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Curator Talk: Serendipity and the Creative Mind


The notion of serendipity is quickly becoming an important reference for the creative individuals and artists of all disciplines, as well as for our innovation-obsessed media in general. This is remarkable as it was originally conceived in the middle of the 18th century within literary circles where it led its marginal existence until very recently. The term ‘serendipity’ was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, art historian and eccentric son of the first British Prime Minister. Walpole had come across the “silly fairy tale” Peregrinaggio di tre giovani figliuoli del re di Serendippo which was the Italian translation of the ancient Persian parable of the three princes of Serendip, the ancient name of Sri Lanka. The king had sent his sons on a punitive expedition for having refused succeeding him after their education. As Walpole writes, during their travels the smart royal kids where constantly making “discoveries by accidents and sagacity of things they where not in quest of.” This became Walpole’s definition of his newly coined term serendipity and as such, it spread through the world of literates and bibliophiles. Artists, designers, musicians and all creative minds, were always able to relate to the term, as it describes pretty much the principle of discoveries and ideas, through thorough observation and perception of “happy accidents” we stumble upon. In art, chance, or the spontaneous random event has played a vital role in the creative process for many artists and in art movements such as Fluxus, Dada and Situationalists. Many creative practioners’ court serendipity and acknowledge the positive role it plays in their practice and everyday life, however valuable it might be few have attempted to harness the process, to pursue it as a method for creative practice. In the field of creativity, receptivity and curiosity in research and practice is actively encouraged. Being prepared, curious and open-minded, about the world can provide a useful process to enable a leap of the imagination beyond rationality, to develop intuition and ideas of consciousness. This particular approach to discovery, and of unexpectedly finding knowledge, material possibility and acting on that to positive effect, could be defined as Serendipity and as such used as a method in art. So what would that mean, to the researcher, investigator and explorer, in the process of art-making? This will be the main focus of our talk.