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The Power of Confusion

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Step into the mind of Joshua Davis, Flash designer and unique thinker, and see how he looks at life and how his interpretations of the world around him influence his art — and his book. If you're still with him by the end of this sample chapter, you'll find more to like in his book.
This chapter is from the book

Mentalities and Anomalies

Mentalities are ways of thinking: a philosophy or a set of constructs or beliefs that guide our rational thought. Anomalies defy our beliefs: an anomaly is something different, something abnormal, or something not easily classified. They are the wormholes in the universe of life experience; as an artist I have found that the most useful mentalities make room for as many anomalies as possible.

Most of the time I'm very confused.

The Power of Confusion

I grew up in Littleton, Colorado. Where I live now is in the state of confusion—a place I'm proud to be.

When I tell people I don't know what I'm doing, they say politely, "Oh, that is very conceptual. Would you like to fly out to speak at a conference?" I have spent much of the past year traveling all over the world just to confess that I have no idea, at all, what I'm doing—really.

Macromedia flew me to Japan once to lecture about Flash. There was a convenience store next to my hotel—a good thing, I thought, because I have a bit of a sweet tooth and love candy. One night I went into the store, found the candy aisle, and purchased something that looked to me like Starburst candy. It was squishy, too, like Starburst. I unwrapped one and popped it into my mouth. It tasted like fish!

So I was a little confused. I went back down the aisle and bought another thing that looked like candy, and it too tasted like fish. I bought a bunch of other stuff, only to find out that everything tasted like fish.

You can imagine this now as a Flash animation. A little figure of me in downtown Tokyo—the camera angle is positioned right above my head, and it's pulling back into space as I'm screaming, "Where's my SUGAR? Everything is FISH!!"

In this chapter, and through the rest of this book, we're going to explore the powerful creative forces of confusion. Those things that at first seem to be weaknesses can turn out to be strengths.

My mother gave me this quote once:

"It is more rewarding to explore than to reach conclusion; more satisfying to wonder than to know; and more exciting to search than to stay put."

I've personally tried to carry this idea with me through my life.

When I was a kid I went into my parents' kitchen and looked into a cupboard and found a box of food coloring. I read what was printed on the side of the box: It said, "Non-Toxic." So I took one of the bottles, unscrewed the cap, tilted my head back, and put a drop of food coloring into each of my eyes.

For about 20 seconds, the whole world was red.

Red Eyes

In my college years I was doing oil paintings on paper, and one day I wondered what would happen if I set my paintings on fire. I was working with two different oil-based resins, and I discovered that when heat was applied, the resins would crack against each other, and create interesting textures on paper.

I started baking my paintings. I would paint on paper, using the two resins, then heat my oven to 450 degrees and slide my painting in on a cookie tray. I would let it heat up for seven or ten minutes, rotating the artwork now and then so the paper wouldn't really catch on fire but just heat up enough to make the cracks.

Next, I would take black oil paint and rub the whole painting black. Then I would take a dry cloth and wipe off the black paint. This would remove the top layer of the paint, but the black color would seep and settle into the cracks. I found that I could paint really modern images and yet make them look like paintings that were 500 years old.

Bugs on old looking maps.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you personally endanger your own life or your own home to work with Flash. (But if you try the thing with the food coloring—and I know some of you will—please be sure to email me about your experience.)

The real lesson is that not understanding is okay. I don't know all the answers. No one does. I had to put red food coloring into my eyes to find out what would happen. I had to set my paintings on fire to observe the effect. In all of our mistakes and failures, we can discover great things.

If I ever truly understood all I do with Flash, or with my life in general, I'd probably quit—because that would mean I had lost interest in exploring all the things it can do if you push it. No offense to Macromedia, but I have really tried to bring Flash to its knees. Really break it. Slam it. Crashed my computer. It's only in breaking things—in the anomalies—that I find the accidents that in the end become techniques.

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