The Encounter

I just get so profoundly bored sometimes. The artists, and the thinkers who are creative as artists, those keep me going because they’re more likely to be inventing anew.

In retrospect, one of the best things about Duke was creative thinkers. In spite of all the posturing, towering egotism, etc., etc. –those were some incredibly creative, innovative people to be around. It sparks me.

Maybe Julia Cameron is correct in a broader sense than just art. There are people who struggle to be open creatively, and there are people and forces that block it. For me there is a sweet spot between being so affirmed that it fosters complacency and being so challenged that I become discouraged. Call it “the encounter.”

The encounter is an authentic interaction that pushes me to become more than what I am by pushing me to do more than what I have done.

It’s the stuff of a good writing or art workshop-style class, a good writing group, an especially stimulating friendship. The stuff of creative renewal.

If Bergson is right that “life is what turns obstacles into means,” then no obstacles = no life.

But what happens when the obstacle is yourself? Then only the outside, the encounter that cracks you open to life, can save you.

Is there a discipline that does this? Actually, I think there is. In fact it’s hard to do, hard to sustain, without a kind of discipline. It can be physical, from exercise to yoga, but also artistic, the confrontation with the blank screen, the empty canvas, the camera in your hand. Those too, can be the encounter.

Practices of defamiliarization? Sort of, only instead of presenting something familiar in a fresh way that lets you re-appreciate it, you’re striking out to grapple with something you can’t make sense of at all, something that looms into view, heaves itself upon a placid shore and drags you down to unexpected depths. Full fathom five till you’ve had a sea-change into something rich and strange. Ravish my heart indeed.

Maybe that’s why when I’m in the zone, the things I produce seem to have so little to do with me. I set up some of my best photos as a screen saver, and whatever I feel when I see them, pride doesn’t have much to do with it. They seem so completely their own thing, that I’ve just kind of vanished. As hard as I like to be on old Thomas Stearns Eliot, there is something to that vanishing self in “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” And for me it’s this—contra Eliot, it’s the critic’s job to use the biographical as a bridge between the art and its historical context, but for the artist, it’s vital to forget yourself, get over yourself, and get on with it. To get out of the way and let the art happen.

One thought on “The Encounter

  1. I had an encounter experience last night watching Leonard Cohen, a man who has committed himself to creating things (books, songs, poems) that go far beyond his richly messy life.

    I thought a lot about my own richly messy life and wanted to go home and retreat to my studio and to a creative self that SEEMS like it should be my very reason for walking around on this earth.

    Really disappointed myself by going home and taking care of some work and tumbling into bed without plucking a chord or writing a single letter For My Own Joy.

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