Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.
Working In Close
Brian Oberkirch | Jan 11 2008
"Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work." -- Chuck Close
It may be that I like hearing about the work habits of writers and artists I like almost as much as I like their work. How do you force yourself to do work no one (really, like, no one) is clamoring for, in addition to doing the long apprentice work you need to do to build your chops? As most of our work gets less structured and more creative, it might prove helpful to take a look at how artists get their stuff done.
And, sorry, all those romantic notions you have of absinthe spoons, manic episodes and Kerouac-like rambling on a long roll of butcher paper really aren't operative. Creative work is mostly showing up every day and enduring a million tiny failures as you feel your way to something a bit new.
Let's look at Chuck Close. This interview with Terry Gross has all sorts of good things to think about (esp. if you like talk about technique), but I was especially struck by the way Close talks about evolving his method of working to overcome his own personality.
So instead of painting overwrought, expressive things when the mood struck, he committed to making his epic, close-up portraits by breaking the work into tiny pieces and hewing to a grid. Not only did the grid make technical sense, it forced a lifehack on Close that would help him deal with his own tendencies. It helped get the work done, sure. It allowed him a style that might not have been 'natural' to his disposition. & it also had other side benefits.
Of course, this approach also reminds me of one of my favorite pep talks, _Bird by Bird_, in which Anne Lamott tries to make us mindful of each intervening step we have to take on the way to realizing larger things. Here, Close compares his method to the way knitting or crocheting is done in small intervals over an extended period.
Not only do I love the hope in that sentence, I think it's true. If you can create a process that short circuits some of your own worst habits, and you really believe in that process, eventually you'll get a sweater, a nine-foot painting, chicken enchiladas, a Web site, a marathon.
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