In my readings, I frequently encounter two opposing perspectives on how to create art. This topic interests me because having been an accountant for 22 years, I’ve always regarded artists with awe. How do they come up with their ideas and their art? And since I can’t usually ask them, I turn to books. There are two opposing views: artist as conduit or as worker. One approach is mysterious and the other is pragmatic.
In her book, The Creative Habit, Brenda Tharpe sums up these opposing views:
In these pages, a philosophical tug of war will periodically rear its head. It is the perennial debate born in the Romantic era, between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of (a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration, a kiss from God on your brow that allows you to give the world The Magic Flute, or (b) hard work.
One artist who believes in the mystery is John Dugdale, who I interviewed a while back and is one of my photography heroes. He had this to say about his photographs:
I often feel like they made themselves, like I just allowed myself the openness to let them come right through me. Again not trying to be dramatic or corny, but I really don’t have a complete explanation of where they came from, because they poured out of me like a vessel.
One artist who does not believe in this nonsense is Chuck Close, famous for his photo-realistic paintings. He had this to say about creating art:
The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.
As for me, I’m all for the mystery. I love the idea of being a vessel, where I am essentially a conduit for something to happen. I love being surprised with whatever I create at the end of a process. Where did these ideas come from? This mystery is always fun and humbling.
I’ve also found that there is a side benefit in believing this conduit idea. It relieves the pressure of having to be perfect. Thinking that I’m a conduit reduces the fear of facing a blank page. I don’t have to create something great, I say to myself, I just have to show up and do the work. I find this perspective really helpful to combat the inertia that I struggle with every time I pick up the camera.
What about you? Which perspective do you believe?