I have two poet friends, both of them extremely gifted. One, a Midwesterner, has a work ethic a lot like my own. She is focused, driven and very committed to her writing. Her poems are finely honed and crafted through successive revisions. Every word is considered carefully, and you feel that intentionality when you read her work. The crystalline power of her poetry comes from arduous labor.
The other poet friend comes from a background that I can best describe as rural/mystical. Her heritage has given her a strong connection with the earth, and that orientation is coupled with a spiritual/mystical overlay. Her pace and approach to creativity is organic, unexpected and spontaneous. A poem emerges out of her complete and whole, like an egg. She rarely edits and revises once they are written down. For her, great poetry is more dependent on her ability to be receptive to the world around her than it is to her pen. Her work is full of eclat, mystery and power.
Writing poetry and writing code seem to be far ends of the spectrum of creativity but lessons can be garnered from either of these poles. The legendary computer scientist Edsger Wybe Dijkstra has delineated approaches to writing code that ring true in poetry as well:
He compares two very different styles of programming – Mozart style of programming vs. Beethoven style of programming. When Mozart started to write, the composition was finished. He wrote manuscript in elegant handwriting in one go. Beethoven was a doubter and a struggler. He started writing before he finished the composition and then glued corrections onto the page. In one place he did it nine times.
(More about this idea can be read on Slow Painting.)
Dijkstra’s preference is for the Mozartean approach in computer programming. His own personal habits include a daily discipline of writing his thoughts down in a very neat and orderly manner. This reflects his commitment to discipline in thought, a key requirement of Mozartean coding.
If A is like B, and B is like C…Of course I see the parallels to the creative process in painting and the visual arts. But unlike the dialectic of these two extreme alternatives, I experience it as more of a spectrum. In my studio I have breakthroughs that have been both Mozartean and Beethovenesque. Some have been of the blended variety, both working in concert with each other at various stages of a painting’s evolution. Since neither approach has demonstrated itself as particularly advantageous to me, I would have to go with e) all of the above.
But I find it rhapsodic to ride the wave that flows through consciousness between those two poles.