Diverting the Muse

It should be obvious that if you want to create art, you must study it. A photographer must study photography, a musician must understand music, and a writer who never reads will never produce anything worthwhile. To put a finer point on this, we might substitute devotion for study, for that is the truth of it: you must dedicate yourself to letting the art shape you.


In Annie Dillard’s fine book, The Writing Life, she writes that anything less than devotion results in yet another hat,  the “writer”‘s hat, instead of an actual writer. The studies literature, she writes, and “he knows his field–what has been done, what could be done, the limits–the way a tennis player knows the court. And like that expert, he, too, plays the edges. That is where the exhilaration is. He hits up the line.”

Yet most writers eventually need to take breaks from so much language. Read too much and you might still dictate poetry (You’re always in my thoughts, Milton), but you’ll need to wear thick-ass glasses or blast lasers into your corneas before you’ll see any words on the page again.

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So you turn to other media (which isn’t nearly as difficult today as it was in the seventeenth century). Hemingway famously said that he learned as much about how to write from painters as he did from other writers, and many artists will tell you of how much they long to create using other means. Novelists play instruments and mathematicians write poetry. Art cross-pollinates or, if immune system metaphors are your thing, it infects; when it comes down to it, all art speaks about the same thing: Truth.

I get infected by aesthetics. I like minimalism with impact. Give me a giant Rothko color field or a Satie Gnossienne. Or I might just listen to Wire’s Chairs Missing for two months straight.

Know that what you love will shape you, and then let it happen.



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