“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Questions of why creators create, how they structure their days, and where they look for inspiration hold a strange kind of mesmerism over us mere mortals, an elusive promise of somehow reverse-engineering and absorbing genius through voyeurism. In 2003, artist Joe Fig began interviewing famous painters about how, where, and why they do what they do. The result was Inside the Painter’s Studio (UK; public library) — an anthology of 24 conversations with some of today’s most revered contemporary artists. Among them was legendary photorealist Chuck Close, who despite his paralyzing 1988 spinal artery collapse remains one of the most prolific, disciplined, and sought-after artists working today.
In the interview, Close echoes Tchaikovsky and Jack White in the supremacy of work ethic over “inspiration”:
I was never one of those people who had to have a perfect situation to paint in. I can make art anywhere, anytime — it doesn’t matter. I mean, I know so many artists for whom having the perfect space is somehow essential. They spend years designing, building, outfitting the perfect space, and then when it is just about time to get to work they’ll sell that place and build another one. It seems more often than not a way to keep from having to work. But I could paint anywhere. I made big paintings in the tiniest bedrooms, garages, you name it. you know, once I have my back to the room, I could be anywhere.
When asked about the motto or creed by which he lives, Close puts it even more forcefully, negating the notion of creative block:
Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you did today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.
I never had painter’s block in my whole life.
Indeed, like many famous creators, Close enacts this belief in his own daily routine:
On a typical country day I am painting by nine, and I usually work until noon. Three hours in the morning. I will have lunch either at my desk, or if it’s nice I will go to the pool. Of if it’s really nice I will go to the beach for an hour. Have lunch on the beach perhaps, and then I come back and I paint from one to four, another three hours, and about then the light is failing, and I am beginning to fuck up. So then my nurse usually comes at four, and I stop working, clean up, have a big drink, and that’s a typical day. I work every day out there, every single day.
Close closes by offering emerging artists some words of advice on creative autonomy:
I think while appropriation has produced some interesting work … for me, the most interesting thing is to back yourself into your own corner where no one else’s answers will fit. You will somehow have to come up with your own personal solutions to this problem that you have set for yourself because no one else’s answers are applicable.
See, I think our whole society is much too problem-solving oriented. It is far more interesting to [participate in] ‘problem creation’ … You know, ask yourself an interesting enough question and your attempt to find a tailor-made solution to that question will push you to a place where, pretty soon, you’ll find yourself all by your lonesome — which I think is a more interesting place to be.
Then again, there’s always the question of whether it’s at all possible — or desirable — to fully purge ourselves of influences, given everything we create is an amalgamation of our lived experience, our “personal micro-culture,” without which we’d be unable to come up with “new,” combinatorial ideas.
Images courtesy Princeton Architectural Press / Joe Fig