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Why the right juxtaposition can make your contrasting ideas slot into place.

I specifically remember hearing the word juxtaposition for the first time as a child and thinking what an interesting word it was. Then I found out what it meant and I've been juxtaposing one thing against another ever since.

A cursory Google search shows that there may not be (aren't) any other words in the English language that start with jux (apart from derivatives of juxtapose, obviously).

I've been thinking about why the word has fascinated me so much. And asking what in the flipping juxtaposing heck it's got to do with my creative thinking?

Turns out quite a bit actually.

The Oxford Dictionary definition of the word juxtapose is: to place or deal with close together for contrasting effect.

So as you might imagine you can 'juxtapose' functional and flamboyant styles of furniture; a brand new car next to an old banger; a really big book next to a, er, really small book. Ah, the joys of juxtaposition.

The word juxtapose originates as a combination of the Latin juxta - meaning 'next' or 'close to' - and the French poser - which means 'to place' (not pose, all you children at the back). So by the time we hit the 19th century in England, we had juxtapose being bandied about.

Okay, enough of the grammar lesson. As ever, the purpose here is to tell you how you can use this in terms of creative thinking.

This blog has mentioned many times that the brain loves patterns and ordering its perception around things that are familiar to us. This way we get on with our lives without too many things bamboozling us.

While this is very handy for the day to day, patterns give rise to very linear thinking. For example, if you see a series of objects that are the same colour, that's kind of 'comforting' to your brain, and so it just bobs along in its normal way.

But if you see a series of objects that are the same colour - except for one that's a completely different colour - your grey matter has to stop for a moment and go, "hang on a damn minute, what's this egregious, out of place colour doing in this sequence?"

Hardly a disaster of course. In fact, it's the opposite of that in creative terms - because a load of other creative processes now kick in, trying to work out what the pattern is (or is not) and what ought to be here instead (or not). When this innocuous thing happens, creative thoughts can thrive.

Juxtaposition sits right at the heart of creativity, I believe - the idea of diverse inputs and thoughts coming together to form something new. Those things don't need to be wildly different, and nor do they have to be remarkably similar. Just contrasting.

Three people next to three flags. Mountains overlooking a landfill site. Baboon v badger.

Juxtaposition occurs not just in imagery but in writing and music. Exciting new ideas emerge as a result of experimentation with concepts or ideas that are different.

Super Furry Animals even wrote a song called Juxtaposed with U. Ironically, since the song was first released in 2001, the band have created two very contrasting versions of the video to go with the song - which juxtapose nicely together.

Happy juxtaposing.


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