The Elusiveness of the Artistic Process

Why Artistic Fundamentalism , with its enforcement of outlines, has destroyed many writers?

  All artists work differently like most people, yet people are miffed by the artists that are not wholly conscious at all times of what they’re setting out to write. Was William Shakespeare completely conscious of how layered his plays are to the extent where critics are still debating “Who is Hamlet?” We ascribe his play with many monikers like “tragedies, comedies,” which were probably used during the time he wrote them. What about those, like myself, who might see Hamlet as a psychological tragedy in the spirit of Poe? Of course Shakespeare preceded Poe, but the facets of the psychological story that we identify as being the product of Poe might have been invented earlier by Shakespeare (in my mind). When artists write, are they aware of the unprecedented way they might inspire future writers? More importantly, are they aware of the recurrent elements of their own work? In many of Madeleine L’Engle or Anne Rice’s stories, there are many recurrent elements that tie the stories together. The question that this begs is whether the reappearance of these concepts are contrived by the artist, or are these ideas just reflective of the personal issues that the writer is grappling with at the time.  

       When I write, I am fueled by a passion to unravel the mysteries of certain characters or fictional universe that I envision in my mind. Usually though, the ideas are focused on the characters rather than the universe. The mechanics of the universe are secondary.  I have always been terrible at outline; they felt so limiting. The prevailing attitude in school was that neglecting to outline fictional stories, or any written work for that matter is a product of laziness. I struggled to write outlines thereafter on so many fictional story assignments; there was no way I could adhere to a principle that felt so limiting to my art. When does an artist outline things in a detailed way? Do they set out to paint something that fits with the themes that others have observed in their paintings? It is so damaging to certain aspiring writers to have people rigidly instruct them to write in a particular way, or have outlines be a requirement. Any research that I do only goes so far as well. Sometimes, my stories are autonomous, unplanned, and work without preconceived limits. I see myself as a mystic, in the religious tradition, that is suddenly inspired to write something that tames a wild, fleeting emotion that rampages through me. 
Relating to the Florence and the Machine song I posted, is the process of writing poetry, songs, and fantastical stories something beyond our conscious grasp?   The following lyrics from the song posted above really describe the spontaneity and ineffability of the artistic process for me:
“But with all my education, 

I can’t seem to commend it, 
And the words are all escaping, 
And coming back all damaged, 
And I would put them back in poetry, 
If I only knew how, 
I can’t seem to understand it,”
With all my knowledge throughout the years, there is no way I can conceive of poetry or writing that fits another person’s standardized formula for poetry. I don’t set out to write a sonnet with iambic pentameter. My artistic ideas come from a wellspring of thoughts right below my conscious mind. Whenever I write I feel like I’m creating coherence out of the mess of wild thoughts that restively stirs right below me. There is no conscious activity on my part; I write whatever I sense that tries to futilely place into limiting words whatever complex emotion I can’t quite thoroughly understand.

  For me and some other artists, we are “random” artists that many people don’t always understand. When asked “How I got an idea?” its a question I can’t articulate. In reality, I just feel moved by some mysterious energy to write. It is a way for me to find equilibrium in my interior and exterior worlds that feel so disorienting. I’m not very good at being consciously logical with my art, its just too impossible. These lyrics are illustrative of the sporadic nature of my thoughts, and also the incapability to completely understand what I’m writing when trying to arrange a poem or story:

“And all my stumbling phrases, 
Never amounted to anything worth this feeling, 
All this heaven, 
Never could describe such a feeling as I’m having, 
Words were never so useful, 
So I was screaming out a language that I never knew existed before.”

While I consider myself to be an agnostic, the creation of art for myself feels like a spiritual experience, and that is why I feel kinship with “Florence Welch,” when listening to her songs. It is not religious in the dogmatic or secretarial sense; Its the ineffability of some strange ideas that swarm my mind that I can’t quite put together in any meaningful way in my writing.  Except, I have a certain ecstasy when I write; there is sharp transcendent feeling that informs me that have gone beyond the prescribed limits of other people’s expectations or limiting notions. When Florence Welch adorns her lyrics with religious themes, they are not meant to carry a traditional religious message; it most likely is not very religious at all. Unknowingly, she writes what she feels passionate about writing, something that struggles to articulate the strong emotions in her mind.

Perhaps, I failed at traditional religion in the same way I could never fulfill the disenchanting expectation of grade-school teachers to outline my creative stories before writing them. Everything is just too structured for things that I strongly feel are beyond the limits of logic. Why should everyone have structured outlines? Who created this disillusioning Bible for writing adeptly and soundly (the best writing isn’t even always sound..)? It has menaced the lives of so many promising writers for years. One of my personal favorite quotes about the artistic dimension of spirituality comes from “Karen Armstrong,” but it also describes the artistic ideal, which is to go beyond logic and doctrinal ideals.
“Theology is– or should be– a species of poetry,which read quickly or encountered in a hubbub of noise makes no sense. You have to open yourself to a poem with a quiet, receptive mind, in the same way you might listen to a difficult piece of music… If you seize upon a poem and try to extort its meaning before you are ready, it remains opaque. If you bring your own personal agenda to bear upon it, the poem will close upon itself like a clam, because you have denied its unique and separate identity, its inviolate holiness.”  (Karen Armstrong)

Essentially, art is not something that can reduced to following a particular formula. This misconception has stymied so many wonderful writers from going against their internal fears to write what they have struggled to perfectly envision. I think we’d all be better off, if we stopped treating outlines as something that must be universally prescribed to all writers. Instead, outlines work for some, and not for others.

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