I wonder if it was a day like any other day? I wonder if anybody noticed anything different?
I could make a list of those moments. Leonardo when he painted the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo when he sat back and contemplated his finished statue of David. Pachobel when he heard his Canon in D played by an orchestra for the first time. Did he ever imagine it would be played at almost every wedding for the next three hundred years and counting? Nobody has thought to improve it.
Still, it seems such creative ingenuity has vanished from the horizon. We live in an age which rehashes the classics in lieu of anything new. I can hear Hollywood marketing hacks scheming in some soulless back room: “Yeah… you read that book when you were a kid, right? Well, same plot but we’ll get Tom Cruise for the lead and Emma Stone to play the romantic interest. It will be set in modern day New York.” This digging up of the dead lacks imagination. When such contrived methods abound, will we recognize genius when we see it? It’s a good question.
I think artists do, and others perhaps have to be told. Artists have that extra edge that is attuned to matters of beauty, symmetry and ideal form. Inspiration is a laggard you have to sometimes kick out of bed and douse with coffee. Yet there are days when the extraordinary bumps into you along the path of the pedestrian. People may look at it and not know, but YOU know. You call it a keeper, that personal piece which you will like as much ten years down the road. It will never be relegated to the closet.
Artists go to some length to find something that inspires them. Just look at Van Gogh. All that time in the mirror with nothing particular to look at. No wonder he cut off his own ear. You would too. We all need outside help. Leanard Cohen famously commented when asked about his song “Suzanne”, “If I knew the place were all the good songs are kept, I’d visit there more often.” He knew a gift when it stared him in the face apparently. And so we as creators know moments of extraordinary blessing.
You can feel those special things without knowing the wherefore and the why. They just are. They are the serendipity of life that spills over into our lap. Great literature, wonderful music, astonishing art, where would the world be without it? It enriches our lives. There is no discrimination in who creates, and who receives the creation. It is gratuitious. Most strange, is that artists and bad living seem to go hand in hand. Beautiful things can be created by the most derelict people. There has been heated discussion in the past whether artwork created in prisons on Death Row should be encouraged or promoted. And yet bluebirds take wing and flowers can blossom on the grey of a prison cell.
Where does that creative spark come from? We cannot channel it at will it seems. The Greeks claimed that artistic inspiration came from the gods like some kind of divine touch. You couldn’t just call it up on your own. Greek mythology spun an image of nine sister goddesses who presided over genius, called the Muses. When they showed up, you were moved to create in ways not generally available to your consciousness.
Such epiphany is not relegated to mythology. Jerusalem has an artists’ enclave called Bezalel, named after the chief artisan who crafted the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant. The name “Bezalel” means “in the shadow of God.” When you create, you are in the shadow of diety. It’s an extraordinary thing to imagine. Exodus chapter 31 starts out like this: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.”
I remember visiting the home of a man who owned a large woodworking shop. All those available resources and all that beautiful wood. I was sure that I was going to see a home packed with heirlooms. Instead he proudly showed me the kitchen he had recently installed in his basement. No classic frame and panel for him. No Cuban mahogany or Clairo Walnut. Instead, he had melamine slab doors which boasted a sparkly faux metallic coating. It was guady, even beyond kitsch. I was agog. It made me understand that art and beauty may be around us, but not everyone knows – or cares.
But artists DO know this kind of thing even if they cannot control it. It makes me feel lucky. For artists those rare visits from the muse are a long lost friend amidst a crowd of strangers. Kind of like that fish you caught out on the lake in summertime. When you felt that tug on the end of the line it’s the same as that inner tug you feel on your spirit. You said to yourself, “Ah…. this one is a keeper,” and smiled.