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The Key Ingredient

Monday, 23. October 2017 0:29

A friend of mine whose house was ruined in the recent flooding of Houston has been hard pressed to make decisions about redecorating. She knew what palette she wanted but, as anyone who has decorated recently knows, the choices even within a single color group are myriad. So she looked as swatches and remained undecided. Then she made what she thought was an unrelated decision; she decided to replace the front door and picked one out; it came in colors, only one of which was in her palette. It was only then that she realized that the front door color would dictate her color choices, at least in three major rooms, and so she could not go forward with her paint selection until the door arrived and she could actually see what the key color in her newly-painted home would be.

Another person in the same situation had exactly the same problem. The choices were too many to consider all at once; the result was a very frustrating indecision. With the help of her daughters, however, she managed to solve the problem by deciding to use a theme throughout the house. That decision allowed her to paint and decorate each room individually, with the whole being tied together thematically. Other choices immediately fell into place.

A writer I know had all the pieces of his book except the beginning; he couldn’t figure out what the beginning should be—at least not until he looked around in the small-town all-night diner where he was having a cup of coffee. That place and its patrons immediately became the beginning of his novel.

The same phenomenon applies to visual work. Some of my abstract photographic work takes the form of grids. The assembly of a grid is complex process which on most days is fairly difficult. However, I have found that somewhere within this process is a single image that will bring everything together, or at least provide a direction for the remainder of the grid.

And it applies to performing arts. Often when actors are developing their characters, the results will be incomplete until the actor “accidentally” discovers that one thing that, like the key image in my grid example, will bring the whole thing together, tying research to imagination and allowing the full creation of the character.

What we are talking about is the key ingredient, and it seems that every creative process requires one. Sometimes it’s a major thing, but more often it is one tiny detail that causes all the other pieces to fall into place, triggering the project’s final shape. It’s the image that enables the director to move forward with the film, stage play, or musical. It’s the chord change or musical phrase that pushes the musical composition. It’s the juxtaposition of words that propels the poem toward completion.

The problem with key ingredients is that they are almost always “discovered,” arrived at seemingly by accident. Sometimes artists are slow to recognize that every project needs one. Others recognize that every project needs a key ingredient, but have no idea how to find one.

I wish I could say that I have a sure-fire way to locate the key ingredient every time. But, alas, I cannot. The best I can do is to suggest that we, as artists, need to recognize that such things exist and can aid the creative process tremendously. Beyond that, I can only suggest that we stay open to all possibilities and allow serendipity do its work.

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Idea to Art—a Method

Monday, 24. August 2015 0:37

Some artists have a condition that is the opposite of writer’s block; they have so many ideas that it is difficult to choose one to work on. This causes such artists often spend much of their time going in circles trying to decide which idea to address. This, of course, can be a very frustrating problem and can lead to inaction if not complete paralysis. Uncertainty becomes the artist’s predominant mode.

The mode can continue to dominate even after an idea is selected. There is then uncertainty about the chosen topic and how to deal with it: is it too big? Is it too little? Is it too complex? Is it too simple? Is it too amorphous? Is it trivial? What media is appropriate? What structure will best serve the topic? The questions go on and the artist finds him/herself again going in circles.

What to do? My suggestion is for the artist to develop a methodology for moving from idea to art. For some this idea is intimidating and generates another set of questions. How would one go about doing such a thing? How is it possible to figure out what methodology to select? How is it possible to know if this is the right methodology? Will this make the work less than it could be? Is this even artistic?

Although it sounds almost contrary to the notion of art, the rules and methodology set out to help students write essays will also work to help the artist establish a workable approach regardless of the subject matter.

The first phase of writing, as described by The Little, Brown Handbook (Fifth Edition) is Development and is the one which offers the most useful ideas for the artist. This phase consists of four steps: Discovering, Gathering, Focusing, and Organizing.

Discovering includes two parts: (1) selecting a topic: the book suggests that the writer select something he/she cares about. This certainly works for any artist. Even though many artists care about many things, he/she can develop criteria to be used in selecting the next idea to work on. The second part of Discovering helps in this regard; that is (2) limiting the subject. Most writing texts provide numerous examples of how one might do such a thing.

Limiting the subject is perhaps the most important step in this methodology for the artist. The limits that he/she places on the idea will in many ways determine the direction of work. For example, certain limitations will eliminate certain media and certain structures; at the same time those limits will suggest other media and other structures. As these avenues become apparent, it is likely that the artist will be led in the direction of the remaining three steps: Gathering, Focusing, and Organizing, all of which are necessary for the creation of a piece of art as well as an academic paper.

Gathering consists of acknowledging purpose and assembling the pieces that will support that purpose, and finding a pattern of development, what artists might refer to as “structures.” The next step is Focusing. In writing, this means developing a thesis; in art it means essentially the same thing: refining the purpose to decide what specifically is to be said. Then finally is Organizing, bringing all the pieces together and shaping them to support that Focus.

So whenever the world of our ideas becomes too big to handle, we might consider applying this methodology. It is an approach that has allowed any number of freshmen to write acceptable papers and it can help us as well. It is not a rigid system; we will soon discover that we must adapt and modify as we develop the subject and it begins to take on an artistic life of its own.

Even though it sounds very mechanical and unartistic, this approach provides a method to move from idea to art, and it works.

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Write it Down!

Sunday, 11. January 2015 23:51

If you adopt only one resolution for the New Year, make it this one: write it down.

Here’s the backstory: a number of years ago, I did a lenticular that was accessioned into the permanent collection of the Kinsey Institute. Since creating lenticulars is a painstaking, complicated process, I printed only one, which I labeled as #1/5. Recently, I decided that it would be nice to have the other four, or at least one more. Since I no longer have the original printer, the interlaced image file was useless to me; files would have to be recalibrated for the current printer. Moreover, when I looked at the multilayered base image in Photoshop, I realized that I had no clear idea of how I had put the integrated image together. The upshot was that I had to reconstruct the entire process to create the additional prints. And this had to be done without reference to the original piece.

This taught me that when one has developed a process or a plan or a multi-stepped technique, writing it down would be a really good idea. Reinventing the wheel is a silly way to spend our time when there are so many new and interesting things to be done. This message was driven home when I realized that I have a number of images that if required to do again, I would have to reconstruct the steps I took to arrive at the end product. I can, as with the lenticular, look at the layers in the original file and infer what was done to arrive at the final image, but the details of the process, the order of the steps involved is completely lost—unless some memory is triggered when I look into the file. If I want to use that process again, I have to reinvent it.

Some might say that my lack of memory is simply a function of my age. It’s true that I’m not the youngest person on the planet, but a recent discussion with a much younger artist confirmed that making records of a process is worthwhile for people of any age. He told me that because he does so many different things, he has, when creating a process to do anything, developed the habit of stopping and writing down the steps to that process, whether it involves the steps for a new artistic technique (He works in many different subcategories of different media.) or installing a complicated piece of software for someone else. He writes down the process and stores it—because he doesn’t want to have to reinvent that process the next time he has to reinstall that same software after a system crash or use that particularly involved art technique a second or third time at some future date.

Reviewing my current procedures, I realized that I had been moving toward this idea all along, but had not really formalized it the way he has. Rather, I had simply made notes, usually in a notebook, as I went along. So I had already unconsciously begun this procedure; I had just not taken the next step.

That next step I also learned from my younger colleague; this is to store all these lists and procedures in one place. That way there is no question of where to look. The few lists and procedures that I had compiled were scattered everywhere: various folders on various computer, in notebooks, on sticky-notes. I have now begun to consolidate these and record them electronically. Then they go into subject-specific subfolders of a single folder called “Procedures.” If I can make myself write down the procedures as I develop them, I will have them always and will not have to reinvent or recover or rediscover the next time a similar problem comes along.

So far it seems to be working, so I have to suggest that you might consider adopting this system as well. Life is too short to keep reinventing. Write it down!

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The Art of Transition

Monday, 1. December 2014 0:32

As I was listening near the end of an older Stephen King novel (Yes, I am addicted to audio books), I realized that King is, among other things, a master of the transition. He knows when and where to put them and, more importantly, how to make them work so that the reader is moved from one place/time/idea to another seamlessly and unnoticeably. As I think about it, it is one of the things that makes King so very readable (or in my case, listenable).

Whether he/she works in fiction, non-fiction, essay, or poetry, every writer is (hopefully) aware of the transition and the attendant difficulties. The good writer does exactly what King does, move the reader smoothly and effortlessly from one place/time/idea to another. And if those transitions can be made invisible, or at least transparent, so much the better. Anyone who writes seriously knows how difficult that is.

Mulling over King’s ability, it occurred to me that all artists have to deal with transitions. Certainly composers do; they must move the listener from one section of their music to another. Likewise the instrumentalists and vocalists who interpret that music must make those transitions as well. Similarly, all theatre artists (playwrights, directors, actors, set designers, lighting designers) must do the same thing in moving from one scene to another, one stage picture to another, one look to another. And certainly filmmakers (directors, editors) must master transition: not only must the dramatic units transition, but the camera shots must transition as well, and on a much more frequent basis

All this talk of transitions make sense in arts that take place, at least from an audience perspective, in a time sequence, but what of other arts? At first I thought that transition was a function of story or argument, then I realized that it exists in non-narrative art as well.

My own photographic work is an example: most of my recent work is gridded abstract collage. Even though these pieces fall into the category of meditation rather than story images, there must be transition between the pieces in the grid or the overall piece will absolutely fail. Likewise there must be transition between the parts of any visual or plastic composition. While each part may be interesting in itself, those parts must relate to each other and to the composition as a whole to tell the story or complete the meditation. Thus the transitions can make or break any piece art.

Given their importance, a reasonable expectation would be that transitioning would be taught in arts schools of all varieties. My experiences is that it isn’t. And when I read about art technique, I seldom find it mentioned. The single exception is film editing/directing, where it is not only taught, but the methods have names. It is as if once those of us who are not film editors or directors get out of those freshman composition classes, it is presumed that we know all that we need to know about transitions.

And that is not the case. Sometimes we find the piece that we are working on isn’t coming together the way that we want it to, and are not sure where to look to correct the situation. We would do well to look at the transitions, particularly if the work seems inappropriately fragmented or lacking in cohesiveness. In more cases than you’d think, that’s where the problems are, and so that’s the place to start repairs. Perhaps we should even take a little time out to study and learn how to transition better. After all, anything that results in better work is time well spent.

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Ruts and Routines

Monday, 30. September 2013 0:28

Routine is both comfortable and comforting. There is security in knowing that you will do the same things in the same order and for more-or-less the same duration every work-day. There is reassurance in knowing that this weekend will follow a pattern much like last weekend and very much like next weekend. Routine makes everything stable.

Many of us have a tendency to fall easily into routines. One of the strengths of the routine is that we don’t have to think about it. No concerns about what to do next—we look at the clock or the calendar and we know. If it’s the right time and day to work on our art, we do that. If it’s time to eat, we do that. And so on. I rather like routines for all of those reasons mentioned, but I have a friend who reminds me that doing things always the same means not that I’m in a routine, but in a rut.

But then, ruts are comforting too, and ruts are really comfortable, and easy. You really have to think about nothing. Just put the wheels into the grooves in the road and you don’t even have to steer. And since you are a creature of habit, you don’t have to think about speed either—you’ll go along at the same tempo you used the last time you went this way.

We all pretty much agree that ruts are bad, but a rut is simply a routine that’s gone on long enough to make it a practiced thing without any conscious alternatives. It’s that no conscious alternatives thing that’s not so good. That prevents us from seeing new possibilities, from exploring other methods, from developing new ways of thinking. It’s comfortable, and, because it amounts to autopilot, we tell ourselves, it leaves us more time for creativity.

Or does it? I have been working on a very large project for weeks now. Because I’ve learned to take my own advice, I work on it every day. This has resulted in plodding along, working every evening—sometimes just a little; other times for a longer period. Unfortunately, I am in the not-so-creative, preparatory part of the project. It’s work. I slogged onward, unknowingly losing interest every day. Then the deadline of another project suddenly interfered, forcing me to alter my routine. The results were wonderful! The second project got finished on time, and that energized me so I was able to go back to the larger project with fresh eyes. Suddenly I began to see possibilities that had been invisible before.

The obvious lesson is to avoid ruts, and perhaps even routines. Unfortunately, the latter may not be possible, particularly for those who have day jobs or other obligations. Perhaps a better alternative would be to change our approach: instead of telling ourselves that we should work at our art every day or week or whatever, perhaps we should, in addition, set goals. For example, instead of writing for a set time every day, Stephen King writes 2000 words; he does not stop until he has reached his goal. Some days that takes a rather short amount of time; others require a longer period. Another thing we can learn from observing King is that he gives his work a high priority, meaning that he may have to have adjust some other aspect of his life when things are moving slowly. Many of us do it the other way around, and short our artistic work when life intervenes.

Like many artists previously discussed here, I am a great believer in discipline.  However, when discipline becomes a routine which then develops into a rut, we must find a way to break out of that rut and renew ourselves. Our work will only benefit.

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Art is Not Just a Matter of Preference

Sunday, 15. September 2013 23:44

When I was an undergraduate, I had an English professor who said that the accomplished student of literature should be able to read a poem and separate the quality of the work and whether or not it was personally appealing. The implications, of course, were that not all poetry is created equal and that liking something has nothing to do with whether it is good or not.

This has not been a popular position in the postmodern world, where all work is pretty much equal. And although postmodernism is, according to some, dead, it left a legacy. Daniel C. Dennett has said, “Postmodernism, the school of ‘thought’ that proclaimed ‘There are no truths, only interpretations’ has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for ‘conversations’ in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.”

And as elevated as the egalitarianism of postmodernism sounds, most of us who work in the arts know that it simply isn’t true. There is good acting and bad acting, good directing and not-so-good directing, good writing and bad writing. There are, in fact, qualitative differences in the performing arts. And other arts are no different. Given that, the problem is articulating what constitutes good art and less good art, and that, in turn, requires that we be able to distinguish art from non-art.

Although many have attempted this, novelist Leo Tolstoy is one of the few who not only distinguished art from non-art, but articulated the conditions which determine the qualitative levels of art. Tolstoy collected his views in a book called What is Art? It is not an easy read. Fortunately, Maria Popova has summarized and presented Tolstoy’s ideas in a recent posting to Brain Pickings. Essentially, Tolstoy said that art is a union between the artist and viewer or receiver of the art that allows the receiver to feel and experience the feelings and experiences that the artist put into the work. Additionally, this union works not only in one era, but across time and cultures. He says that what distinguishes real art is the presence of this infectiousness.

He goes on to say that the stronger the infection, the better the art, and that the degree of quality is dependent on three conditions:

  1. The individuality of the feeling being transmitted. (More is better.)
  2. The clarity of the expression. (Clearer is better.)
  3. And the sincerity of the artist. (Sincere is better.) This is the most important condition.

Sincerity in Tolstoy’s view is what gives art it’s power and is the source of its infectiousness: “The chief peculiarity of this feeling is that the receiver of a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that he feels as if the work were his own and not someone else’s — as if what it expresses were just what he had long been wishing to express. A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist.”

Whether or not we fully agree with Tolstoy, or even understand him, most of us instinctively know that all art is not created equal. There is excellent work and there is crap, and there are all sorts of levels in between. Most of us know that. It’s time that we quit pretending that it’s all about individual expression and acknowledge that Tolstoy has a point. Art is not just a matter of preference.

Category:Aesthetics, Quality | Comments (1) | Autor:

Bukowski v. Beethoven

Sunday, 30. June 2013 23:07

In a recent Brain Pickings post, “So You Want to be a Writer: Bukowski Debunks the ‘Tortured Genius’ Myth of Creativity,” Maria Popova quotes a poem by Charles Bukowski which contains the following lines:

unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

The poem says a great number of things that ring true, particularly about the need to get out what is inside. And I have talked before about how for most artists, it’s not a question of “want to” but rather a situation of “have to.” With all that I have no argument.

However, the implication of these particular words seems to be that writing should just flow out of the author and that thinking hard about it, or considering the work difficult, or having to search for the right words, or rewriting means that you should abandon writing all together. I cannot help but find this a rather narrow and naïve view of writing, and, by extrapolation of making art in general. This seems to say that if you have difficulty getting what is in your head, heart and gut onto the canvas, or paper, or into whatever your materials are, you should do something else.

Admittedly, sometimes the limitation is that the artist is not yet ready. He/she may not know enough yet about any number of things, may not have developed enough expertise to do the subject matter justice, simply may not be mature enough as an artist or a human being to deal with the topic properly.

However, to suggest that the work must flow perfect and unhindered from the artist in a somewhat mystical fashion is to deny the experience of many creative people. Consider Beethoven for example. According to Billy Joel, in an interview with Andrew Goldman in the New York Times, “[When you hear] Beethoven you hear the struggle in it. Look at his manuscripts, and there’s reams of scratched-out music that he hated. He stops and he starts. I love that about Beethoven, his humanity shows in his music.” Joel compares Mozart: “Mozart pisses me off because he’s like a naturally gifted athlete, you listen to Mozart and you go: ‘Of course. It all came easy to him….’ Mozart was almost inhuman, unhuman.” Whether or not we agree with Joel on Mozart, most of us would consider Beethoven a significant artist despite his creative struggles and rewriting.

Even though Bukowski seems to disagree, most believe that art is not easy, and that there are many sources for the difficulties. On the other hand, most of us would agree with Bukowski when he says:

unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

Make what you are compelled to make; art will happen.

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Artist Statements Revisited

Sunday, 2. June 2013 23:55

A friend of mine teaches an art course called “Professional Practices.” One of the topics covered in the course is how to write a good artist statement. Now I have not been friendly toward such statements in the past, finding them an occasion for pretension and grandiosity, often devolving into meaningless “art-speak.” Additionally, they can be superfluous—if the art is doing its job properly. But a recent conversation with this man has caused me to reevaluate my thinking. He suggested that there exist practical reasons for an artist statement.

One thing he pointed out was that artist statements are useful in preparing to talk about your art. The week before, he had himself, while serving on a committee interviewing people for the chairmanship of his department, been asked about his art (which was not present). Had he not previously developed an artist statement, he might well have been thought inept by his future boss.

Interestingly, at a party that same night, I was asked the same question. It was a simple question from one artist to another (again our work was not present), but my lack of preparation caused me to be less articulate than I might have been.

Still, there are many really awful statements out there. How to avoid creating one of those? Here is my friend’s advice:

  • Explain what your art is about, or, alternatively, what you are about as an artist.
  • Make it short, but not terse. A single page is a good goal.
  • Be direct.
  • Be honest.
  • Be yourself.
  • Avoid art-speak.
  • Tailor your statement to the situation. Is it for a show, for a web page, for your own use, or to prepare you to talk about what you do either in a formal or informal situation? Each use demands a slightly different approach and focus.
  • Remember, this is a dynamic document. It should change when your work does. It is simply a statement of where you are artistically at a single moment in time, not a manifesto.

The artist statement, carefully thought out, can not only be used to explain you and your art to others, but can be used to explain you and your art to yourself. And many of us can benefit from such an exercise. This, to me seems to be the real value of such a statement. The act of writing forces you to verbalize what you are about as an artist. That, in turn, forces you to think about your art in ways that must be expressed in words. Many of us have not done this, or have not done it honestly, simply because it is difficult and unnecessary—or so we thought. As I—among others—have been fond of saying, if words could express it, there would be no need for the art; one could simply write an essay.

Remember that an artist statement may not necessarily apply to all art you do.  For example, the goals and approaches for my photography are far different from the aims and methodology for my theatre work. So if you do several kinds of art, you may discover that they may not be aligned and so will require a separate statement for each.

If you approach the artist statement using the guidelines above, it is not a simple task. It requires thought and self-examination. To my surprise, I am finding the process very useful. The necessity of putting my artistic intentions into words has served to concentrate my focus and clarify my creative goals in a way that I have never before experienced. I have no idea whether anyone except me will ever see the statement. That is not important; what is important is that the process of writing has honed my objectives as an artist and served to focus my creativity. I find myself thinking about my work differently—for the better. You may too.

Category:Creativity, Education | Comments (3) | Autor:

It’s Always About You

Monday, 4. February 2013 0:41

Acting coaches and directors reassure beginning actors who are concerned about portraying characters who are genuinely evil in some way that it is not themselves they are displaying on stage, but rather a character, and remind the actor that his/her job is to portray the character without judging the character. We then tell the same actors that they must find a point of empathy if they are to portray the character honestly. The actuality is that the actor is portraying a character filtered through him/herself. Not only are the playwright’s fingerprints all over the character, so are the actor’s. It’s called interpretation, and every actor does it differently, because each actor is an individual; consider all the different portrayals of Hamlet you have seen. And because he/she is the filter, the actor cannot but reveal something of him/herself in the portrayal.

The same is true for writers. Milan Kundera has the narrator in The Incredible Lightness of Being ask rhetorically, “Isn’t it true that an author can write only about himself?” This idea is echoed and amplified by Donald Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and teacher, who said “all writing is autobiography.” Even those writers who seem to be leaving themselves out of their narratives manage to reveal personal information as they tell their stories.

Although it may not be quite so obvious without the words, the same applies to the visual arts. Ansel Adams has said, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” The artist is always visible; very few have trouble deciding whether Georgia O’Keeffe or Robert Mapplethorpe created a particular flower image. The Auteur theory holds that a film “reflects the director’s personal creative vision.” For example, we can easily distinguish the difference between a John Ford western and one by Sergio Leone.

We expose ourselves with our work; we can’t not do it. Our creative vision demands that we work within our own aesthetic. So we put into our art those things that we think are important, editing out things that, in our view, shouldn’t be there. And it’s all there: not only how we think about artistic elements and how we think about our subject matter, but who we are. Some of what we say about ourselves with our art will certainly be misunderstood, and some will be discernable to only a limited number of viewers; but some will be obvious to everyone.

But then, isn’t that part of why we are doing art in the first place? We have things that need to be said, ideas that need to be shared, emotions that deserve to be expressed. So we put it into our performances, our paintings, our photographs, our paintings, our poems, our sculptures.

The good news is that we are not revealing everything. Anyone who studies the work of any artist and pretends, on that basis, to know everything about the artist, is foolish, if not delusional. There are aspects of any artist that reveal themselves, and there are some things that just don’t come through—even to the most perceptive of viewers. So you can still have some secrets.

The bad news is that we are often so close to our work that it is difficult to determine just what it is revealing about us. Most of us know, one way or another, what we are trying to do with our work, but we seldom stop to think about what our work is saying about us.

And even though it may be initially uncomfortable, exposing some of ourselves through our art is something we need to be aware of and come to terms with. Remember that regardless of what the subject of your art may be, regardless of the medium, or technique, or approach, it’s also always about you.

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Let the Work Take Over

Sunday, 27. January 2013 23:51

It is very common to hear fiction writers talk about characters taking over the novel, play, or short story. Characters, it seems, sometimes go their own way, taking the plot along with them instead of performing in the way that the author envisioned. The writer becomes almost a spectator. For those who don’t write, this may sound a bit silly. After all, who is the one whose fingers are on the keyboard? What is really happening is that the story is taking on a life of its own. It’s just a convenience to blame it on the characters—since that’s often what starts the story moving in a certain direction—perhaps one unforeseen by the author.

Creations do that—take on a life of their own, and it doesn’t matter what kind of creation it is. The same phenomenon occurs in almost all arts. An actor’s performance can rise above expectations on certain nights, reaching emotions and insights never before (and sometimes never after) touched. Even the actor him/herself has no idea how or why it happened. They just treasure the experience, and, if they try to explain it at all, write it off to “inspiration.”

It involves creating in flow (discussed here and in several other posts), which almost removes consciousness from the creative process. But more than that, it involves letting the work take over. It’s almost as if the painting or the collage or the poem or characters start telling you what to do next and how to do it, guiding the artist in the creation.  In extreme cases, the artist is unconscious of what is going on. He/she becomes a tool by which the creation realizes itself.

This process may not be as mystical as it’s beginning to sound. There are, of course, psychological explanations. If you read flow theory, you find that what I am talking about here is perhaps a subset of that or an enhanced version of that. This state certainly shares many of the characteristics of flow, but the “sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity” is missing. The creator seems not only to not be in control, but seems almost to be missing. And the creator is certainly not directing the work on any kind of conscious level.

Jackson Pollock put it this way:

When I am in a painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of “get acquainted” period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc, because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.

Pollock is not the only artist to have to wait to see what he has been about. An acquaintance, an accomplished sculptor and painter, commented about his own just-finished painting the other day, “Perhaps in a day or two I’ll figure out what I was trying to say.”

This is certainly not to say that all we have to do is sit down at the keyboard, or easel, or wherever we work and art will happen. We all know better than that. Of course we have to learn and practice and investigate and imagine and apply experience. But once we begin a project, we can, with sufficient concentration, move into flow, and then, if conditions are right and we are willing to take a risk and release a little control, we can perhaps move one step beyond to that place where the work takes over. And then we can, like Pollock, achieve that pure harmony that lets the life of the work come through.

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