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Closure

 

My son, Aaron, gave me Scott McCloud's book, Understanding Comics, for Christmas. I'd had Scott's more recent book, Making Comics, and loved it, so Aaron's gift brought me more enjoyment. It is my favorite gift from this Christmas (along with the combo birthday/Christmas digital SLR camera gift I got from Tamara...)

Both are pretty deep books. If you read them seriously, you come away with a deeper appreciation of ways to communicate, and a more robust view of how we look at life. One concept I encountered in the book is that of Closure.

Scott defines closure as "observing the parts but perceiving the whole." Think of a dot-to-dot exercise. As you draw the line that connects one dot to the next in sequence, the intended image becomes more obvious. There is a moment where your brain grasps what the image is. Prior to that, there is a minor tension built by curiosity and the little guesses that your mind makes as you try out different images mentally while connecting the dots. And then there is that moment of "Yes" when you've figured it out. There is the release, the A-ha! moment.

For those musically-inclined, this happens with music, when you hear a chord progression and you expect that final obvious chord or note. It's that knowledge of what will bring about the expected release that allows musicians to jam with one another without a script or sheet music. They hear the progression and sense where it's going and plot their own course to all meet musically at the same place at the same time. It feels magical when it happens.

It's the same thing when I ask you to complete this pattern:

1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11...

What's the next number? Study it for a moment before proceeding...

You might say 13. But what if I said it was 15...

That probably makes no sense to you, and if that's true, you might feel a bit of tension. It might have looked to you like a prime number sequence, right? Which it is, except that I threw the number 1 in there, which is not a prime number.

No, instead look at the difference between the numbers. This pattern emerges:

2 - 1 = 1, 3 - 2 = 1, 5 - 3 = 2, and so on, to create this repetitious pattern:

1, 1, 2, 2, 4...

And 4 would be the next number, which requires the next number of our original sequence to be 15, because 15 - 11 = 4.

And so if that makes sense to you now, there's the release - that A-ha! moment where the world is resolved.

That's what Scott means by "observing the parts but perceiving the whole." He calls that "Closure." Except that he put it in terms of what our brains do to connect the panels of images we call comics. Our brains are wired to perceive patterns and complete sequences. He even classifies types of closure - some which require more effort to connect the dots.

For example, complete the sequence:

cup, drawl, elevate...

What's next? (No peeking - think on it for a minute before reading the next paragraph.)

If you're like me, you don't have a clue. The reason is that I chose them as complete non-sequitors, the last of Scott's classification of closure. The problem is that I gave you the expectation that there was a sequence, and so your brain initially tried to connect the dots, and so you might have had to make something up to complete the sequence because the solution is not obvious.

(You might have noticed that I chose a c-word, a d-word, and an e-word. Perhaps the next word should start with "f" and be nine letters in length. Why nine? Because the length of the first three words are three, five, and seven - respectively. The next in sequence is therefore nine letters. So "fiduciary" completes the sequence with some semblance of logic. Closure!)

So here I'll pronounce a theory: the more closure that we have in our life, the more satisfied we are.

Now I've been noodling this through for a few weeks since I first read it, and I have a lot more to say about it. But mull that over... and stay tuned!

(Scott's web site, by the way, is scottmccloud.com.)

 


by Brett Rogers, 1/8/2009 10:49:19 AM
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