The generic and the essential

I am currently interested in the tension between two polarities, the generic and the essential. Both concepts are about a search for meaning, one through generalization, the other through specificity. Both are reductionist. And, both are critical forces in the creative process.

The term generic describes an object through its relationship to an object class or category. The essential, on the other hand, refers not to an artifact category, but to an object or experience in itself. It strives to convey the essence of a thing. Contrary to most contexts, I do not understand the generic as an implicitly negative term. Lacking specificity, the generic object may accommodate the projection of ideas—allowing the recipient to construct a personal context for it. The generic facilitates the intersection of two perspectives, that of the author, and that of the recipient. Unlike the essential, it is an assimilating force, more interested in relating, than in differentiating.

I like to think of the essential in terms describing a relationship between an object and the artist. To avoid ideology, I prefer to think of it in relative terms, as perceived by the author. It is a conceptual framework, constructed from memorable, even iconic moments relating to an object or an experience. In a sense, I think of it as an impression, a highly subjective, highly personal interpretation, with the intent to convey that which makes an object unique. Unlike the generic, the essential is more interested in difference.

In my mind, both the generic and the essential are inherently forms of abstraction, despite their polarity. One is analytic, the other impressionistic. The interpretation of an object is a result of a negotiation between the two.

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