A couple weekends back I went to the De Young museum on a Sunday afternoon, just to check it out. They had a special exhibit on Richard Diebenkorn, who was this abstract impressionist painter from the 1950’s-60’s living in the SF Bay Area. I’d never really been a fan of abstract or modern art up to this point. I always found it undecipherable, inaccessible, unimpressive. But I remember reading something at the very beginning of the exhibit, a caption under the first painting, describing Diebenkorn’s artistic process. It said that he would start by dirtying the canvas because he couldn’t penetrate the white with his art while the surface was still pure; it felt like sacrilege. Once he had dirtied up the canvas, he felt free to work, and then he would just paint. He had no idea what the final product was that he was working towards. If he ever felt hung up or frustrated at a certain point, he would use little tricks, like adding his initials or other symbols into the middle of the painting to use as a new jumping off point. He would paint over things three or four times, making multiple drafts on the same canvas, until finally, it was done.
This exhibit changed the way I think about creating. The creative process is as important, if not more important, than the final product. Diebenkorn’s work evolved on the canvas. For him, creativity involved motion, experience, dynamics. All my previous attempts at songwriting, writing, and essentially any other creative process involved efficiently moving from point A to point B, every word trying to prove one point. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if the final product didn’t have to make sense, there didn’t have to be some definite outcome, so long as you felt the experience along the way? What if the sound and shape of words, the images they generate, could render sentiments and feelings and actions without some overarching message?
I guess what I’m really describing is play; creation for creation’s sake, or maybe creation for the sake of learning, or perhaps even creation for the sake of happiness. We spend so much of our lives driven by objectives, that we rarely get the chance to just play. Sometimes the reward is in the journey, not the outcome.