Column is a monthly feature that explores the world
of creativity and aesthetics.
Lego Building: Art
de Sousa, Director, AbleStable
Some view designers as somehow less than artists,
others think it's the other way round. What's the
true difference between art and design? Taking Lego
as the creative medium it's easy to see how the
When you play with Lego are you designing a model
or creating art? I guess the answer's the same for
most questions: it depends.
I've played with Lego since I was a small boy and
now Lego has become the most loved pastime of my
six year old son. One of the most powerful qualities
Lego encourages is play. There's often no plan or
intent as we sit on the floor clicking parts together.
Gradually something emerges that sparks the imagination.
done this ever since my son first pushed Lego bricks
together at the tender age of a year and a half.
We started out with Primo (big Lego bricks), then
progressed to Duplo, great bricks for making buildings
which we continue to use for that purpose. Standard
Lego bricks are great for detailed models, but too
small to create anything of any large scale in a
What I've always been very struck by is how my son
has counted me as playing with him when often the
two of us sit quietly, each working on our own creations.
In his eyes, the act of sharing in the creative
activity is enough to cement our shared status.
Of course there are times when we glance across
at the other for inspiration, but most of the time
he prefers to surprise me with his finished model.
After that he wants to use our models in an imaginative
On reflection a lot of play's like that. The fact
that someone's enjoying the same activity is a bonding
experience in itself. I guess that's why a trip
to the cinema will continue to prove as popular
in the future even if we've all got floor to ceiling
LCD screens at home.
History of Lego
From producing a few simple rectangular blocks,
Lego now makes a vast array of complex interlocking
pieces. Remote controls, motors, and software further
extend its potential to manipulate and animate real
world and virtual models. Different contexts have
also emerged to promote and further our thirst for
building and creating with Lego. Legoland theme
parks offer children opportunities to ride giant
Lego models and experience the adventures of the
Lego characters first hand, and the Lego
website delivers great online games including
the groundbreaking Junkbot.
In 1932 Ole Kirk Christiansen, a master carpenter
and joiner from the Danish village of Billund, established
a small company producing toys. By 1934 the name
Lego was decided upon as the company name from the
Danish words 'LEg GOdt' or 'play well' - in Latin
the word means 'I study' or 'I put together'.
In 1947 the company invested in a plastic molding
machine and made the first 'Automatic Binding Bricks'
available only in Denmark. By 1951 the bricks were
rebranded as 'LEGO Mursten' or 'LEGO Bricks', and
in 1967 LEGO released the DUPLO brand. Today you'll
find Lego Primo, Bionicle, Technic, Designer, Creator,
Racers, and other distinct targeted brands.
There are some who feel Lego has lost its way by
offering so many choices, but the old Lego bricks
are still there for those who want them. The Lego
world is just a whole lot bigger.
So, is creating a Lego model art or design? If you're
simply following the well illustrated instructions
from the pack then it's neither. Perhaps there are
some that do this, but they'll not buy a lot of
Lego, nor get that much out of it. If however you
start building something new out of the scattered
bricks, then you've moved into the field of creativity.
Design often entails working out the form or structure
of something by creating plans. It's unusual to
create formal plans for an original Lego model,
but there's no doubt at least an immediate plan
of action is required to make a model that's satisfying.
What pieces will I need? What colour? How long might
this take? It's all in the head.
Art is concerned with the creation of something
beautiful or significant in some way. To the hundreds
of thousands of Lego builders using actual and virtual
bricks, that definition marries with what they do.
Indeed Eric Harshbarger, the developer of Brix,
makes his living from creating large Lego artworks.
Building a Lego model is instinctive by nature.
If there is an end product, it used to be the case
that it was rarely seen by others, but over the
last ten years that's changed. Lego's website encourages
it's members to share their creations and ideas.
Apart from Lego's own superb Flash content and programs,
freeware dedicated to creating Lego like LeoCad
(part of the outstanding core CAD freeware collection
has emerged to further stimulate creativity with
Lego as the medium.
developed by Eric
Harshbarger allows you to create Lego-like models
online using over thirty five different pieces.
You can have a go right now. You tell me, are you
designing or creating art when you move the blocks
Brix (opens new window).
Despite a huge community of Lego enthusiasts, Lego
is not seriously thought of as a creative medium,
after all, it's a toy, right? For me however the
medium is irrelevant. Whether it's a pen and paper,
software, a plastic brick, no matter. Art's not
about the medium, it's about what's experienced.
I think it's a positive advantage that creating
Lego models isn't generally viewed of as an artistic
activity, but more as creative play. Perhaps that's
the very reason kids aren't intimidated or 'culturally
discouraged' by using it in the first place. It's
interesting that we only buy Lego for our kids.
As we grow older we sometimes miss out on the most
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