rtists come in all shapes and sizes. They paint, sculpt, etch, draw, write, dance, act, sing, play the guitar and so on.
According to Eckhart Tolle, the ones that create sublime work have something in common. He puts it like this:
“All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.”
My 17 years in Hollywood as a screenwriter taught me that Eckhart is right. The best stuff I wrote came when I quieted down and just listened.
Writing dialogue in Hollywood
This was especially true when writing dialogue. I wouldn’t think to myself, “Okay, now what would she say?” I’d just sit in my chair, close my eyes, envision the character and then wait to hear what they said.
The bottom line is that there wasn’t a lot of thinking going on.
Which isn’t to say that artists don’t employ thinking in certain parts of their process. This is where craft enters the picture.
What is craft? Whether you paint, write or play the piano, you have to master certain elements of your art. In writing, that means a three-act structure for movies. It also means ensuring your scenes contain conflict among characters, otherwise the audience will be bored silly.
Learning the craft takes many hours and years of hard work. People like Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vladimir Horowitz and Mikhail Baryshnikov didn’t just show up and create transcendent work. They worked tirelessly to perfect their craft.
But once it was time to sit at the piano or easel, or enter the stage…their minds went still.
The genius of Bob Dylan
I remember an interview where Bob Dylan remarked about his process when he wrote those surpassing songs of the mid 1960s. Songs like Blowin in the Wind, Mr. Tambourine Man and Like a Rolling Stone.
He said something to the effect of, “It was strange. I’d be sitting there and it was like I was just channeling something. Like I was taking dictation. It would just come through me.”
Taking dictation from whom? God? Nature? The Supreme Being? Whatever it was, it wasn’t his thinking mind that created beautiful lyrics like these from Blowin in the Wind:
“How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?”
Or these from Bruce Springsteen’s Jungleland:
“Outside the street’s on fire in a real death waltz;
Between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy.
And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all,
They just stand back and let it all be.”
Or these heartbreaking lyrics from Cat Stevens’ Father and Son:
“How can I try to explain?
When I do he turns away again;
It’s always been the same
Same old story.
From the moment I could talk
I was ordered to listen, now there’s a way,
And I know that I have to go away.
I know I have to go.”
Powerful. Emotional. Heartfelt. Beautiful. And I’d bet my life that they all came from a place of quiet stillness.
Fine. So brilliant and talented artists create from stillness. What does that have to do with us?
Why? Because everybody creates. Maybe not works like Michelangelo’s statue of David or Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, but we create.
As Eckhart would say, creating is what the Universe wants from us. That’s how it expresses itself.
What do we create? Some of us cook and create meals for ourselves or our families. Some create strategic plans for their business. Some write articles for Medium.
The great Joe Wielgus
My Uncle Joe, who died a few years ago at age 101, was a welder in a Wisconsin factory for forty years. Though his formal education ended at age ten, Uncle Joe was incredibly creative, mostly in carpentry. He made chairs, desks…all kinds of cool things. And he loved it.
Uncle Joe was not a big thinker. He wasn’t stuck in his head. He was a simple, mostly present man who created amazing stuff.
The point of all this is that whatever you’re creating in your life, be mindful about doing it from that quiet place. Doing so may not get your painting into the Louvre, but it will energize you and make you feel alive.
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