to go where no artist has gone before.  Innovation is the soul of fine art. Think sideways to fool the inertia monster.  Accept asymmetry in your direction. Go to war with your own fears.  Seek new knowledge and hone your skills.  Here is where I'm tempted to say "live long and prosper," but that would be silly.

See also:
Five Leadership Lessons From Kirk

"Intuition, however illogical, is recognized as a command prerogative." Kirk in Obsession.

"Genius doesn't work on an assembly line basis. You can't simply say, 'Today I will be brilliant.' " Kirk in The Ultimate Computer.

Quotes credit: http://voices.yahoo.com/best-quotes-captain-james-t-kirk-star-trek-204167.html


Woodland Rose said...

Love this - great advice and a fun comparison! Very well stated - thanks Casey.

Casey Klahn said...

Thank you for reading, Rose.

Mark Ivan Cole said...

Substantial and entertaining at the same time? How bold! Excellent points well put, Casey.

Mark Ivan Cole said...

Excellent points, and well put, Casey. Substantive and entertaining and the same time? How bold!

Casey Klahn said...

Mark, I liked your comment so well, I posted it twice! Multiple thanks.

Marsha Hamby Savage said...

Casey, wonderful post. I enjoyed reading this one, and clicking the link for the Forbes article on Kirk and Leadership. I have shared to my FB page the post that Ed Terpning posted ... and asked if anyone wants to converse about these things. You always make me think!

Unknown said...

Brilliant! and ... I completely agree. This is a wonderful post. Kudos, Casey!!

Pat Hatt said...

Never would have ever thought of comparing the too, but great points.

Casey Klahn said...

Marsha, Kathy, and Pat: thanks!

Willow said...

Oh this post really beams me up ! Loved the inspiration and the nostalgia .

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks, Willow!

measuringspace - sylvia teri said...

This is my third reading of Captain Kirk and without a doubt I will be back again. These are wise and strong pieces of advice that are helpful again and again. Thank you Casey.
I would like to invite you to visit my blog if you have a minute:


Casey Klahn said...

I did visit, Sylvia! You are publishing a fine blog, and a wonderful thing to see good quality art and blogging. Very happy to know you!

C Tanner Jensen said...


Casey Klahn said...

Thank you.

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