The Spark and Kindling of Creativity – Part Two of Two

“In art the best is good enough”, Italienische Reise, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

At any awards season, I am impressed by those persons who garner their gongs or statuettes, particularly thinking of the process they would have gone through, with long periods of unrecognised effort, and their creative resources developed in very competitive environments. This made me think about the similarities in the creative impulse across all the creative arts.

Having spent some time attempting to learn arts such as photography, music composition, writing, and poetry there do seem to be parallels. I cannot speak very authoritatively about the other arts, but in conversation with those who also paint or draw, I decided to write this article about the creative process across multiple disciplines and some consequences for poetic work. Just to summarise the points made previously. I believe arts represent a human effort applied to a given medium to produce lasting works with an emotional import.

Common elements of this process across many arts and crafts are inspiration, perspective, constraints, mastery of craft, iteration, and performance. I’ve already covered the first three elements in last month’s blog.

Mastery of Craft: This refers to applying techniques and tools well, e.g., composition, lighting, brushstrokes, plotting, or working within a specific poetic form. Mastery may be obtained through practice and study of previous work in that art form. I’m aware that for poets it may take a long time to become an established poet. This time is well spent honing one’s craft and measuring one’s work against others by submitting these works to competitions or journals. Many famous names were not famous overnight: Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, etc. but they all went through a long period learning this process. I believe mastery of craft is essential and it may be learnt through study or by working with other practitioners. This category in poetry includes aspects of diction, syntax, use of rhetorical devices (all demonstrating a love of language), and metrical techniques such as scansion. Writing poetry well is actually quite hard, there is a lot to learn;

Iteration: here is a universal process that is variously called editing, workshopping, mock ups, rehearsals, readings, or sketches. Studies are an important element of creativity, either to establish capability in any given media or try out ideas in an agile way. Knowing when to stop the iterative effort is important too. A poem should say what it needs to say and no more. Concision is one goal of editing to improve the effectiveness of the message. There may be a point at which a work seems finished, and no further change is desired. It seems inevitable.

Performance or exhibition: this makes public the artwork, a process where the artist, although retaining certain rights begins to lose ownership of the work and it takes on a life of its own. Performance includes other creatives who may add further value to a work, through curation, juxtaposition, lighting, or interpretation. For poets, this means at the very least reading their work out loud; at best, performing at a slam or reading at poetry event.


The above elements would also provide me with a framework for critical appraisal of a work too. Whether the final work is a sonata, sonnet, sculpture, story, or a canvas all these elements are involved. There may be a beauty when there seems to have been no effort at all in the creation of the work. Alternatively, some of these elements may not be addressed, e.g., by showing poor craftmanship, draughtsmanship, or orchestration.

This discussion allows one to come up with criteria for critical appraisal of works. This might include (subjective) criteria including:

  • How well does the work achieve its intention?
  • Does it look or feel unfinished? Or does it feel inevitable?
  • Does it elicit an emotional response, or a memorable impact?
  • Does it allow the reader to find their own meaning or interpretation?
  • Is it on an interesting or original subject? Does it find an unusual angle?
  • How well does it communicate? Does it have a distinctive voice?
  • Does it demonstrate mastery of craft?
  • How does it come over in performance?

However, what if the effort put in was not entirely human? I believe working in digital or automated media may weaken the “human effort” of this struggle of creativity. Some modern tools in a given medium allow infinite rapid iteration or corrections until a final version is arrived at. As explained before, constraints are an important part of the creative process, whether imposed by the medium, technique or tools, and digital media and tools may offer few constraints. The painter, David Hockney who uses digital tools, and others may disagree.

An increasing concern is with automation able to generate prose, poetry, musical arrangements, or images. I understand some may just be using this generated material as a starting point, just as poets sometimes use free association writing to trigger ideas. For some this is a tool that should be carefully regulated. Anyway, there should be more discussion held on the use of these tools in the arts.

Wherever there is a digital involvement, it may weaken the human’s effort and I feel it can result in a lesser artistic outcome.

Finally, cross-fertilisation across the sister arts is rewarding. For example, my discovery of ‘classical’ or serious art music led onto to many discoveries and explorations in other arts. Such as in the fine arts, ballet, or stage, where those composers who had been inspired by the subjects of other art forms had created ekphrastic works, e.g. I discovered Boecklin’s paintings from Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead, the Illiad from Tippet’s King Priam opera.

From this, I feel that there is always merit in dialogue between artists of different disciplines. If not in the theme or meaning of your respective works, you still have the creative process in common. The resulting dialogue can be stimulating or constructive or both. Good luck in your creative endeavours.

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This year I am one of the panel of judges for the Canterbury Festival’s Poet of the Year competition. I expect to very busy for several months from now on. Therefore, I will be pausing this blog for a while and hope to return in Autumn 2023 with new material.

The Spark and Kindling of Creativity

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