Humans have been creating their own worlds from the dawn of their existence, externally or internally. It has become a key facet of our society’s disciplines and everyone engages with worlds and their creation in some shape or form. But before we can look at their construction, we can discuss a simple yet complex question- “what IS a world?”
What makes a world a world? Well, it depends on who you ask. A physicist will have a different answer to a fantasy fiction writer, and an artist might refute both of those things! Though there are definitions, when we take the recipes for these worlds, regardless of discipline, they all generally boil down to the same ingredients.
First, you need to have an observer. An artist has an audience, large or small. The audience could even be the artist themselves. Even if an image is created but unseen, there is an unseen observer. This may sound like a question about a tree falling in a forest when nobody’s around, but physics may (or may not) require some sort of observer. We know that observation is important yet confusing (especially in the quantum realm). We already have created observers of our own, with the advent of computers. As Carl Sagan wrote, ‘We are a way for the cosmos to know itself’.
Second, you need to have space. Whether this space is in one, two or three dimensions (let’s not go higher than that), everything requires space. Space is where things can exist and happen. Some artists engage in work two-dimensionally, but others engage in 3D, physically or virtually. All sciences require and make use of an understanding of space in general like the universe, but also on a microscopic scale. A habitat is a space for animals, according to biology. The quantum world is tiny, but it is a world nonetheless.
Third, you need stuff. Scientists refer to stuff, or things, as matter. Whether it is organic, inorganic, intangible, invisible, it’s there, and it’s matter. Stuff fills the spaces and forms materials, mediums and actors that contribute to our next ingredient- Events.
Fourth: Events. Things will happen in these spaces, and stuff (or matter) can influence that. It’s worth noting that events can happen with or without an observer, like our friend the falling tree. An event could be:
– A battle (historical, present, future) – Birth – An apple falling down – A chemical reaction – The formation of our universe. Whatever type of work you do, the events relevant to your discipline will vary, and the scale of them will vary too.
Fifth: Information. Information can be anything. Light, energy, genetics, bits, are scientific types of information. Colour, sound, structure and materials are artistic types. Some sort of information has to pass through these worlds, or else how would events happen? How would our observer observe anything? Again, this information does move without observation, but for humans, we generally like to perceive our information.
Sixth: Rules. Arguably the most important ingredient, and so we’ve saved the best for last. All worlds have rules. You may not like that, but they all do. Most of these rules we’ve covered, but what’s interesting is that some of these rules need not apply. One thing we can agree on is that these things exist because of one of two reasons: Either a rule was broken, or a rule was made.
We might assume that it would be best only to attribute this to fiction – physics defying characters, impossible landscapes, creatures that could not exist in reality. But artists also are frequent rule breakers or makers- they turn their unique lens on the world and so their rules may appear different.
Even scientists have to imagine broken rules- a great way to understand how something works is to imagine it working differently, or broken completely. Theoretical physicists imagine universes where the laws of physics are completely different to ours. How would these universes operate if there was no gravity? Astrobiologists imagine life on other planets, and how other planets may be able to harbour life, and what that life might look like.
All disciplines question these rules and push the boundaries. All ask “why?” but also “why not?”. We should all do the same.
So now that we know the ingredients, we can get going. But where do we start? Because a world has varying boundaries, it may seem that we might have to start in one place or another. But there is no set starting point. JRR Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, was a linguist. Through researching languages, he learnt that historical events and culture directly influence a language’s development. While developing his own language, he created Middle Earth, complete with histories and cultures to house such a language.
An artist is not a writer, but if an artist’s primary concern is aesthetics, then that is where we could begin. Artists some ways into their careers will already have built some sort of world- we like to call it artistic dialogue or language- even an artistic practice counts. We can apply these concepts or facets of worlds to our practice, and enhance or develop them. So what you really need to be asking yourself is what are the ingredients of my world?
1. Who is the observer in your world? 2. What type of space does your world exist in? 3. What type of things exist in your space? What is the relationship between the objects in
your space and the space itself? 4. What happens in your world? Does anything? What is the timescale? 5. What is the information conveyed through your world? Colour? Light? Form? Material? 6. What are the rules of your world?
Once you answer these questions, you can dissect your practice better. If you want to make a new world or develop into a new practice, these questions still apply. Scientists are taught the ingredients, and so know them from the beginning. But art operates differently. Your world grows, matures, realigns itself, destroys itself, and recreates itself throughout your career.