The Creative Process, Part One

I just got home from our Wednesday evening classes at church. For one month every summer my church holds arts, theology and/or lifeskills classes on Wednesday evenings. It’s a great event I get the honor of helping to plan, organize and execute. We usually have people from the community come to our facility and it’s also a great way to meet new folks in a big church. We serve a fellowship meal in our small cafe before dispersing to various parts of the church building for the 90-minute classes. It’s awesome.

In previous years I’ve been a teacher, mainly writing and film studies. This year, though, I decided to do nothing of the sort. I wanted to take a class. So I signed up for songwriting, taught by my friend Wayne. Only a few of us volunteered for the course. But we’re having fun anyway. But the first few weeks have my mind rolling. The topic is the creative process and how it differs for most artists. Just among our teachers the process is varied.

Cheryl, who’s teaching painting, does emotional works of art in an abstract style. She listens to worship music as she paints. To her, art is an expression of her faith in God. She doesn’t like to paint on demand. She comes up with an idea after a sermon or Bible study lesson and then lets her own creative process flow. A few years ago Steve, our teaching pastor, asked Cheryl to paint a banner for every week of a series on the Parables. Cheryl agreed and then produced in factory-like reliability, one original banner a week for 11 weeks. She even made the lines of the banners interweave somehow. As you might imagine, Cheryl was gassed by the end of the summer. She’d much prefer to be inspired by God and paint out of response.

Steve is also a photographer. He teaches his favorite hobby every summer and gets to show off his latest snapshots. Recently he and his camera took a vacation to Italy. His wife went along, too. On Monday he showed off the product of his labor in the form of a photo collage. It was eight frames of Italian doors, all different sizes, shapes and colors. Apparently there’s more than one door in Italy. Who knew? Seriously, I’ve asked Steve before about how he goes about choosing something to photograph and he likes to do his research before he goes places to find the best photo spots. Sometimes he’ll see a picture in a magazine or online and try to find out where the camera was located and match that shot. Of course, like most great photographers, usually he’ll throw his camera over his neck and shoot when he sees something interesting.

Wayne is my teacher, a blues-and-country bumpkin from northern Louisiana who has mastered many styles of guitar playing. He is also a songwriter and a good one at that. Wayne goes about writing words and music at the same time. He’ll just pick up his guitar and put words and chords together. Of course, being able to play just about anything helps.

I, on the other hand, write words first to a melody or rhythm in my head and then come up with a defined melody later on. This is how a man pens a kazillion songs but can only play a few dozen. I have words but no music! Wrote a new song today for a class project. But couldn’t play it this evening.

I also write quite a bit, some of which you get to read. For me now, a blank sheet isn’t as daunting as it once was. I used to panic and whine and complain and procrastinate if I saw an empty Word doc or ā€” gasp ā€” a piece of paper. Now I just start typing and whatever comes out… well, comes out. I edit on the fly, much as I did when I worked as a newspaper writer, and re-read paragraphs after I finish them. I rarely plan ahead. Maybe you can tell. In fact, I wasn’t even planning to write that last sentence. Or the one I just typed. Nope.

The creative process fascinates me. What inspires artists to create? How to they take that inspiration and turn it into something more tangible, more real? I promise you there isn’t a one-size-fits-all to art creation. Personalities and skills and behavior types all factor into the creative process. Over the next few months or years (!) I’ll continue to explore the creative process. This is just part one ā€” a starter, if you’d like.

For some, creating art is an act of worship. For others it’s an act of freedom. For yet others it’s a burden to bear. For each, though, it’s integral to who they are.

More to come…