The ability to listen is a skill we are honing. … Art is not about thinking something up. It is about the opposite—getting something down. The directions are important here.
If we are trying to think something up, we are straining to reach for something that’s just beyond our grasp, “up there, in the stratosphere, where art lives on high …”
When we get something down, there is no strain. We’re not doing; we’re getting. Someone or something else is doing the doing. Instead of reaching for inventions, we are engaged in listening.
When an actor is in the moment, he or she is engaged in listening for the next right thing creatively. When a painter is painting, he or she may begin with a plan, but that plan is soon surrendered to the painting’s own plan. This is often expressed as, “The brush takes the next stroke.” In dance, in composition, in sculpture, the experience is the same: we are more the conduit than the creator of what we express.
Art is an act of tuning in and dropping down the well. It is as though all the stories, painting, music, performances in the world live just under the surface of our normal consciousness. Like an underground river, they flow through us as a stream of ideas that we can tap down into. As [creatives], we drop down the well into the stream. We hear what’s down there and we act on it—more like taking dictation than anything fancy having to do with art. …
Most writers have had the experience of catching a poem or a paragraph or two of formed writing. We consider these finds to be small miracles. What we fail to realize is that they are, in fact, the norm. We are the instrument more than the author of our work. …
The same may be said of all art. If painting and sculptures wait for us, then sonatas wait for us; books, plays, and poems wait for us, too. Our job is simply to get them down. To do that we drop down the well.
Some people find it easier to picture the stream of inspiration as being like radio waves of all sorts being broadcast at all times.
With practice, we learn how to hear the desired frequency on request. We tune in to the frequency we want. Like a parent, we learn to hear the voice of our current brainchild among the other children’s voices. …
Be alert: there is a second voice, a higher harmonic, adding to and augmenting your inner creative voice. This voice frequently shows itself in synchronicity.
You will hear the dialogue you need, find the right song for the sequence, see the exact paint color you almost had in mind, and so forth. You will have the experience of finding things—books, seminars, tossed-out stuff—that happen to fit with what you are doing.
Learn to accept the possibility that the universe is helping you with what you are doing.
Transcribed by me from pages 117–119 of my tenth anniversary edition of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity © 1992, 2002, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, NY.
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