Saturday, June 11, 2011

How To Create Original Art—A Modest Proposal

Although, at first glance, the question, “How does the artist create original art,” might look impossible to answer, imponderably vague on a cosmic scale, I believe that if we look into it more deeply, look around our lives at the materials we will be working with—pencil and paper, pigeons, persimmons, planetary bodies and people—most importantly people—the human dimensions of the question become clear. What we have here is not an epistemological, teleological or ideological problem, but a technical one—a problem of focal adjustment.

Bad mental habits are the hardest to break. As artists—poets, painters, sculptors and composers—we have become accustomed to thinking of our craft as a kind of ecclesiastical calling, something somehow holy. If the business of creation were more spiritually nourishing, perhaps it might be. It is not. Art is a profession just like any other. We get up and we do whatever work our imaginations assign us. We collect our peanuts every two weeks—poems or pictures—on Wednesday, or Friday, or Saturday—whatever day our sense of completion has declared to be payday.

Maybe, one summer day, when the boss has fallen asleep in the office with his nose on the letter Z on his keyboard, we rise from our routine, slip off our shoes and tip-toe out, aware from the shadows on the floor that it is a sunny afternoon. We forget ourselves utterly. We scamper off gleefully to the beach: we collect a few shells, we swim, we drink in the fish flavored breeze, we splash around with our children or friends, we absorb those receding light rays into our skin.

Maybe, if you run, like I do, you are lucky enough to catch the ferry. Suddenly, you find yourself on Fire Island, dancing until dawn and screwing yourself silly. The next morning—afternoon, probably—we study our souvenirs back at our desks: a purple clam ashtray, sunburnt shoulders, the last four digits of a telephone number on a torn ATM receipt, a hickey, sand up the ass, a ticket for public indecency, and a horrible hangover.

“So, this is life. Maybe I should have brought my camera,” we grumble, looking out the window at a bright blue invitingly cool square of sky the exact shade of yesterday as we remember it.

Alas, it is not. This blank space
—today—is the best we can do under the circumstances.


I think that the process part of the question—how does the artist create original art—is really quite easy to answer: stop thinking of yourself as an artist. Get a job. There is nothing special about what you do. Think of yourself as an everyday drudge—a Mexican busboy, a mother in labor—an individual with dozens of conflicting loyalties, loves and desires, hopes and dreams, all competing for your time, if not your soul.

Always remember that no claims on your heart or your hand will ever be fully satisfied. Your work will never be finished. You will be disappointed wherever you go when you die. I imagine the earth is the only real vacation destination I have to look forward to. At least, nobody I love has come back from Heaven with a box of saltwater taffy to report otherwise.

My advice to you, if you want to be an artist, if you want to create something truly and spectacularly original, is to pick up your pen and tell us how you can live in such a world. On peanuts.

Everybody’s answer is different.

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