You could spend a lifetime looking for a little baby fish in the pacific ocean and it would be pretty unlikely you would ever find him.
However, if Moby Dick was to drop from the sky and land in a puddle in a city 2,000 miles away there’s a good chance, even if you wasn’t around to witness it, that you would hear about it.
To see in the new year we have a guest post from a good friend of mine, a prolific dj, artist manager, writer and man of books, Wez G.
I asked him to lay a few words down about the creative process after some great discussions at our weekly meet up.
True to form, it is a hefty rant without a pause for breath, so without further ado, settle down and let me introduce the mad genius of Wez G…
Flaps and I met 20 odd years ago and have grown up together as DJs and more recently, producers. We often get together for regular chitchats in Cardiff and have worked professionally together at various times in the music industry.
In a recent drinking session, where I like to philosophize, Flappy heard me tell him a tale of New Zealand All Black rugby captain, Richie McCaw. McCaw is a flanker (wing-forward) and is widely regarded as one of the finest rugby players in the world today. He is an All Black legend and has amassed more international caps than any New Zealand player in history. The icing on the cake of his glistening career was lifting the Webb Ellis Rugby World Cup trophy on home soil in the 2011 World Cup. The All Blacks, if you are unfamiliar with the sport, are at the cutting edge of rugby – They are to the oval-shaped ball what Brasil are to its round cousin. They determine the whole pace of the international game and are always innovating new styles. In effect they set the pace. McCaw, as an individual is one of the most highly talented sportsmen in the world. Why, you ask, is this relevant to an anarchic Welsh Music producer, most widely known for releasing the terror that is ‘Sicknote’ http://sicknote.tv onto the world?
I wanted to make a point to Flappy – that to reach the dizzying heights of ultimate success, there tends to be a formula. Those people who truly attain greatness in their chosen profession, have hidden secrets, that can be applied across the board. What is relevant to leading sportsmen, international political leaders, top businessmen, bestselling authors etc. can also apply to the world of music. Sure, we could find plenty of examples of success in the world of music itself… What makes Madonna tick? How do the Rolling Stones never cease to stop rolling? How does Brian Wilson imbibe from his muse? I wanted to keep it simple for Flappy and as I’d just read Richie McCaw’s cracking autobiography it was fresh in my mind.
Flaps probably hasn’t exercised since he left his caribou herd behind in the deepest Scandinavian Arctic and headed over to Wales in the first place. Although he lives within literal touching distance of one of the greatest rugby venues on the planet (The Millennium Stadium), I doubt he’s ever even laced up some boots and to him a scrum is a fight to get to the bar. The bulk of the autobiography is unsurprisingly dedicated to the game of rugby. McCaw’s early development as a youth player through to a diary-like blow-by-blow account of the successful 2011 RWC campaign. He talks about the sport with passion, an unrivalled playing knowledge, leadership skills and relationships with top coaching professionals, disputes with referees, the highs and lows of injury and recovery. For a rugby aficionado, this is a deep insight into the mind of a true superstar.
Rugby is played by thousands of people across the world. It is a popular game, in particular, here in Wales, where it is the national sport. Most people never become professionals and it is a hobby to them. They might be forced to play it at school and in later years continue it as a weekend hobby alongside their chosen line of work. A few lucky ones break through into the professional ranks. It’s quite a highly paid game these days so a professional can earn a good living. As in any profession, there are different levels. You get your journeymen in rugby as you do in other jobs, there are top club players who excel and inspire fanatical support from local fans, you get your elite players who represent their countries and have the privilege of playing on the global platform in the top competitions. McCaw is a level above these – part of a super-elite and a legend. He talks of the sacrifices he makes in his day to day living. He stresses the importance of jogging to achieve good stamina, the theory work he puts in his diary to motivate him ahead of fixtures, the abstinence of alcohol and a keen-ness on family values. These are part of what makes him who he is. There was a large chunk of the book, however, which truly amazed me, and I enjoyed reading about this, equally as much as the rugby details. Whenever, an international competition finishes, wherever in the world that may be, from the plains of Pretoria to the lushness of the hallowed Cardiff turf, within 48 hours, Richie McCaw presents himself at his local gliding club, near to the family farm where he grew up on the South Island of New Zealand. His instructors say he is like clockwork. He just strolls in through the door, plonks himself down and asks what the flight plan for the day will be. Gliding is McCaw’s passion. He was lucky enough to have earned good money from his rugby and with some of that he treated himself to a top of the range German glider. It was a bit of a family tradition, free flying across ‘the Land of The Long White Cloud’ (Aotearoa – Maori for New Zealand). This is a hobby for McCaw. He has learnt the basics and just loves getting entirely away from his professional life and floating high above the Southern Alps, challenging mother nature herself as he tracks down thermals to lift him over the peaks and guide him down into isolated airfields dotted around the one of the most scenic areas on earth. It’s a dangerous endeavour and he has needed to gain a certain amount of proficiency to fly alone and has had to learn a new set of skills. He speaks about the gliding with an equal passion as his rugby, perhaps even more so. This is what he lives for. Others may strive to save and go watch Richie play a game of rugger on the weekend… He is waiting to get away from it all and just be himself, away from the chasing pack of media hounds, or autograph-hunting supporters. He hasn’t got his coaches in his ear or the pressures of the captaincy. He is just a simple amateur enjoying the thrills of the sky.
Flappy said, ‘ Well, what’s your point? The boredom sinking in’ – It’s relevant because although the crossover skills gained in each activity may be very minimal, what Richie gains from the gliding assist his professional life no end and may be the difference that has propelled him to the very top of the game.
It’s a switch off, a complete unwind. A sudden change; a total psychological release. You can get bogged down in anything. It may seem obvious if we talk of a shift worker in a factory, doing long hours of tedious repetitive work. However, this tediousness can apply to even the most exciting of jobs. International Rugby may seem glamorous to the outsider looking in, but it is just the same as a 9-5 job to the rugby players themselves. For every 80 minutes of glory on the field, there are endless hours of long haul flights, tough fitness drills in training, sweaty gyms – it’s hard graft. It’s just the same in music. Adoring fans think you have the greatest job on earth and you may be an inspiration to many. They see you hanging around in swanky nightclubs, on grand festival stages, surrounded by people dressed to the nines and enjoying themselves with Dionysian quantities of alcohol and every other form of hedonistic pleasure. It’s what everyone dreams of, surely?
Speak to Flappy, get to know him – he love his audience and his fans and is totally dedicated to them, going out of his way to answer feedback, supply tickets, create merchandise and deliver music and media content so that their adoration continues to grow. Ask Flappy what he thinks of gigging… You’ll see him at the front of the stage, with hjs silly hat on, cramped over his laptop, his arm gyrating in the air and his belly wobbling to the phat basslines he’s pumping out. For the hour or so he’s up on stage, he’s loving all right, but he’s also sweating away, getting dehydrated and he’s probably busting for a pee too. This is his 90 minutes on the pitch. His training has been sat up for 48 hours reprocessing a kick drum on Ableton until it click to perfection. He’s got the discipline of abstinence and in the crowd you’re probably flying out of your mind, but Flappy is teetotal, doesn’t smoke and apart from the odd pasty, has a pretty much health vegan diet (not forgetting the crumpets). The gig is probably the third in three days and he’s probably been bouncing around in the back of a dodgy transit, wrestling Johnny No Cash and Filthy, as the Sicknote tour bus yo-yos up and down the nation’s motorways. A night in Glasgow followed by a detour to Brixton and then bouncing across to some farmer’s field in deepest mid-Wales. If he pays his rent on time, he’s lucky to have a few coins left to fund his mouldy crumpets for the week when he returns home. It’s not all glamour and Flappy tells me that outside of the stage he struggles dealing with the commotion of festivals. All summer long, Sicknote are a mainstay in festivals across Europe. Just picture it though – For you, as a punter, the festival is the highlight of the summer. You have three days of partying with friends, living out of a tent and seeing music acts from across the world that you’ve been itching to see for years. You haven’t got to psych yourself up to deliver that stage performance; you aren’t restricted by the rigours of abstinence. When you’re ears are blasted into oblivion by the high-powered stage monitors, the last thing you want to hear is a constant pounding from 10 different acts all competing to attract the biggest crowd to their arena. Flappy says, as soon as they leave the stage, he just packs his rucksack and heads off. Straight out of the festival and into the nearest wood. He might not be flower-picking, but he likes to just calm down, by himself, give his ears a rest and maybe see a bit of the country. He’s told me that while Doghouse and Dr Conker (bless his soul) might be on a three day bender, he could quite easily be inspecting a museum, or observing the architecture of the local city’s historical quarter. It’s like gliding, I suppose, but my suggestion to Flappy, is that it’s a bit too random and unplanned. Not every festival is situated close to a wood or cultural centre. You need to find something that will regularly give you the hit you need. The magic dose of rest and recuperation; the flip switch of ‘unwind’. You might not be able to afford a posh German glider, but maybe there’s a hobby or interest out there, that you can strive to do, which is totally divorced from music and can allow you the freedom of escaping total stagnation.
An artist is a creative person. You hear lots of nonsense about how creative thinkers are different. Their brain hemispheres work in different ways, they have a natural gift that is from the divine or encoded in their genes. I’d argue that anyone out their leading their field, shares this artistic mindset. Richie McCaw is a brutal rugby player, known for his hard-hitting tackles and unrelenting spirit on the pitch. Surely, he is an artist though too? Musicians slog it out and even some of the finest bands are only there due to a lucky break somewhere along the line. It’s not all about fame either. You meet people who are complete loners, mainly artist, penniless but totally mind-blowing in terms of their skill levels and creativity. They may be complete unknown quantities, waiting for the world to catch up. William Blake is one of my favorites. He spent his life holed up in dank quarters in SoHo, completely stony broke and died penniless and virtually unknown. Yet he created an immense volume of he most unbelievably creative literature and engravings that truly turned the world of literature on its head.
Think of the artist / musician as a surfer…. Everyone wants to surf. It’s cool. Many will get their dream and maybe hire a board on holiday and with a morning’s instruction at a surf school you could be tripping over your board and landing headfirst in the sand having walked the plank for a second or two. You can always say you’ve done it and you’ve achieved a life goal. Maybe you take it a bit more seriously and manage to buy a board and get to the beach a few times each summer. You might like to explore the world a bit. If you become good, it’s always nice to try a new wave system and maybe the breaks are bigger in a different country or on the opposite coastline. It becomes a hobby and then a passion. You find yourself hitting the hotspots in Hawaii, Helicoptering out to the breaks in Indonesia or yachting around the South Pacific in search of the ultimate wave. If you’re lucky and any good, you could always end of up the pro tour. It’s just the same as music or rugby though – a lot of slog – hard travel, uncomfortable digs – a high level of fitness requirement and its’ difficult to make money – The techniques for success also apply though. Think of surfing as an analogy.
You’re out on the waves – how do you choose your spot. Do you stick with the masses of other surfers out there – On a decent popular beach with good waves there will be hundreds clamouring about, maybe crashing into each other as they catch a ride. Fights and arguments can break out among surfers very easily – it ain’t as glamorous as it first appears. Maybe you prefer to keep the crowd in sight and just break away to a quieter spot on the periphery? The lifeguard can still see you and you get a good warning of any dangerous currents that could drag you away. I’d like the think that the true surfer will find his own break. His area of preference: his favoured set. Does he like big waves, long straight clean waves, waves that tube? Does he like a minimal battle against the current when swimming out. Tactically a good surfer has these in differences in mind. He doesn’t have to trek the globe to exotic places either. He could surf a single beach his whole life, know it so intimately and live on its doorstep. He might not be winning the pro championship but he could be the most talented surfer alive. When you’re out there on the wave, it’s not all about expending energy. You paddle out and you wait. Not every wave that passes is a good wave. Some surfers may get bogged down in the crowd going in and out of the beach, fighting the crowd at every rise and exhausting themselves. A good surfer will study the tide timetable, know the lie of the land – he’ll have the right equipment for any weather and he’ll know when the big waves are due and where they’ll be landing. He may have to paddle out and spend hours shivering in his wetsuit, watching set after set go by… It’s relaxing though. He has patience and can bide his time. When that big wave emerges on the horizon, he’s relaxed, he’s calm and he’s prepared. He’ll start paddling for it at just the right moment and with his saved energy he’ll use his fundamental surfing skills to catch that wave. It could be the wave of the day, or the wave of a lifetime. And then for a few minutes as he rides that wave in, he has the world at his feet. He can surf away to his heart’s content and the patience will pay as the quality of that wave will allow every trick in his repertoire to flow to full effect and the master of the art in him will emerge. He’ll be in the pure zone of success and his life will feel fulfilled. Not every surfer gets this opportunity and of course many end up being eaten by sharks.
I guess my point to Flappy is that to develop that patience needed to achieve his own life goals, his own music goals, he needs to create the mindset necessary to endure. Hone your skills, no end, but don’t exhaust yourself. Look outside of the box and find that switch to turn everything completely off and break clean away. Be dedicated without flattening the battery. Your creativity will be more powerful as you expand your mind by not doing music. And it doesn’t matter how long you have to wait for that wave. If everything is in place and you have worked correctly, covering every aspect of your art, then that wave will come. Knowing when it’s due is fortune and requires diligence, but when it does arrive be sure your skills are there so that you can surf it perfectly.
for more from Wez, check his website www.djwezg.com
by Charles Bukowski.
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.
and there never was.
Time is a way of us splitting up our existence into small chunks in a hope for us to understand and manage it.
Time passing from past to present is a fake concept we invented…. all that really is is now. Thats it. An eternal now.
“Time is an illusion” – Albert Einstein
No one knows how much we have, but we made it up, so it doesn’t exist and therefore does not matter. What matters is how full we live our life, and this is done by being present in the moment as much as possible.
A long life of worry and dissatisfaction is far less appealing than a short life of intense present moment awareness, integrity and acceptance.
Forget the clock, use one to help you meet with people and organise yourself and that is it.
Get out of your obsessive thoughts about what has been and what is to come, get back to what is, Now!
Let your senses help you get in the moment by looking, listening, touching and smelling the world around you
Whenever you do this, all worry and anxiety seem to to dissolve in an instant.
“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions and ideas.” ~Alan Watts
I suffer from paranoia. For years i had delusions. I literally made shit up and believed it all. From not trusting people, or feeling hard done by, to image warping and not knowing how i look, dysmorphophobia, and negative obsessions with social situations that make no sense to anyone i share them with. I am a mentalist.
“The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.”
Have you ever been to a life drawing class? I went recently for the first time.. The model was a large flumpy naked lady with a bushy beaver stood in a macho body builders pose. Sitting at the back i was amazed as all the other students sketched her form within a few seconds. I tried and just couldn’t get it. Lines were darting and overlapping in ever messier frantic scribbles all over the page as i searched frantically for the definition of my subject. I missed her next pose as i tried to fix this hideous drawing!
For her third pose she lay on her side propped up on an elbow, her big veiny tits lay in front of her on the floor and her afro-muff reached out at us. A relaxed almost cocky look snarled across on her saggy face that hung over her clenched fist. I again had an epileptic fit with my pencil and drew a huge never ending scribble, a 2 year old may have done better. Shit, i thought as the pencil tore a hole through to the next page. All the artists were drawing amazing versions of her… all shaded and perfect proportions. Mine looked like my nephew had just sunk a crate of red bull and attacked the page. The teacher walked over and took a peek, i was sweating in embarrassment and frustration.
She told me to hold up my pencil and measure the girl. I then realised my rectangle was too wide, so i rubbed out one edge and made her thinner. And again. And again. And thinner. And thinner. Holy Shit… I had drawn her about three times wider than she really was. i hoped the model would never see my satanic splurge as i feared she may cry and never pose again!
I realised i was drawing how my conditioned mind was seeing her. Not that i got anything against fat people, as i have been a porker myself a few times throughout the years! But i wasn’t looking at what was in front of me, i was just drawing my preconceived idea of how i thought a large lady would look and this idea was getting in the way of reality.
“Sight obscures. Noise deafens. Desire messes with your heart. The world messes with your mind. A Master watches the world but keeps focused on what’s real.” -Lao Tzu
While on holiday a few months later i was given a book called Drawing With The Right Side of The Brain. The main point of the book was about smashing preconceived ideas of how we think things look. Removing delusions and learning how to see. For real. One exercise entailed copying a picture from the book turned upside down. As i turned around my finished drawing i was amazed at how good it was. How could this be? It looked as if i had advanced forward a few years in the space of 5 minutes!!!!
Well, it’s because as the subject was upside down i didn’t recognise it quite so easily - i was copying random lines. The filter between reality and and my brain was shattered, as instead of drawing a nose, or eye, or mouth i was now just copying lines that went in certain directions and therefore not imposing any of my assumptions of how it should look upon it.
This amazed me. Trying to draw people for years and never being able to capture the essence of them, i suddenly realised, trying is WRONG! The essence will come by itself if you can get the form right, and the form comes from seeing things as they ARE not as we THINK they are! We need to forget how we THINK a nose should look and just draw the lines angles and shadows that are in front of us. Switch off the thinking brain – just look. This can be done by tricking the brain by hanging upside down (might be awkward to draw with all the blood running to your head - unless you hang your model upside down) or by just drawing the negative space instead of concentrating on our subject so intensely. Or just learning to zone in on the parts you are drawing and training to switch off the filter. Anything that enables us to forget what we are drawing!!!!!! How strange !
So can i use these drawing techniques to smash all the other shit i have made-up in my life? In 2003 i woke up from an operation and did not recognise myself. A NHS jaw op, which changed the shape of my face. It fucked my brain in. I’ll write about this in more detail another time.. but i have such a warped sense of self you would not begin to believe it. I look in the mirror and am always shocked when i see a person who i don’t know – even to this day, i don’t know me. In learning how to see what really is, can i smash my body dysmorphic type obsessions and delusions? Time to remove the filter and look at what actually is and forget all my negative ideas and delusions i have built up.
But, can these delusions have a place in art?
All my music is mixed wrong. i am not measuring the relationship of various sounds to each other in the music i listen to. When i create i am ending up with a completely weird and warped version of music – a representation of how i hear the music i love, not how it actually sounds. The results are sometimes terrible, and sometimes a amazing…. often technically wrong, but i don’t want to sound exactly like the music i that inspires me!! – I want to sound like me… like my representation of everything i experience. Not like the other 9million bedroom producers in my street. My music is completely inaccurate, as is my view of reality….like the drawing of the 5 foot wide crazy frantic lady with holes in….. It’s deluded, warped, wrong and fucked up… and therefore completely unique! It’s my expression of how i see this world.
“No man is happy without a delusion of some kind. Delusions are as necessary to our happiness as realities.”
― C.N. Bovee
YOU choose what you think about. Although thoughts can drift, you have the power to decide what stays in your head.
Each thought is a thing. An actual thing with an actual effect. This means whatever you are thinking now is having an impact on you or your environment right now. So yes in theory THINKING IS BAD FOR YOU. This is because we tend to drift and give up control and let the bad thoughts creep in and set up home. We don’t kick them out and they run havoc in us causing us all sorts of problems in our realities.
Thoughts about the past or future are damaging. Real or imagined they tend to have a negative impact on us if we dwell there. We react as if the imagined scenarios are real and usually end up feeling pretty shit. Does this mean we need to forget goals? Worries? Dreams? Memories? ……….to an extent YES…We need to forget them, unless they have a real use for us in this moment.
When we are fully in the present we automatically switch off this bad thinking and our feelings are no longer sabotaged. Only having thoughts that are specifically about the exact situation we are currently in is a way of switching off the WHAT IF brain guff. A state of bliss is achieved by focusing on what is in front of you using all of your senses. It switches off the hypothetical brain and therefore we can forget about what may have been or may become and just enjoy what is.
Being able to time travel and hypothesise can be an excellent tool to aid us in our life, but we are not meant to dwell there. Only briefly visit these scenarios to help make wise decisions, and then get back to the here and now. Dont spend hours there and warp out the imagined situations into ridiculous negative delusional worlds and send yourself into a scared and quivering depressed mess.
Feel Good: Accept what is, and live fully right in the Now. Take in this moment with all of your senses.
If you have bad thoughts that consistently make you feel shit i recommend this book that will help you SHUT THE HELL UP: Stop Thinking, Start Living
or check out anything by the weird genius that is, Eckhart Tolle.
Who are YOU?
Since the passing of my bandmate Dr Conker recently i have been giving a lot of thought to the person i present to the world. Is this really me?
Dr Conker was a crazy dancer who didn’t give a fuck, the ultimate party animal who cared less than anybody else in the world. He pushed the limits of letting go, and no one could challenge it. But in real life, Alan was a librarian. He ran a book shop from home and was a quiet reserved man. He smoked rollies and hardly spoke. He was well read and had lots of opinions on politics and spirituality, but never forced his views on anyone. Why did they both exist? Was the creation of Conker essential for discovering his complete person? Was his last naked dance the final piece in the puzzle of completing himself as a person and therefore the key to him being able to move to the next dimension he often talked of?
The last time i seen him he sold me a book, Building a Character, by Constantin Stanislavki. I started to read this and it began to delve into the workings of becoming someone else, and how you needed to be yourself at the same time and use untapped parts of yourself, until you merely became the observer of your new character. And let it take over.
Dr Conker was definitly an alter ego for Alan to shed his shy and quiet ways and become the complete person and party animal that he wanted to be. He would transform from Bookworm to Party Animal every weekend and make thousands of people go crazy with him. The online support for him after he passed has been massive and there’s no denying he touched many many people. Was this because he gave a glimpse into becoming the whole person we all could be? Instead of the limited thought-out boring fake we construct to get by in the world.
In being ourself we are limited, as Yourself is merely a self-conscious character you chose to portray to people to elicit a certain reaction. You are a fake. You have made your persona – contrived a way of being to get what you want from people. What if you decided to become someone other than yourself? What might happen? Could the core of you or the universe shine through brighter the more you let go?
I watched the documentary Hip Hop Hoax the other night. Two Scottish lads failing in the music world… who then decide to become American. 24 hours a day, they create brand new personalities. Their families are freaked out, and then their fan base booms, everyone wants to know them, and they sign a £50,000 record deal in no time.
Instead of trying to be ourselves all the time, taking on a new persona can allow for deep integrity to really shine out of the cracks. Shedding our Self is the ultimate in Letting Go. Drop the ego and achieve enlightenment.
“I believed fully and sincerely in the reality of what I was doing and feeling; out of this there emerged a sense of confidence in myself and in the rightness of the image i had created, in the sincerity of his actions. This was not the self-confidence of a person absorbed in himself, a self-conscious actor; it was something of a quite different nature, akin to a conviction of it’s own integrity” -Stanislavski
Today i have a guest post from a friend, Anthony J Burns. We have enjoyed many conversations while off our faces on caffeine about creativity, inspiration and other shit. I asked him to pen some words about capturing inspiration and he has offered us this little gem. Drop us a comment to let us know what you think. You can contact Anthony for writing projects etc at email@example.com
The following quote, from the poet P B Shelley, may come as a comfort to artists who fret about needing a lot of planning and theoretical knowledge before embarking on their dream career or project. On the other hand, it will probably just vex artists who have difficulty getting started on a project per se …
“Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, “I will compose poetry.” The greatest poet even cannot say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness […]. Could this influence be durable in its original purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the results; but when composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original conceptions of the poet. I appeal to the greatest poets of the present day, whether it is not an error to assert that the finest passages of poetry are produced by labour and study. The toil and the delay recommended by critics can be justly interpreted to mean no more than a careful observation of the inspired moments, and an artificial connexion of the spaces between their suggestions […].”
Shelley, A Defence of Poetry
If the art of making great art is thus mainly communicative – trying to get the clearest possible copy of your own “fading coal” to show to your audience before the real thing fades forever – then the role of the artist can be interpreted as almost passive: no more than a broadband cable for some higher force or consciousness to send their mysterious emails to the rest of humanity.
Still, lest any artist take this as an excuse for not taking any interest at all in the theory of their artform, or setting aside any serious time to practice it even in the times when inspiration is not flashing a neon sign in their head, it ought to be noted that Shelley – though he gives paramount importance to inspiration – does not say that “labour and study” are pointless. Far from it, he describes them much as the cement holding the bricks of inspiration together. Without them, there is no “connexion” or structure: just a heap of disorganised inspirations, inaccessible to anyone other than the artist, whatever the brilliance of the original inspiration. As C S Lewis put it, if you have the finest wines and oils and just pour them on the floor, all you are left with is a puddle.
Lewis also states that, in a way, inspiration can be seen as less important than “labour and study,” as knowing the tools of your trade (how to play an instrument; paint realistic still lives; craft a taut, suspenseful thriller etc.) will empower you to create an entertaining and accessible, if unoriginal work. Real artistry, he suggests, lies in combining the two modes, so that the truly inspired artist will always have the tools at their disposal to put the jewels of their inspirations within a setting that is accessible to their public. An obvious deficiency on either side can be just as tragic. The scornful laughs that so much modern art gets for seeming to revel in its own up-its-own-arse obscurity are as merited as those which much of pop culture receives for being technically competent but shallow, soulless, and juvenile. Since there is little danger that Pete Waterman et al will start listening to Shelley’s “invisible influence” while there is still a fat wad of cash to be made by churning out well-crafted drivel, surely it falls to artists of integrity, who are not afraid of following inspiration, but may be afraid of “labour and study,” to arm themselves with all of the weapons of the enemy. If the artist’s role is that of a messenger, then any practice, theory, or tried-and-tested convention that helps them to get that message across is worth having in the toolbox, even if for only occasional use.
Not that this means you need a PhD in any given subject before you even try writing a song or story, and the many great artists who have had no formal training testifies to it. But a determination to practice and immerse yourself within your field is a must whether you do it in a university or your own bedroom. Inspiration may fly by at any time, and the better equipped you are for catching it, the more effectively you will get it across to your audience.