Monday, February 08, 2016

Creativity: Observing Improvisation

Observations on making art in the moment of making it:

When I'm improvising music, or playing music in general, I'm often making lots of decisions about what to do in the moment. The fallacy that many intellectuals have about the improvisation process, though, is that this requires verbal cognition. It doesn't. It's a profoundly non-verbal sort of process. Making art for me is not an intellectual puzzle-solving game-theory process; you can only analyze it that way afterwards, not during. Words are the very last tool in use to guide or distribute the process of improvising in the moment. Even when I improvise a poem in the moment, the words are the product, not the tool; which perhaps accounts for why so many of my poems are sequences-of-images.

Many writers I know cripple themselves by revising as they write, rather than dumping it all onto the page and editing it later. If you bring in the inner critic or the inner editor too soon, all too often the creative spark is what gets lost, and the result is often very dry, very cerebral. It may be very interesting to the intellect alone, but it won't endure in the somatic or sensual memory.

That's the problem with almost all verbally-directed cerebrally-dominated art-making: its products don't endure in the emotional, somatic, or psychological memories, just in the intellectual. (Not neglecting that many intellectuals conflate the intellect as being all of psychology, when it is in fact only a small element.) Writing a poem in a fixed form is a fascinating intellectual game, but I can only think of two or three sestinas or villanelles I've ever read that stayed with me; the rest are all forgotten, more form than substance. Machaut wrote memorable villanelles a few hundred years ago; Neil Gaiman write the most memorable sestina I can recall about ten years ago. And that's about it.

The only poetic form I regularly write in is haiku, which is a hugely open-ended form emphasizing how images lead to emotional responses; it's actually a very emotive form. When you see an ironic or humorous poem in the 5-7-5 syllable form, that's actually NOT a haiku (unless it's in the mode of Issa); it's a senryu, or something else, not actually a haiku. Again, the prevalence of the haijin (haiku writer) state of mind in my poetry might account for why so many of my poems are sequences-of-images. It's a natural form and style to me, made even more so by time and experience.

When I was improvising music yesterday to play along with a silent film I wasn't stopping and thinking about what I was going to do. There was no outline. There was response in-the-moment. The big thing that many people forget, who are not experienced improvisors, is that every decision that happens is not thought out beforehand. There's no time for verbal analysis. You just go. Improvising music is in fact a very non-verbal process. Analysis, by critics and music theorists, of what happens later, is by contrast a very verbal process. But it's not that way in the moment of making. Critics and theorists (and artists who are cerebrally dominant) would do well to remember that distinction. It's a very important one.

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