The Creative Process of Others – Can It Be Useful?

The other day I had lunch with an actress who had just come from an audition with an internationally renowned playwright. It had gone well and she was, needless to say, excited. We talked about the meeting, what it meant to her, what it might mean to her future. She, at one point said, “I’d like to ask him how he gets from idea to paper; I’d like to know what his process is.” The first thing I thought, but did not say, was “what would be the point of that? Your procedure and his can have nothing in common, since he is a playwright and you an actor. Knowing his process might be interesting but it has no real application, and besides, he probably doesn’t know how he does it.” But then I gave the matter some more thought.

My original response was grounded in the notion that every artist, no matter what medium, has a very unique individual process. Additionally, the process which works for one type of project will not work for another. I know that my process in directing a play is far different from my process for writing, which is, in turn, far different from the process used in creating a photographic image. Actually, the process used in photography, for me at least, varies with the type of photography and image that is being created; likewise the playmaking process morphs depending upon the work being staged and the actors with whom I’m working.

And the process is so internalized as to be nearly impossible to tease out. Most of us work on what is really a subconscious level when we are creating, but there are still conscious elements that influence the paths we choose in creativity. If you talk with an artist about his/her process, the response is often something like, “I paint from 9 til noon, have a little lunch, and then paint another two hours,” or “I get up at four and write for three hours before I go to work.” You get descriptions of the structure or pattern that surrounds the actual process. Even these patterns seem to be highly individual; what works for one person won’t work at all for another.

And still, we are talking only about approach and organization: what do we do first, second, so forth. The real processes by which we create are mysterious not only to others, but to ourselves as well. We may know that if we write for so long every day, we are more productive than if we don’t. We may know that if we “trust our instincts and don’t overthink,” the photograph will be better. We may know that if we let the canvas sit and do nothing with it for a while we will have fresh eyes with which to edit it. We may know what we need to do to get ourselves into flow. Beyond that, we know very little.

Since the essence of art is to see possibilities and connections and to express them, we might, by studying others’ procedures, learn something that will allow us clearer expression or that opens a new area of thought, which in turn allows our work to develop in a different direction. I am not at all suggesting that we copy others’ procedures, but we may find something in them that triggers an idea or leads to new understanding either in terms of technique or content.

So perhaps knowing an award-winning playwright’s processes would be useful. Perhaps such knowledge might cause us to recognize potential that had, heretofore, remained untapped. Whether useful or not, it would not hurt us, and, if nothing else, could be quite interesting.

While I have thought and written about the creative artistic process before, I don’t think that I have ever, until this discussion, thought of others’ artistic processes as anything other than intellectual curiosities. Now I am beginning to think that a consideration of the way others accomplish their artistic goals may be quite useful to the working artist.

 

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Date: Sunday, 25. September 2011 23:51
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Photography, Theatre

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4 comments

  1. 1

    An artist needs some familiarity not only with how other artists work, but also how they live. Non-artists don’t invest their best hours in a mysterious process unique to themselves. An artist needs some idea of how other artists manage it.

  2. 2

    You have a good point. Managing it can present difficulties and any information could certainly help.

  3. 3

    Excellent post. It reminds me a book I have, Graphic: Inside the Sketchbooks of the World’s Great Graphic Designers. At least a few times a week, I thumb through it, read the blurbs and study the images, not because I’m interested in drawing or designing, but rather I’m interested in the way they think on paper or how an idea seems to germinate. But too much of a good thing can be dangerous (paralysis by analysis), and so we do have to know when to stop.

  4. 4

    Thank you. I have a number of sources that I use the same way. And you are very correct; the difficulty is in knowing when to stop, but then that’s a problem in all creative pursuits, I think.

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