Routine Inspiration

Creativity is attentional, not intentional. It’s hard or impossible to intend to produce creative work and then have that just happen, because creative thought doesn’t seem to take place in the part of the mind that makes plans. Instead, it works much better to lull the intentional part of the mind to sleep, and begin simply to pay close attention. Many, many creative people report success through performing repetitive, simple actions that appear to have no particular point. The fact that they have no point is, in large part, the point. This approach is detailed in an article by Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times for Sunday, May 8th. Excerpts:

“Twyla Tharp wakes up every day at 5:30 and takes a cab to the gym. Chopin played Bach. Beethoven strolled around Vienna with a sketch pad first thing in the morning. Giorgio Morandi spent decades painting the same dusty bunch of small bottles, bowls and biscuit tins. Chuck Close paints and draws and makes prints of nearly identical dots or marks, which, depending on how they’re arranged, turn into different faces….

…Out of routine comes inspiration…. I once spent several months watching the American realist painter Philip Pearlstein paint a picture of two nudes. He has followed the same routine for years. One of the models, Desirée Alvarez, who is also an artist, said that the value of watching someone else’s studio routine was ‘in terms of discipline and day-to-dayness and commitment to work even when it isn’t going well.’

‘I know Philip is interested in Zen monks,’ she continued. ‘They have their routines, because they think that within routine, and only within routine, enlightenment comes.’

The article concludes with this quote from composer Erik Satie’s “Memoirs Of An Amnesiac”:

“Up at 7:18. From 10:23 to 11:47: inspiration. Lunch at 12:11. Leave the table by 12:14. Only white foods, including boiled chicken and camphorized sausage. More inspiration: 3:12 to 4:07. Bed at 10:37. “Once a week I wake up with a start at 3:19,” he wrote. That’s on Tuesday.

‘I sleep with one eye open. My sleep is very deep. My bed is round, with a hole in the middle for my head.'”

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