Let There Be Light

How do you make light flow like water. I saw it done three days ago, so I know it’s possible, but I wonder how. More pertinent to what I want to say here, how do you decide to do that, and to add flowing light to the backdrop of an aggressively modern opera?

Or let’s say you’ve painted a fairly large canvas with a semi-abstract vase of flowers. Do you look at the picture and think, “This really needs tiny white dots scattered at random across the canvas”? So you add them. Or do you have white paint on your brush and accidentally splatter the picture, then think, “Oh shit. Well, I’m leaving it”?

Let’s take a third example, using the Tchaikovsky opera “Eugene Onegin”. If you are staging this opera, which is more than 200 years old, how do you decide to incorporate video segments? And if you decide to use video, what will it be, and where will it go, and how will you do it? It would already seem like a lot of work just to decide where the singers should be standing.

I’m thinking a little more at the moment about how people make creative decisions because I’ve come to Charleston, South Carolina, specifically because of the creativity I find here. I’m in Charleston for four days attending the Spoleto Festival, but the creativity here is much more than just Spoleto. I went yesterday to Blue Bicycle book store, where they have a shelf with local writers (particularly Pat Conroy). There are also more art galleries here than any place I’ve ever been. The smallest number I’ve heard was around 45 galleries, or up to 80.

From the last two days I’ll consider three more examples of creative decision making: (1) a painter I happened to meet and chat with, who had his easel set up outside painting a boat; (2) a poet who lives here and works with highly structured poetry, and (3) Gullah basket makers who live out on the barrier islands and who come into Charleston to sell baskets on the steps of the post office.

(1) The painter is named Ignat Ignatov, from Bulgaria, but living now in Los Angeles. He came to Charleston to judge an art show that runs for 17 days in a park here, and he also told me he has work hanging in one of the galleries in town. I went to the gallery and looked, and for much of his work, I could recognize it, with broad brush strokes, in a semi-abstract style. I liked it very much, by the way. When I asked the gallery manager, however, I was shown other things Ignat had done in radically different styles. I wondered how a decision is made for how to work on each painting. Is it conscious? Is the style inspired by the subject? Does the light itself affect how he decides to paint something?

(2) I also talked with a woman who told me her husband is a poet, but a poet who works in a more structured and controlled way than most poets. I would probably consider him a more serious poet, having had a lot of experience myself with people who pour the words out, and out, and out, in one sitting and then don’t touch the poem again. By contrast, the poet in this case has worked with verses of three lines (I think I got that right), organized in a particular way—something, in other words, that would take a lot of conscious control. Why do that? What is the creative impulse to use any particular structure and not another one?

(3) The Gullah basket makers are famous for the baskets they make using sweetgrass and pine needles (the baskets are also called sweetgrass baskets), and I’ve seen the baskets in museums. One of the most notable things about them is that both the technique and the culture encourage creativity in form, especially regarding the basket handles. Sometimes they curl and twist into handles of fantasy. As she does this (I’ve never seen a man making baskets), what is the basket maker thinking? Is she remembering a dog’s tail she saw last week? Is she inspired by the back and forth curves of a creek near her house?

Since we’re in South Carolina, here in the deep south, it seems appropriate to end this with the Bible. One of the things I particularly like about the Genesis version of creation is that the creation of the world takes place entirely with language. God simply speaks, and things exist. I also know of one ancient Egyptian creation story that does the same thing, creation through language. Creating with words, I can relate to that. But I wonder what he was thinking.

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