Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity

No matter what you might think of Eat, Pray, Love (if the Web is any indication, a lot of people have opinions about the book who’ve never even read it) Elizabeth Gilbert’s reflection on the nature of creativity is worth considering. For me, it came in the nick of time, challenged as I’ve been lately with my work (or non-work, as it might more accurately be termed) in the studio. I needed to be reminded that I’m simply the conduit, and that all I need to do is open the door, allow whatever is going to happen to happen, instead of trying so fucking hard.

This may be the reason some people have big successes and then fall off—they begin to believe the hype, to think that they did it, and then struggle to do it again. I think about Philippa Gregory, who wrote one of the best novels I’ve ever read (The Other Boleyn Girl) and some of the worst (all the rest). Or Rauschenberg, who never seemed to be able to get past himself.

Students are often taught—or at least given the impression—that making art is about having an idea and executing it, when actually it’s about doing the work and then getting out of the way.

If I build the tracks, the train will come when it’s ready.


Katharine Smith-Warren said...

Thanks Carol- this delayed my start in the studio by 20 minutes but was well worth it.

Mike said...

I'm glad I read this just now. I constantly fall into the trap of looking for the great idea to work on, instead of just working and recognizing the great idea when it appears. Worse possible outcome is "executing" a great idea as if it were a color by number.

Faris said...

well put!

末迷 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jim Lourie said...

Thank You,

I was just in a group of Art lovers and we were talking about the something extra in art. So much of art today begins and ends in the mind. Oh how clever it is! Creative perhaps, but dry, without body and soul. How many times have you gone to a gallery exhibit and walked away as empty, or perhaps more empty than when you arrived. In the visual arts, rigor has become synonymous with the novel, the clever, the splash, the ego and little about the quiet, the invitation, the listening. Just as it is time to stand up for feeling, it is time to stand up for the soul.

CAP said...

I don’t get what you mean about Rauschenberg. I never met the guy, but his work doesn’t strike me as excessively autobiographical. If anything, there’s an uneasy leveling of content in the interests of form, an aversion to intimacy, almost.

Do you mean he’s not creative, or just repetitive? A lot of artists settle for narrow variations on their preceding work, though. He doesn’t strike me as notable in that respect either.

Also – that Wikipedia entry is pretty raw (or rau). For starters, the author is unable to distinguish with a sculptor and a sculpture. Still at least they managed to resist the gossip that Rauschenberg and Johns had an affair, when they were 25 or something.

Carol Diehl said...

Hmmm. I'd be sorry if this post led anyone to think that I over-valued the autobiographical in art. Quite the opposite, actually, I fear that recently it's be carried to extremes, used as justification for the mediocre, or a source of interpretation for those without the critical wherewithal to look deeper.

I believe that finding our own creative process has everything to do with the development of intuition, and we lose the thread when we try to think too much.

My example of Rauschenberg was of an artist who had a flash of "genius" at the beginning of his artistic life, and kept grinding his wheels thereafter.

This is why I admire Stella, even if I don't like 3/4 of what he does (or maybe BECAUSE of this, the fact that he's willing to show us his process, for better or worse) because he's always moving, thinking, changing.

Jim said...

I rest my case:

joan said...

“It becomes always more painful,” Alberto (Giacometti) said, “for me to finish my works. The older I grow, the more I find myself alone. I foresee that at the last I shall be entirely alone. Even if, after all, what I’ve done till now counts for nothing (and it is nothing by comparison with what I would like to create), fully aware of having failed till now, and knowing from experience that everything I undertake slips through my fingers, I enjoy my work more than ever. Is there any understanding in that? Not for me, but that’s how it is. I see my sculptures there before me: each one—even the most finished in appearance—a fragment, each one a failure. Yes, a failure! But there is in each one a little of what I would like to create one day. This in one, that in another, and in the third something that’s missing in the first two. But the sculpture of which I dream incorporates everything that appears isolated and fragmentary in these various works. That gives me a longing, an irresistible longing to pursue my efforts—and perhaps in the end I will attain my goal."

Giacometti and Beckett, each in a deeply individual way, personified the pure commitment of the creative man. Driven beyond the conscious self by a need to express what defies expression, they found the strength to sustain that need in the ironic authority derived from a mortifying acknowledgement of failure. Beckett had learned that words are powerless to convey an idea of a feeling, just as Giacometti had found that neither paint nor clay can possibly embody the experience of vision. But both were infatuated with the expressive possibilities which baffled their passion for self-expression. It was the futility of the pursuit that made it fascinating and saved the effort from becoming monotonous. Its purpose was not to produce works of art but to wrest from the process of perception its utmost resources. A thankless, well-nigh ridiculous task, performed with humility as an act of pride.

James Lord, Giacometti: A Biography

Pretty Lady said...

This is absolutely true, Carol. I have been noticing again how all of my best work has come *through* me, not *from* me. It arrived as an act of grace while I was plodding away at some mundane endeavor. What I think of as 'me' could never have accomplished that, and can't replicate it if I try.

I find that intuition precedes analytical thought by a big margin, but that analysis is essential in retrospect, as a precursor to the next intuitive leap. So it's not that you can think *too much,* you just have to get it in the right order.