Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Creative Process and Matisse

Last month, I went with some new friends to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the new Matisse exhibit. The exhibit focuses on a short period of his work, from around 1914-1919. It was a fascinating exhibit which highlighted the influences on his art and an extremely creative and prolific period in his life. A few things stood out for me.

First, I loved how the exhibit spotlighted how he revised his paintings and sculptures. The audio recording which accompanied the exhibit (which you must use if you go--it's worth the money) pointed out how he left sketches in his paintings which showed multiple outlines for the arm, for example. These lines blended into the background, but showed how he changed the shapes for his finished studies. In earlier times, as I believe was the point, he would scrap the canvas and begin again. But he learned to make revision part of his work. It was also fascinating to see four "drafts" of the same sculpture (I believe this was entitled "Back" or something like that. It was a roughly chiseled torso of a man).

Whenever I talk about writing, I always focus on the writing process and how revision is absolutely essential to any decent work that will be published. A rough draft is rarely--if ever--publishable. It is the spark, the promise of what the work can evolve into. But it is the layering effect of draft upon draft which strengthens and solidifies the work into something that not only communicates effectively but makes it complete. 

Second, the exhibit showed that this was an extremely creative and prolific period in his life. As I am learning, writers, as well as painters and sculptors, go through periods in life which are more prolific than others. During this time for Matisse, influences of Cubism appeared in his work (which makes his portraits appear geometric and slightly unsettling) but he forged through those influences to create his own unique style.

This also has direct application to writing. There are times in a writer's life when ideas dry up, desert-like. Creative writing, like all arts, reveals something of the self, some inner thoughts or feelings which rise to the surface through the story. And at times, we, as writers, pull back, unsure if we want to reveal that inner core. We hide away for a time. And then there are others times when ideas flow fast and furious and, creatively speaking, we are prolific and uninhibited.

But it's all part of the process, and I am very grateful for all of the writing opportunities I have--even in a time when book publishing is almost exclusively focused on YA vampire novels. As my family has often told me, I need more zombies in my stories. Maybe I should take the hint.