I’ve got a strong fascination with creative processes and how artists from different media create their somethings from nothings. The processes seem to vary as greatly as the artists who rely on them. They also contain universal elements that ring true regardless of the type of art created.
Check out this video of musician Eddie Vedder, where he talks about creativity, among other things.
There’s a lot to talk about here, not the least of which is his eclectically cool house, the method he uses to get to his studio, the way he (mis)treats his ukulele, buying a fake leg at a junk shop, and his collection of suitcases, all almost literally bursting with contents. Eddie says the suitcases are full of, “notebooks … tooth brushes … certain pens that you trust”.
What hits me most is what he says within the first minute. As he plays chords and creates a framework of melodies, he talks of striving to know what the new melody means to him. At around 0.48 in the video, Vedder asks himself a crucial question as he alternates between playing and writing. He asks, “If I close my eyes, where am I?”
If I close my eyes, where am I? I love that line. The process behind it is not unique to writing music. Closing your eyes doesn’t mean ignoring your surroundings or influences or even ignoring yourselves. It’s about getting out of your own way, not by disengaging from the process, but by being so acutely engaged in creating that you disappear in it.
Don’t take me too literally. If you need your eyes to see what you are doing creatively, that’s OK. Vedder’s talking about going to a place you need to be, a place that’s not in front of the television (or computer?). It’s a place I don’t think we visit as often as we should as artists. It’s a sacred place, and we should treat it as such. That said…
Vedder mentions the homework of writing and uses the analogy of brick laying. He says sometimes he may write something differently ten times, only to realize that he should have kept the first one. That sounds dangerously like uninspiring work! It is. Immediately after that statement, Eddie talks about times of being a conduit, not one that you can tap into, but one that taps into you. That sounds like play! It is.
Five hundred years earlier, master sculptor, Michelangelo talked about hewing away the rough stone to get to a figure trapped inside. Again with the work! In the same statement, Michelangelo talked of seeing the figure in stone as plainly as if already released and standing before him. His vision was so clear and alive to him, that his task was as simple as removing what didn’t belong. He played in stone.
So which is it? Are we brick layers or conduits? Are we working or playing? Yes we are!
If we close our eyes, where are we? Let’s find out. Then let’s roll up our sleeves and get to play.