Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish– an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem.”julia cameron, filling the well
I’ve struggled a lot over the last year with writer’s block. I know, I know. It’s all in my head, there is no such thing. Whatever. I haven’t been able to create much of anything for a number of reasons. And so instead of writing I’ve spent a lot of time looking for answers to get me back on track, and although what I’m about to talk about certainly wasn’t the only thing getting in my way, once I realized it, I was able to work again. So that’s something, right?
My realization was simply that I was spending too much time alone staring at my blank pages. I needed some input before I could get back to creating output.
That sounds a little lazy, I think, but here’s what I realized. Any creative act is an act of emptying oneself. Words, dance moves, delicately plated dishes, paint, beats of a drum–all of it drains the creator in big and small ways. And so we must fill our wells in order to continue our output, to expand our understanding, to strengthen our creations, and to find new inspiration for new work.
And just like every creation, every creator is unique. Some of us need this inspiration more in the beginning when we’re searching for subjects. Some find themselves dry toward the end when the inevitable culling, editing, stitching together is required. Others need it to fill in the middle of the work, when energy has been drained for a long period already and there is still more work to do.
What I write at the moment turns too much in a tightened circle. I am feeding off my own substance, and do not renew myself.gerard de nerval, letter to george bell
Understanding when one needs this type of encouragement and finding the best sources for renewal is one of the many important tasks each creator faces in his or her own journey. A painter might benefit from pouring over poetry, a musician might find inspiration in classic film, a chef may be best served by a day wandering the beach. A writer may rush to the page after watching a child paint or in the midst of a concert.
I’m not suggesting a creative could or should find one source of inspiration and draw on that single thing forever. Every creation needs a multitude of sources, and the artist will need to grow and expand these sources as the creative acts change him or her.
For nearly five years, [John] Lennon’s guitar had hung, unstrummed, on a wall above the couple’s bed. He canceled his subscription to Billboard, learned how to bake bread, and became a househusband and stay-at-home dad for Sean.richard l. eldredge – A Beatle, a Rock Lobster, and how John Lennon got his mojo back
In Bermuda, an assistant dragged the reclusive ex-Beatle to Disco 40. Upstairs, a DJ was spinning the club’s namesake musical genre. But the downstairs bar was dedicated to New Wave, where “Rock Lobster” by The B-52’s was playing.
For the frustrated poet Edward Thomas, a train ride served the purpose of recharging his creative batteries and resulted in one of England’s iconic poems.
Edward Thomas, aged 36 and bereft of inspiration, dutifully jotted the details of this fleeting non-event [a train stop in Adlestrop] into his notebook, and from them fashioned a poem that has become not only one of the nation’s favourites, but also an authentic literary mystery.William Langley, Adlestrop: a lost station, but words that still beguile
Thomas, blocked creatively, unsure of his talents, plagued by depression, took a train ride one day that happened to make an unscheduled stop in the tiny town of Adlestrop. No one came or went from the train and Thomas sketched some unenthusiastic but dutiful notes. But a while later that small event, just a few jotted observations, turned into a beautiful and much loved poem.
Yes, I remember Adlestrop – The name, because one afternoon Of heat the express-train drew up there Unwontedly. It was late June. The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat. No one left and no one came On the bare platform. What I saw Was Adlestrop – only the name And willows, willow-herb, and grass, And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry, No whit less still and lonely fair Than the high cloudlets in the sky. And for that minute a blackbird sang Close by, and round him, mistier, Farther and farther, all the birds Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. - Thomas Edwards, Adelstop
Amazing what exposure to something new can do for a creative soul.
But Thomas’ fuel didn’t come from travel alone. Like many creatives, the poet found a deep source of creative waters from a friendship with the fellow poet Robert Frost.
The Frost-Thomas friendship, intense, fertile, and brief (1913-1917) bloomed fully in 1914-‘our year,’ Frost called it. During this time the families of both men were often together at Little Iddens in rural Dymock where the two poets explored the countryside and talked deeply about their feelings and about poetry-Frost had ignited the poetic force in his closest friendWilliam R. Evans – Robert Frost and Helen Thomas: Five Revealing Letters
I know as well as anyone that it’s tempting to put oneself into a creative bubble, especially once a project really gets going. But in pulling away from other humans, a creative may just be cutting off an important source of renewal, of artistic fish to fry.
Besides, at the end of the day what is any form of art that we take in but a conversation with another creative?
Part of our journey in the act of creation must be to continuously seek out new sources for our artistic ecosystems. It is important that we explore, that we keep ourselves open, and that we continue to experiment with our own creative lives so that this well will ever be filled.