Patterns are repeatable units. A structure that repeats itself is a pattern. A large structure is built of smaller structures which are themselves made of still smaller structures and so on. This is the basic organic principle that governs all things. Men like Christopher Alexander and Joseph Campbell have discovered these repeatable units in their respective subjects of study – architecture and mythology respectively. Many people have adapted their findings to other subjects with some success. Alexander’s architectural patterns have inspired the architectural patterns in software and culminated in the seminal work Design Patterns by Eric Gamma et al. Campbell’s patterns have unleashed a flood of how-to books from the movie world led by notables like Christopher Vogler and Syd Field.
Patterns are meant to solve problems that recur in the design of systems. Systems design is a major challenge to the architect who faces problems that have already been faced by his or her predecessors and solved in the same way. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, so to speak, the architect has access to patterns that can be successfully re-used. They help build systems with ease and avoid mistakes that the pioneers have made while building their systems. A structure based on identifiable patterns is easy to manage and maintain. It is also possible to be more productive, since much time is saved by using existing patterns.
But patterns do not solve all the problems. As the need for designing complex systems arises, the architect faces new problems for which there is no precedent. The patterns that have been discovered so far are no longer sufficient to address the new situation. The architect is then forced to come up with something absolutely and creatively new. This is and has always been the challenge: to create something new. One wonders how the mind that has always been trained in the mechanics of an internal combustion engine has leaped into designing a gas-turbine engine that set man free from hugging and crawling on the land to soar over the earth. It must have required a great leap to break through the pattern of thinking in his time.
Patterns are good for solving mechanical problems (electronics included), but to use patterns in art is to deny that faculty of the mind which relies on intuition and stresses the faculty that builds and innovates but does not create. There is an element of spontaneity in creation that is sorely missing in works that have been carefully but mechanically crafted. Patterns may be necessary for mechanical systems; but even there the mind is ever challenged to innovate. Without the creative spirit behind it, even innovation is a mere novelty.
There is no pattern in the lines, curves and shapes that one sees in the sky of an evening when the dying Sun torches the sky and sets it ablaze in a riot of colors. Every moment there is a different stroke, a different hue, a different sky, a different tone of the light, and above all, a different being watching it. Creation is unpremeditated, spontaneous and free. In art, while a pattern chains you, creation sets you free.