Every thing must have a beginning…and that beginning must be linked to something that went before…Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself…Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.”
-Mary Shelley, from Maria Popova’s “Brain Pickings”
Maria Popova’s blog “Brain Pickings” is one of my favorites. I definitely suggest you check it out! In a recent post, she quoted Mary Shelley as part of a larger conversation on the multi-faceted nature of the creative process.
I have been blessed this summer to spend a few weeks in Paris and several in Tel Aviv with my youngest daughter, and it’s been a very art-focused trip—with visits to museums, art classes, and hours spent in cafes with our sketchbooks. Hence, subject of creativity is one very close to my heart.
I believe that Shelley was expressing here the necessity of the artist to recognize that nothing exists in a vacuum and that it is the artist’s responsibility to perceive and expose the hitherto unmasked essence of the subject of one’s art.
I’d like to go one step further and address how the artist goes about doing this.
What I have been struck with this summer—whether wandering through museums or trying to decipher the multi-layered meanings of graffiti, is that inspiration springs from dialogue. It is a dialogue between the artist and Source and a dialogue amongst artists.
When you look at a Picasso painting, you see the influence of Braque. When you read Rilke, you hear his conversations with Rodin. These artists weren’t copying one another; they were inspiring one another. One example of this is the recent collaborative poetry project, “Envelopes of Air”, written by Ada Limón and Natalie Diaz, which is a series of eight poems written in correspondence between these two poets. The result is beautiful. Inspiring.
Taking it even one more step further, beyond the artistic dialogue and into our every day lives…I think more and more of us are recognizing that neither do we live in a vacuum.
If, like Michelangelo looking at a slab of marble as a sculpture waiting to be set free, we could see each person or place or experience as a work of art waiting to be set free, we would have a very different relationship to our fellow humans and to our own personal experiences. We would be more open, more curious, more encouraging, looking for connections rather than discord. And if, like Picasso and Braque, we entered into dialogue with more of our fellow human beings—not just the ones in our echo chamber—we would begin to have conversations about others’ joys and pain and struggles and questions, and we might shift some of our thinking.
And then maybe, this collaborative dialogue would inspire us to create beautiful art together.