If you've ever experienced the supreme joy that is sitting in a slightly uncomfortable chair while listening to an artist ramble on about their work - this will sound familiar to you. And not only because you're probably situated in a slightly uncomfortable chair reading about an artist rambling on about his work...but also because you likely heard the artist refer to their creative process.
This can be a very confusing idea to a person who is not normally engaged in such a process, and if we're all just honest for a moment, it can be equally confusing to the artist who is - even on a good day - struggling to understand what that process is all about. The creative process itself and the reasons the artist seems so drawn to it are intangible and generally these ideas like to hang out just out of reach of the artist's vocabulary. We are visual communicators, after all. Not verbal. You need only to keep reading or have a single conversation with me to see evidence of this truth.
Even on days when I am aware that I am experiencing the creative process...on days when everything just seems to click and I feel like I'm in the zone...I only catch glimpses of it's enigmatic self as it darts behind a piece of steel or slips under the cap of a sharpie marker. It is the southern specter that everyone in the house is aware of, but no one can actually see. And like that specter, the more you try to focus on her the faster she slips away completely into the mist.
My best days in the metal shop (with steel sculpture the term "studio" just doesn't seem to fit and has never been one of my words of choice) are the days that I am totally unaware of the process and only realize at the end of the day that it was happening when I was not paying attention. Thinking back over the events of the day I find myself remembering only what can be described as a gray, fuzzy type of memory. Details may surface over the course of the following week, but the design choices and aesthetic decisions that were made during that day were almost instant and instinctive....maybe even "intuitive" as mentioned in an earlier post.
Last Saturday was one of those days in the shop. I went in early and stayed at it all day leaving a good half hour after I was supposed to leave. As I was cleaning up at the end of the day I realized that I had forgotten to stop to eat or even drink anything. And please...I don't mean that in an "I'm so creative or artsy that my art comes before food" way...I simply mean that wherever my mind was, I was so focused that I didn't think about anything I didn't have to think about.
That night I found scratches and bruises I could not recall and discovered most of my muscles were sore. I was completely exhausted and yet completely happy.
Rilke offered advice to a creative sort in "Letters to a Young Poet" that amounted to: before you go out and attempt to be an artist, first ask yourself if you must be an artist. That is, ask yourself if you can possibly live and not create art....and only if you can not imagine life without being an artist should you set out to actually be one. (I am ultra-paraphrasing here)
I think many readers would ask what Rilke is talking about. We might even marvel at the silly notion that a person couldn't live without making art. I suspect that Rilke is hinting at something about the creative process. There is something about that process so enjoyable and so fulfilling that the artist longs for it and can even be driven by it.
It is one of those days that we all live for.