Thursday, February 11, 2010

Creation / Birth

Go round a friend with young children and chances are their walls are strewn with paintings and drawings and poems done by their offspring. It's the very act of creation - the fact that there's a little bit of their young personality in these expressions - that makes them worthwhile.

As an artist, whether you paint, write, make music, whatever, the joy of creation is both in its process - compelling as that often is - and it's birth. Before I started writing this poem/recording this song it did not exist...and now it does. The other stuff, the post-creation side of things is less important; and its not to deny the value in honing a piece of work, making it better, improving its sound, its shape... but importantly, keeping its essence. Was talking with a friend earlier, as her debut album comes out in a couple of weeks. I've known Julie for years, as an artist, musician and poet - we collaborated on Lamport Court amongst other things - and I remember hearing some of these songs emerge bit by bit at gigs, or on self-financed releases. Now Lonelady is in the NME those creative births can grow wings.

Yet, the real joy of an artist goes back to that creation. There's something so powerful about creating something new - something primal as well; from a muddy clay, come forth. In some ways it's justification enough. I realised as I listened to "You Want to Know Something?" that I'd not recorded any music for about six months. Sitting down on Monday evening I could hardly be bothered with the effort to plug everything in, dust off the keys etc. yet at some point I just did it, and a new song came into existence that otherwise wouldn't be there. It hardly matters, in a creative sense, whether a song or poem is good or bad, for me, I think the key thing is that it has come from nothing into something. That's not to say its artistic worth is irrelevant - much the opposite: there are too many books and records and TV shows and movies where you feel that there's no originality in the thing before you. For an artist, there's always a real question of self-documentation. We are fascinated by whether Salinger wrote after his disappearance, because we want to discover another masterpiece, or because we want to understand the earlier writing better; yet for Salinger, perhaps the creation - if he did any - is what matters.

I've never gone back to my writing, my recordings, and said "I wish I'd done less." Yes, there's a time when I wish I'd been more concentrated on a particular piece, but even when I'm coming up with rough sketches I've always had a sense of completing a piece, even if not always finishing it. There's a tantalisation about the unfinished work, but only where we value the artists' finished pieces. There's another side to this of course. We don't want to let our history be dictated by different timetables than the creative one. For me, I've regretted - sometimes with amazement - that on going down a particular path I didn't go further in that direction. Those decisions are what tantalises me. Yet I remain convinced that in a world where most things - from software applications to TED talks - are valued according to their "impact", that art speaks firstly to itself, and firstly to the artist; that it satisfies a desire to fill a space that had the artistic process (the writing, the painting, the recording) not taken place, would have remained empty.

I'm not sure how clear all that is. But going back to the original point, that the reason for creativity is to give birth to something, to just do it, I'm not asking for a "naive art" so much as a mature one, that has an artistic rather than a purely commercial motive. The two can coincide of course; but there has to be, for me, a value in the very action of doing this thing, this creative thing, again, again, again. 

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