With a minor irony, since living in a smaller world, I have been considering the value of the bigger picture. Wider understanding; contextual knowledge; sense of perspective, whatever you will.
Personally, I am an avid consumer of the news in various media. And yet I am capable of worrying a minor detail to death. Worse, like a cat fretting at a mouse, I can determinedly coax and pat life into the most minor matter, allow it to look into life above any reason or due scale. This, very possibly, is reflected in the writing process, which begins with specific scenes, down to colours, textures, and scents, and the pieces come together into plot, until it feels right, until only one arc and ending will do.
Are you a big-picture or a detail person? In painting, would you being with broad strokes then refine? If writing, start with details then build out, or begin with a broad story arc in mind? Are your photos of small details or grand landscapes?
Yes, these are generalisations, false dichotomies. One may, variously, apply both a wide lens and a long focal one; have both specific scenes and entire story arc in mind, may adjust technique to circumstance.
Still, the idea that we are personalities which favour one or the other – being a ‘big picture thinker’ or ‘detail-oriented.’ – are popular.
The idea is that big picture thinkers may…
- Be highly perceptive of the patterns, relationships, and connections in the environment around them.
- Be good at sketching tasks out, though less so at filling in the detail. However, this means they can avoid getting bogged down by the detail too early in a creative process.
- Dislike menial tasks, minor household chore admin – perhaps in a creative process then, the final proofreading for typographical errors, say, or the adding of final touches, the varnish, polish.
Detail-orientated people, however…
- Know the devil is in the detail – that almost anything will be more intricate, and take longer to complete, than at first it seemed.
- Have good attention to detail, yes, but can overthink the small stuff and miss the bigger picture.
- Have a high tolerance for those little yet important tasks, yet find it hard to let go of something, perhaps fussing over it, feeling there is always one more final tweak that could be made.
Do you recognise yourself as either one or the other?
Impossible to know whether this relates to renowned artists and creatives. Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, for instance, was said to have worked methodically from the edges of the canvas inwards, to produce her intricately jewel-like paintings. A recent interview with Pulitzer-winning – and prolific – novelist Anne Tyler noted how her novels focus on identifying truth through small domestic detail and ability to nail a character with insightful observation, yet also recorded Tyler’s own claim to be ‘no good at plot’. On the other hand, could, for example, Leonardo da Vinci’s multi-talented creativity across many fields been responsible for what appears a small total output of finished paintings, and many incomplete projects?
It has been thought that some people are more ‘left-brained’, that is, more dominated by the left hemisphere of the brain, and so more analytical and methodical, whilst others are more ‘right brained’, more creative and expressive. This theory, though, I believe, is largely de-bunked as a psychological myth. Evidently, more recent research has shown that the brain is not as dichotomous previously believe… That the brain works better, for example in problem solving, when both sides of the brain work together.
That’s good. We do not, then, necessarily have to label ourselves. At work, I have always been irritated by going through such processes as Belbin’s Team Roles, or Myers Briggs Personality Tests. They have felt so reductive, so restrictive.
The better truth, I believe, is that we can learn multiple skills and ways of thinking, to be many things.
- Ann Tyler interview with Hadley Freeman, ‘Up close you’ll always see things to be optimistic about’ in The Guardian, 11 April 2020 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/apr/11/anne-tyler-up-close-youll-always-see-things-to-be-optimistic-about
- ‘Left Brain vs. Right Brain Dominance Is the analytical-creative separation true or false?’ on VeryWell Mind, https://www.verywellmind.com/left-brain-vs-right-brain-2795005