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Woodcut by Tom Killion

“If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

— Kurt Vonnegut


That’s how it begins, making a film, writing a book, painting a picture, composing a tune, generally creating something.

You have a wish.

You wish that something might exist, and then you work on it until it does. You want to give something to the world, something truer, more beautiful, more painstaking, more serviceable, or simply something other than what already exists. And right at the start, simultaneous with the wish, you imagine what that “something other” might be like, or at least you see something flash by. And then you set off in the direction of the flash, and you hope you don’t lose your orientation, or forget or betray the wish you had at the beginning.

— Wim Wenders

Or you change your mind and decide to go in a different direction. Maybe you uncover an idea or a realization that surprises you and is more interesting or beautiful. Big and little revelations appear out of nowhere in the act. Things happen you didn’t expect. Something wanted to be born and found its entry into the world through you because you opened yourself to something called “the creative process.” You’re just the midwife.

It’s a mistake to get inflated by the idea of being someone who creates. It should be a common activity to paint or write or make anything no one has ever seen before. Play and creativity should be sustained and practiced from childhood to death. It should be an integral part of our educational system. It should. It should be a constitutional right.

Artists are in a strange position in our society. If they make money, they are admired and imitated. If they don’t, they are a “failed artist.” The ones who get a degree and teach are in a middle ground. We are a practical people. Art is considered something that is nice to have but not really necessary.

You have to admire the courage of anyone who choses the life of a writer or artist of any kind. Of course, most young people don’t realize the hurdles they will encounter in that life. You will need auxiliary talent, marketing, for example. You’ll need to let the world know you exist. And you will be tacking against cultural winds in our society.

Going inward is a primary requirement of creativity. Listening to inner promptings is a basic discipline. Going outward is a talent not given to most artists, being introverts mostly. I was surprised in Europe to come across artists who were supported by their countries’ governments. It’s very common.

Interesting concept, that the production of art is essential to any civilized society. Maybe that idea will come to America someday, although I don’t expect to live to see it.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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