'In my craft or sullen art' - the desk of Dylan Thomas
Often I start my lectures with a video, illustrating a notion that's caught the eye or snagged my memory. In part, I use these to settle the class, buying time for the inevitable stragglers; more substantively, I'm offering a sideways look at the creative processes, with a hint at its relevance to writers. Most times there's a tangential discussion, though occasionally I sense the gears and levers of my students' minds wondering if I've lost the plot.
|Bacon in his studio|
In many ways I learned to write through pictures. Not literally of course, but in the way that for words to have depth of meaning, we're required to pay close attention, the same is true of painting. As Hirst points out, Bacon's works are much greater than our first impressions. Look closely at his images - so immediate and visceral - and you'll find they dissolve into thousands of marks: each a deliberate placement, whether delicate or violent, carefully considered, worked and reworked...
- the painter's painter
How long do you think it took to write that last paragraph? And how many edits would you guess I've made? If I told you in minutes I'd be lying. And as for the changes - as I type this sentence I've gone back twice more. In the video of Bacon's paintings, Hirst draws attention to the image of an ear that's been overpainted so often the layers of pigment have congealed into sculpture.
I sense that all discovery is like this - a combination of creativity and craft. Creativity is what consciousness is to philosophy: something we experience and yet can't pin down. Craft, on the other hand, we can see and learn, and through long practice, even master. I was once rather sniffy about the idea of reworking, believing some 'deeper inspiration' to be the vital ingredient. But this is naive; a misunderstanding of what craft is, and the role it plays.
|One of my own|
For me, the practice of refinement is as critical as ever - be that as a copy writer, essayist or blogger. First drafts are interminable: the movement from notion to form, at times glacial and always fractious. But to sense the shape emerging, to respond in turn - and to do so with truth - is the greatest joy in writing.
I hope my students feel that too, and come to see it all around them.