Art: Now with 50% less perspiration

Kettle’s recent post, Do Overs, made me think of something I’ve been musing about for some time.  She started the post with the following quote which I’ll just snag in it’s entirely.

From Madeleine L’Engle {Herself} : Reflections on a Writing Life, p. 19

With free will, we are able to try something new. Maybe it doesn’t work, or we make mistakes and learn from them. We try something else. That doesn’t work, either. So we try yet something elsea gain. When I study the working processes of the great artists I am awed at the hundreds and hundreds of sketches made before the painter begins to be ready to put anything on the canvas. It gives me fresh courage to know of the massive revision Dostoyevsky made of all his books–the hundreds of pages that got written and thrown out before one was kept. A performer must rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, making mistakes, discarding, trying again and again.

There’s a thing, when it comes to art, that “real” art just happens, that really talented people just whip stuff up out of their heads.  I first started to become aware of this with regard to sewing.  It seems like everyone who doesn’t sew has an great-aunt or knew some woman or some such who could just lay out a piece of fabric, take a pair of shears to it, run it through a sewing machine, and come out with something that fit perfectly.  The “she could just look at someone and make a dress that fit” story.  And when you’re at your drafting table, transferring changes from your second muslin mock-up to your paper pattern with your back hurting and ruler getting blurry, this can really make you feel like crap.  (Not what the speaker, who probably doesn’t know jack about what good fit looks like anyway, intended at all.)

There’s the artist who slaps paint on canvas and comes out with a masterpiece.  Isn’t that the one we always see on the screen?  The chef who just knows.  The composer who hears music in his head and takes dictation.  And of course, the writer who just writes.

For me, there’s no question that we value the off-the-cuff artists above those who are more technically inclined.  While a few in this category are the absolute geniuses for whom superlative perfection just flows out in pretty much everything they do, a lot of them are just ok.  A lot of them just do good work.  Certainly not better work than another artist who plans, sketches, layers, revises, and produces a work of depth and complexity that’s on a whole different level. 

And yet still it seems to me that we sit in awe of the pantser (she who flies by the seat of her pants).  I suppose it’s just part of the awe we feel regarding the mystery of the creative process.  And we forget, or perhaps we never understood, that those bursts of pure inspiration are a necessary component for all artists.  Because some wish to or are capable of riding those waves farther, because they’re able to jump from one to the next and find their way to shore, to some point on some shore, without stopping to plan a route, we think of them as true and pure artists.

Do you ever feel like the word technical has no place in art?  The term “technical writing”, the writing of manuals, documents, etc., is often considered to the be the opposite of “creative writing”.   When you’re talking to someone who is just so proud to be a pantser, do you ever feel like you need to make excuses for the way you work?  After days and weeks of creative work, of crafting the framework for a story, do you ever read something and feel like your brand of creativity just isn’t recognized?

I’m not saying that either course is better or more justified.  There are masterworks and abysmal stinkers that come from both methods.  But I absolutely feel like we as a culture don’t so much value the “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” adage, even when the “pure art” isn’t overwhelmingly impressive, and I wonder if I’m the only one who gets ticked off by that.

 Ps. Thanks to those of you who have stuck with me and stopped by to leave me lovely and encouraging thoughts.  I’m mostly on hiatus right now, doing some reading, some sewing, knitting, and generally recharging.  I hope to get back to keeping up with you and to get back to writing very soon.


Filed under ideas, Kettle chat, writing

4 responses to “Art: Now with 50% less perspiration

  1. Pingback: Do Overs « A Field of Paper Flowers

  2. seanchaí

    I think of technical writing as something entirely different from the 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration sort of writing. Technical writing and creative writing ARE totally different in my mind. Writing a manual (or in my case a class curriculum–uh, the day job) is a fundamentally boring and uncreative process. It’s like writing a research paper. Also a fundamentally boring–and if you’re in the sciences, uncreative–process. The 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration is not technical writing. It is crafting. And that’s totally different from technical writing. Crafting still involves creativity. It’s a matter of honing and refining. Like whittling or sculpture as opposed to the vivid and instant splashes of color that may be the pantser. I think we are in awe of the pantser because they make it look EASY. Like those natural athletes or those born with perfect pitch. We look at people who can do something easily and think they are better because God knows we have to bust our butts to do the same. And somewhere along the way easy became interpretted as better. And that’s not always the case. Anybody can do something that’s easy. It’s the people who do things that aren’t, who persevere who are to be admired.

  3. I think you misunderstood what I was saying about technical writing. I was saying, and obviously not well, that some people use an approach to crafting a story that is more technical than that of a pantser. And I meant, as an example, that our thinking of the term technical so leans toward the uncreative that we use it as the term that describes the type of writing (that of manuals and reports) that is considered the opposite of creative writing. (Still, when you think about how a good technical writer can bring you to an understanding of things you didn’t understand before, there is obviously creativity there as well.) So yes, the term “technical writing”, what you said. I was referring to a more technical approach to creative writing being less valued.

    And I think your comment about exceptionally gifted people making it look easy is right on.

  4. I’ve seen both sides of the fence, because I started out as a hardcore panster who couldn’t comprehend the mind-numbing boring act of plotting and would rather die!!! But over the years, I’ve learned some plotting techniques that work for me, make sense to me, and help me get that creative spark.

    And that’s really what it comes down to. Can you find the creative spark in the technical process of crafting? Yes–if the process is YOURS.

    There’s a lot of “the ONE way to write” or “MY way is better than your way” nanny-nanny-poo-poo stuff that goes on. Blow it off. I know pansters who STRUGGLE. They’d give a limb to be able to plot, and mentally can not do it, no matter what they try. I know plotters who cannot write a single word until the entire plot is thoroughly documented and examined from all angles. That’s what floats their boat. The trick is to take in all the advice, all the discussion, the books on craft, etc. and find what floats your own boat. That will take some trial and error, but it’s part of the journey. Don’t be afraid to try something and say, nope, ain’t workin for me, and move on.

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