One of the most captivating stories about art for me has always been a short monologue from the television show Lost. In fact, it was after watching this show that I decided I wanted to become a writer myself. The story comes from Season 1, Episode 13:
In summary, the character of John Locke informs another character that the artist Michelangelo would regularly contemplate the art piece he was going to create before he ever began his work.
Now I cannot verify the authenticity of this story, but I can tell you I spent some time in my younger days reading the journals of Michelangelo and he regularly spoke about interpreting the intuition correctly. He used a different, beautiful word to describe it, but I can’t seem to find that specific word anywhere else today.
I once heard a phrase at a writers convention used to describe the most necessary asset of any writer. The phrase was “You must hear the music.” The speaker stated that if you cannot hear the music, you cannot write. This is to say that story is born from within, possibly a communication with the divine, and cannot be manufactured by the mere understanding of plot devices.
Furthermore, I believe the shared love of writing comes from this introspection and communication with the most innate part of our being. What is up for discussion is whether this communication is with a divine force or with the deepest parts of our subconscious.
I have previously written about the mathematics of writing, which I believe is a more logical and human way to interpret story. What I am writing about today deals more with the creative and spiritual side of the artistic process. Both are integral to the formation of any artistic composition, regardless of the medium. There are songs that are played perfectly that are soulless. There are books and movies that hit every conceivable plot point that fail to leave an emotional impact. The inability to recognize the role of intuition in art is why I believe so many incredible teachers fall short of creating a masterful artistic piece themselves.
The question has existed since the dawn of man, regardless of its external expression. It is a concept we grapple with on a daily basis during our interactions with other, with ourselves, and with the world around us:
“Do I look to the teachings of others to guide my life, or do I rely on the intuition within to direct my path?”
Of course the answer is a balance, but not in the way we typically understand balance. It is not 50/50 but a systemic process in of itself. It is the process of creation.
Before we begin work on our artistic composition, and sometimes before we even know how to work within that medium, we already have a dormant vision of the product we would like to produce.
It is naive to think we can ever ignore the realities of the physical realm.
The job of the artist is to perceive the intuitive vision with as much clarity as possible before applying human mechanics to bring it to the physical realm. A human being is more than it’s consciousness and spirituality. It has a skeleton, muscle, fat and hair. Each of these bodily systems is incredibly detailed and infinitely vast.
The more physical skills we accumulate that apply to our medium the more life we can bring to the existence of our vision.
If we are to take the clip posted above seriously and assume the story is true, we can also take the leap of assumption to interpret what gears were turning in Michelangelo’s head each day.
Not only do we seek to see the vision more clearly but we must prepare ourselves for how we can properly shape it into physical existence. It is one thing to see the curves of our future statue, it is another to know the tools and techniques required to shape those curves in accordance with its envisioned form.
Even with writing, we may start with an image in our minds along with a compelling emotion. It is the writer’s duty to find the words to describe that image precisely and build up the emotional stakes, tension, and payoff to fulfill the movement in the viewer we wish to produce.
The final movement in the viewer should be as close as possible to the movement that originally captivated and impassioned the artist themselves to reproduce that feeling. Our ability to translate the original vision for the impact of others will be the invisible measuring rod that defines the quality of our art.