Saturday, 11 October 2014

To Create is to Destroy?

I was standing in line at a Chapters store a week or so ago, waiting to pay for this month's haul of magazines, when I noticed a book sitting on the cash counter. Just one book. I couldn't tell if someone had left it behind, rejected it, or if it was the last book in a stack strategically positioned (by a marketer, no doubt!) to act as a trigger for an impulse purchase.

Going with the last explanation, I sneaked a few peeks at its cover, but resisted the impulse to purchase it. I'm not about to get manipulated by such an obvious tactic! Or am I? Over the next few days I found myself thinking more and more about what the book might have been about. Was fate or serendipity or synchronicity trying to tell me something? I can usually come up with multiple excuses for the 'need' to return to a book store.

So what book was it? Well here is an image of the cover. Or, should I say covers. When I returned to the store, the book was no longer sitting on the cash counter, I had to ask the manager for help in finding it. As it turns out, he's used to this request. The book, by Keri Smith, has been a hot seller among teenage girls for some time. My first decision was which cover to purchase - talk about having too many choices! (I went with the one that looks like a brown paper bag.) As we discussed the book, the manager offered his opinion that the reason for its popularity is that it allows young women the chance to express their creativity. Do we need a book to tell us how to be creative?

Apparently, Keri Smith thinks so. She's a Canadian conceptual artist and writer (check out her website) who, according to her bio, focuses her work/research on creating “Open works”, pieces that are completed by the reader/user. The title for this week's post is the subtitle of the book Wreck This Journal. The whole idea seems to be that by following Smith's suggestions, you can colour outside the lines and unleash your own creativity. The instructions even tell you to experiment and work against your own better judgment. So, can we create by destroying?

I gave it a try, I really did. But I got stuck early on by a page that said simply, "Crack the Spine." Yikes! No way I could do that. Just *not*gonna*happen*! But other people seem to have wholeheartedly embraced the concept. A quick Google search provided these images:

Is this destructive? I can imagine a librarian, hair severely pulled back from her face into a bun, glasses perched on the end of her nose, telling me that stepping on any book is a disgraceful practice, to say nothing about poking holes or doodling in it! But aren't the pages more interesting now?

Can We Take the Idea of Creative Destruction Further?

Thinking about this book reminded me of a recent purchase made by the National Gallery of Canada (just imagine the associative network that linked those two thoughts in my brain!) Majestic is a sculpture by Canadian artist Michel de Broin,which is now installed on the grounds of the National Gallery. It was constructed from salvaged street lamps damaged when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In this case, the destructive activity was carried out by nature, while the artist supplied the creativity. The result, which I've heard described variously as 'beautiful' and 'just about what you'd expect from salvage', may not be to the liking of all art lovers, gallery-goers or onlookers. But it is certainly a lot more 'productive' than dumping the posts in a landfill or perhaps melting them down as scrap iron. Even if it doesn't comply with your personal definition of 'beauty' it stimulates thought and discussion about salvaging what we can from disaster and the possibilities for re-birth.

Elite artists aren't the only people who can do this. The average scrapbooker does it all the time. Using things drawn from everyday life - a movie ticket, concert program, bit of lace or a photograph - scrapbookers create a new 'whole'. They tell a story that is meaningful to them and possibly to future generations. If you think scrapbooking isn't much for consumer researchers to be concerned with, I'd invite you to tour a Michael's store some time soon. I think you'll be as shocked as I was at the variety of scrapbooking supplies, tools and accessories being offered for sale. This is a big time business!

For consumer researchers, the idea of consumption as being something more than just destroying the 'use value' of something is part of the changes we observe in postmodern society. Accordingly to Firat and Venkatesh (1995, p. 245), under modernity, only "production was creation, because it added something of value to human lives." Consumption destroyed the value that was created through production. These authors go on to argue that today, in postmodern times, there is no distinction between production and consumption "they are one and the same, occurring simultaneously" (p. 254). Each act of consumption is also an act of production. Just as the scrapbooker 'consumes' materials produced by the market, and may even 'destroy' value in the sense of tearing, cutting or writing over photographs and ephemera, in order to 'produce' something that is more than the sum of its parts, so too do we in our everyday lives destroy in order to create.

So, is creation really just the flip side of destruction? What do you think?

Firat, A. Fuat and Alladi Venkatesh (1995), "Liberatory Postmodernism and the Reenchantment of Consumption," Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (Dec.), 239-267.

Web Sources: 

For further reading:
Baumeister, Roy F. (2002), “Yielding to Temptation: SelfControl Failure, Impulsive Purchasing, and Consumer Behavior, Journal of Consumer Research, 28 (March), 670-676.

Rook, Dennis (1987), "The Buying Impulse," Journal of Consumer Research, 14 (2): 189-199.      


  1. After seeing that book I am already so interested and have found myself looking it up on Google! I find that creative tactics and items like that always grab my attention and once I pick it up, I am going to buy it! I learnt that the hard way over the holidays too! So many stores use similar tactics with eye catching items at the cash register. I don't know about you but I had to avoid picking anything up all together while waiting in lines because store seriously know what items to place that will need to be picked up. Chapters was the worst, they have so many funny gag gifts or do-it-yourself gifts that I couldn't help but pick them up! These type of items are so cool but marketers have definitely figured out how to make them visible!

  2. I had one of these destruction books a few years ago. Indeed it was a fun to be creative. I did however leave the "crack the spine" page alone as my destruction can only go so far. I remember I would lend the book to others and tell them to complete a page or two before returning the book. It is out of some people comfort zone to destroy a book on purpose so that is why I kept it around for for long and was intrigued to make the most out of each page. I do think that sometimes we have to think outside the box to make the most out of something or to get a new perspective, that is one great thing about the wreck this journals. It allowed me to go shoot color dyed snow at paper or to jump on top of the book, things I would never dream of doing to a book! I think creation is not the flip side of destruction, but IS destruction. Great post!

  3. When I read the part of the blog that spoke about the book called wreck this journal, I began to search what the book was about. Why was the book intrigued by teenage girls to be specific? When I learned how the author required the owner of the book to perform various tasks, it clicked me that the author intends the user of the book to create by destroying. It made me think that every act of creation would be accomplished by first destroying and that is what the basic concept of art is to me. A painting that you create will first be destroyed by the initial step of destroying the material you are painting on. Therefore, destruction leads to creation!

  4. The idea of requiring instructions to be creative is an interesting one, but I would argue that it is not really that unrealistic. In some cases, instructions and constraints can actually help stimulate creativity. Drawing on the journal mentioned in your article, There could be many different ways the instructions to destroy it are followed. For instance, with the page you are supposed to step on, someone could step in paint, or mud, and could be wearing shoes or be barefoot. On the page for poking holes, they could be poked through the centres of the gears, or between them. The rules may even be completely ignored, like in your case. These instructions could be seen as a prompt, and entire communities exist just to generate creative prompts (see Moving beyond this to problem solving, constraints give way to an abundance of different solutions.

    As for the second part of the article, the idea of consumption being an act of production does not seem that new; it seems to be more of a new manifestation, in my eyes. As a society, we have always consumed the resources around us to fulfill our needs. Extending Maslow's hierarchy from the individual to Western society in general, we have filled our basic needs and are now seeking to societally self-actualize. The fulfillment of basic needs used basic resources, while more advanced needs can repurpose what was previously thought to be a final good as a resource. The use of wreckage from natural disasters reminds of the hardship and loss they can cause, as well as how we overcome them. Scrapbooking helps us to explain ourselves to each other.

    Tying the two together, whether or not something has reached the end of a consumption cycle is entirely dependent on the constraints and requirements posed by the needs we seek to fill. A need that is more abstract can pull from a wider range of resources to fulfill it. Someone seeking to express themselves could do it through an original painting or writing piece, or they could combine several together to make something new. One could even combine what is seen as waste simply because it is their unique way of filling their need for expression.

  5. This blog post triggered my memory to me actually seeing this book in Chapters as well! Although I never made the purchase of it, I definitely remember picking it up in line to pay and flipping through it. What caught my attention of the book was the paper bag cover look it had in conjunction with its title. It's a book literally instructing the reader/consumer to destroy it. I found this to be very intriguing myself, as I had never seen nor heard of something quite like it. The marketers behind this product had a very interesting technique by making it available in 4 different covers, perhaps to attract consumers eyes multiple times. Along with the placement near the checkout line, I'm sure many others picked it up to see what it was all about.

    In terms of the point of whether creation is simply the flip side of destruction, I believe this to be the case in certain situations. There are many things destroyed that I do not believe to have an association with creation as they can be valuable things lost or taken from individuals where nothing is gained. However, like this journal, I do believe there to be creation in destruction too, similar to when one thing ends another begins.

  6. Currently I am learning graphic design and I need to create some ads for my projects, I’ve realized that being creative is super difficult! I can come up with good color scheme and positioning but making something totally unseen before is at the different level. I do not go to book store often so I didn’t know there was such a book as “Wreck this journal” but I think this is a bright and fun idea of a product. You asked if the creation is just the flip side of destruction, I think destruction is one of the methods of creation. However, without creativity we cannot even come up with the cool way of destruction! So this is a good way to get rid of our common sense and to broaden our perspective. And to know even a foot print can be a piece of art with creativity!

  7. I love the idea of this book and it is something that I plan on purchasing in the future after reading this blog. I like that it allows people to be creative. I can also relate to the impulse purchases at the front of the cashes, especially when its chocolate. Its funny to think that even marketing students fall for this because we know why they are there ( for us to make impulse buys)! I can also relate to the regret that happens when you do not purchase something. There are just some items that you will not forget even when you leave the store

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  9. I think Keri Smith does an excellent job challenging the buyers of her book to think outside the box and see things in a different light. She takes something as simply and ordinary as a book and morphs it into an individual and creative piece of work. We think just because a book has a spine, pages, and words that we are supposed to read it page by page, front to back, but the author is asking us to see it not as a book but just an object. If we are open to see things as much more than what we are accustom to the world suddenly becomes much more interesting and creative.
    Take for example a truck tire, everyone knows that its primary use is to be served on a truck. One day someone saw it as much more than just a tire, they swung a rope around it and tied it to a tree branch and it became a swing.
    I love the idea of challenging consumers to see things from a different perspective, but I must agree cracking a spine would be cringe worthy.

    - Kennedy Plummer