x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

Where does inspiration come from? Don't ask the Greeks

Journalism teaches that creativity is an active process. With deadlines as varied as the genre of articles, I can't afford to wait for inspiration; I have to find it myself.

The brooding artist. The mad magician. The troubled genius. The assortment of labels given to artistic people are as varied and colourful as their works.

But while such descriptions are pedalled by artists themselves to cultivate their aura (which they hope translates to more sales) it unwittingly creates a gulf between artists and the creatively challenged.

We can't blame the erroneous descriptions of creativity on modern media alone, of course. Discussions about inspiration are about as old as creating itself.

The ancient Greeks believed inspiration to be a state of temporary madness, where the artist - in his trance-like state of ecstasy - ceases to be themselves and instead acts as a mere vessel, channelling the creativity of the gods.

Scandinavian societies during the Viking age believed inspiration as a gift; a divine distinction given to do-gooders by the ones above.

Sigmund Freud was also interested in what gets the creative juices flowing. However the father of psychoanalysis viewed creativity as a by-product of unresolved emotional trauma; hence the tortured artist tag we dish out to anyone with dishevelled clothing and dour personality.

Yet all these colourful and different descriptions have one feature in common: being passive.

Under this framework, creativity is something bestowed, stumbled upon or at worse a form of generational punishment.

These notions still underpin modern-day discussions about the muse. As an arts journalist, I have interviewed dozens of authors and musicians who describe their art as something undertaken only when they are "in the right mood" or "the zone".

While I do believe some of the best art, books and songs were designed, written or composed when the artist felt compelled in some way, waiting for that feeling to arrive can be long and arduous - and, let's face, sometimes a waste of time.

Journalism teaches that creativity is an active process. With deadlines as varied as the genre of articles, I can't afford to wait for inspiration; I have to find it myself.

As well as epiphanies and mental bursts, inspiration can be viewed as a state of mind; the mind responds to habits. If you always dedicate daily time to your craft whether you feel inspired or not, your muse will be there to help you in its own unique way.

This has proven to be a successful formula for Arab and western authors, proving that creativity speaks a universal language.

Author Stephen King writes 10 pages or 1,500 words a day unfailingly, while Ernest Hemingway set himself a daily deadline of 500 words.

While literary legends like Philip Roth and Truman Capote are renowned for their bizarre writing techniques - the former working from a lectern and the latter writing horizontally from a bed or a couch - their quirky approaches overshadow the less interesting fact that their daily writing schedules were responsible for achieving their status.

The famed Algerian writer, Bachir Mefti, explained to me the daily grind of writing was more important to him than savouring a beautiful passage or killer line. He described himself as a "cafe writer", often going to the same cafe in Algiers to write a few pages each day.

"When you dedicate time to your work each day it creates its own sense of dynamism," he said. "It feeds its own energy."

Granted, not every creative person has a lifestyle allowing for such cafe sessions.

Last year Saudi poet Hissa Hillal described how her hands were often full raising her children in Riyadh. But when she manages to snatch fragments of time she grabs a piece of paper and the words flow "like rain; I write till I am finished".

While such descriptions blow away some of the mystique of the artist's life, they offer encouragement to those creatives lacking confidence.

By viewing creativity as an achievable aim and not something purely innate, it is possible to remove the stubborn exclusivity surrounding some of the arts; it also goes a long way in shifting the notion that art belongs to a certain community, rather than some shared by all. And of course, it also throws into doubt that self-ascribed label "real artists" give themselves all the time.

 

sasaeed@thenational.ae