This Christmas Betsy got me the best Lego set ever. I was talking to a friend at my parent’s post-Christmas party about it and she asked “so you build it, and then what?” I tried to explain but I apparently lacked the words, and she quickly got bored with my rambling. So here is my attempt at explaining it properly.

Traditional puzzles – the cardboard puzzle pieces you put together to reveal a picture – are mostly procedural. You work to improve your organization, depth of memory, and sniping precision, but the act of construction is mostly an exercise in contemplation. The only artistry comes with your focusing on small sections of the piece of art you are reconstructing, giving you time to notice detail and appreciate fine aspects of the works.

Whereas the traditional puzzle where you are at least honing procedural expertise, Lego construction is, at least superficially, strictly instructional procedural. But unlike a traditional puzzle, the good Lego sets have real artistry in their design, not just in the imagery of the finished product but in the engineering of the design. Construction is an act of following in the designer’s (a.k.a artist’s) footsteps. Being a part of a great engineer’s creative process is an awesome experience, starting out with some confusion as to why they are doing things differently from the way you might have done it, and then experiencing the “ah ha!” moment when you see the genius of a design element.

When you buy a vase, a piece of art, or a nick nack, you appreciate the piece as an end product but not as a creative endeavor. Being able to delve into an artist’s creative process, no matter what the medium, gives a much greater appreciation for the piece.

The short answer to my friend’s question is “yeah, its going to sit on my shelf when I’m done”. But the truth is it will be a treasured work of art, with complexities and depth of understanding, far more so than any typical finished piece of art that adorns my shelves today.