More on Inspiration & Creativity

June 23rd, 2009 Uncategorized

Two entries paraphrasing remarks on inspiration and the creative process, apropos of what I said and quoted in earlier posts.  The first from Ian Frazier, from an online reminiscence about his mentor, conductor William Appling.  The second from Johannes Brahms.


To be an artist is hard. Unlike mastering a subject or a skill, being an artist partakes of mystery. In the arts, at the highest levels, technique engages with leap-of-faith, oblique transfer, E.S.P., and unknown elements.

Being a writer, or any kind of artist, involves something of magic; as an artist, you’re generally apart from most people, you’re not where any system or bureaucracy wants you to be, and what you’re doing combines things of the spirit with, basically, messing around. Art is artifice is a trick, definitely, but with endless, powerful consequences: a frail wand, but a profound spell.

[Again the outward appearance of the creative mode being mistaken for “messing around” reminds me of a reference in Emerson’s notebooks in which Ralph Waldo complains that he can’t sit in contemplation more than 5 minutes without someone in his company asking whether he has a headache – here the impression taken is that the person’s perceived lack of industry is due to illness rather than sloth. 

I wonder if Frazier’s notion of art as “trick” has any origin in e.e. cummings’ play “Him.”]


There is no real creating without hard work.  An inspiration from above for which I am not responsible is a present, a gift, which I’ve made mine by dint of hard work.  And there doesn’t have to be any hurry about that…it germinates unconsciously.  Once I’ve found the first phrase I might shut the book there, go for a walk, do some other work, and maybe not think about it again for months.  Nothing, however, is lost.  If afterward I approach the subject again, it is sure to have taken shape on its own, apart from myself.

[Biographer Jan Swafford views Brahms as presaging Freudian theories of the subconscious and its workings.]