I’ve been thinking more about the issue of creativity. How does it happen?
Michael Leunig once gave a talk to a small group of therapists and counsellors in Melbourne. During the talk he began to tell us about his ideas on the process of art. He told us about the way in which an artist conceives an idea in his mind about what he’d like to paint. The idea is thrilling and exciting. The artist sets up his canvas, collects his paints. He’s ready. The idea and its execution are foremost in his mind.
He begins to paint, lashes of colour on the canvas. It flows on smoothly, effortlessly, but as he proceeds, something happens. The idea he first conceived begins to change. It does not translate so readily onto the canvas now. It fractures in his mind. He cannot hold onto it. He’s disappointed in his work. He might struggle on, but only in a state of despair, of deep disappointment and sadness.
Now he’s faced with a choice. The whole idea has lost its lustre. Might as well throw it in. Leave it behind. Go have a cup of tea. A glass of wine. Go out shopping. Collect the kids from school, anything but stay here in front of this failed canvas. He doesn’t care anymore.
He spatters more paint onto the page, a dab here, a stroke there. Listless, lifeless without energy or hope. He has given up on his original idea.
Leunig went on to tell us, if his artist can persevere, something might happen, something new might emerge on the canvas, something the artist had no idea of, no conscious conception of, like a bud unfurling, some new life. Then the energy returns, new hope, the possibility of some new creation.
For this reason, Leunig urges us to consider the importance of the second try.
One other thought, along these lines. In her biography on the lives of two Australian women painters, Drusilla Modjeska quotes Grace Cossington Smith .
‘ “A continual try”, she said. It’s true of painting, it’s true of writing and it’s true of life. The process of staying with that continual try can produce long low loops and sudden illuminations, which we see in retrospect as springing open and banging closed. But in the tug and pull of time it is another day lived, another piece of board on the easel, another squeeze from the tube.’
The process of writing can be similarly hard won.