Not long ago, I completed Design Discovery, an intensive architecture summer program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
On the last day, after commencement, a friend took a video of me merrily destroying a bag full of massing models.
It wasn’t a cute little tote bag either — I had filled a sizeable garbage bag to the brim, and it was half my height.
Of course, that stuff is going to landfill. Foam, foam core, cork board, wooden and paper bits stuck together with glue, colored with markers.
Separately, I tossed a Shake Shack takeout bag filled with scraps of even less value, left over from the process (I recycled the bag, just not all its contents).
But is it waste?
In other words, is it necessary?
The concept of minimalism brings to mind tidiness, control, restraint.
In other ways, I do behave like a zero-waste minimalist. All my apps are organized on one screen, my clothes are thrifted, I bring my own produce bags and jars to the grocery store, and I always have my reusable bottle, tiffin, and cutlery with me. I regularly stop and think about the physical items I choose to keep, without deriving my happiness from them.
These pieces of my lifestyle interlock and feed into a habit of intentionality.
And the reason why I like to think less is more, is because it makes room for guests, like creativity.
Because the creative process gets MESSY.
It crawls out of your sketchbook and over your desk, dripping glue over your fingers and shredding blank sheets into shapes, then volumes, then spaces.
Even after a day’s work, when you shove what remains away, it keeps turning the wheels, long after your bouts of frustration and pouting are over, until you finally realize how you can harness the genie.
Because it doesn’t remain at your desk. It comes over for breakfast, it stays with you for lunch, you invite it to dinner, and even your bed is not your own.
You bring it with you before God, asking what am I supposed to do with this, Dad?
It lurks in the logic. It multiplies the value of little. It is a gift to be stewarded.
Minimalism is never the end goal. We choose less so that we might gain more.
Perhaps art is unnecessary for a life of mere survival. But we are meant for more.
In a life of abundance, having more than enough of the essentials is waste. But cultivating artfulness is not, because it always becomes more.
Still, the question of sustainability and the creative process remains. What of the supplies unused, the plaster and concrete spilled, the foam cut and tossed away?
Is it comparable to fast fashion, relevant and exciting for a time, but harmful and no longer useful afterwards?
Some of our materials are recycled, some scraps are reused, but inevitably I was not the only one leaving my models behind (to never decompose) as I moved forward in life.
I will never be able to fully justify our messy, wasteful art. Or at least, measure it with the same bar as our essential needs.
But this I will say: Our need to create is as mysterious as the reason why we were created.
We have no duty to justify or explain away our being. Why do our hearts beat for a time, and no longer? Why do we carry hope on a speck in space, floating through a sea of nothingness?
We stare into the face of vapor — all generations before, all after — everything under the sun, meaninglessness.
And yet, we live on, and believe that it all matters.
Because in this glimpse of eternity, we see that there is goodness that exists beyond time and space.
No, we were not created to die. Creation begets creation, life begets life. Even the void, the mess, the vapor… it is rife with God’s booming whisper of rebirth.