Posted by: Corri van de Stege | February 22, 2009

Sunday night – what is it to create?

Five nights away, three different hotels. This night is the first one, a hotel in Birmingham to make sure of an early start tomorrow morning and a long week ahead.

It’s cold but I don’t want to turn on the hot blower before going to sleep.  I’ve  just caught up with (some) of the newspapers and I don’t feel inspired by the book reviews – as I usually do.   So I’m skipping those.  What I do like however, and want to share,  is an article  by Waldemar Januszczak on the forthcoming exhibition Picasso: Challenging the Past’  in the National Gallery.  That is partly because I like Picasso’s paintings, but much more because Januszczak ponders the question ‘what it is to create’.  Picasso was not the ‘spontaneous’ genius that we have sometimes been led to believe.  Rather, he owes a great deal to his ‘forefathers’, painters such as Velazquez and Goya.  He did not ‘invent’ some of the stark images, rather they were developed out of earlier masterpieces. 


This is very reassuring in a way: pure genius is something out of reach for most, even gifted painters and writers.  However, it seems to me  that literature also evolves in a similar way, that in order to write well, one needs to understand and have read (at least some of it)  what has gone before and that ‘Instead of the big bang theory of creativity, which sees the making of art as the production of something out of nothing – a quasi-divine act – we are able these days to understand it as a process closer to Darwinian evolution.  Someone makes A.  Someone else makes B out of A.  Then B becomes C, and so on. 

Although Januszczak is talking about painting here, and in particular Picasso’s paintings, I think the same goes for literature and writing.  That’s probably where all the writing courses come in, the trying out, the imitation, the working according to precepts and ‘standards’ even though the end product, to be successful, has to be original.

Well, at least this is giving me something to think about on this Sunday night, in this hotel room, quiet, chilly, away from the world.   I’ll put this exhibition on my ‘to do list’, definitely.



  1. I completely agree. This is why I think the best advice for aspiring writers is always to read everything they can get their hands on. Of course that’s also a nice justification for we crazed readers to give in to our passion for books and then give ourselves credit afterwards for a good day’s work–we’re not only reading, we’re improving our writing!

  2. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re not reading at least as many words every day as you actually write, you’re not reading enough. And don’t read just the “good” stuff, either. Read the sludge, as well. Read the shampoo bottle if you have to, because you never know where the glint of past genius might lie hidden, or where it might take you.

  3. and if you see the exhibit, would you mind dedicating one of your blog entries to it? would love to hear about it. Big Picasso fan here. Saw a movie he filmed, just him, his easel and canvas and the camera on him while he worked for four hours. sometimes, they speeded up the fillm so we could see how he worked, what he was doing.
    Little matter. I’m a fan anyway. And hope the hotel was an excellent one this time for you!
    Spring is another day closer!

  4. Yep, everything really is connected isn’t it? Cool musings on a chilly night!

  5. You’re so right, Seachange. I can’t imagine how anyone could write without reading – bit like trying to ride a bicycle without wheels.

  6. I have only just caught up with my blog and your comments – see my latest blog for the reason. Too much time spent on the road and in meetings and hotels and … etc.
    I will go and visit your sites and catch up some more. Thank you so much for visiting and I very much appreciate your comments.
    And Oh: yes, I do intend to go and see the exhibition and I promise to write about it – I also have been fascinated by Picasso and his paintings and this particular exhibition shows the links between previous paintings by other artists and what Picasso made out of these, how he interpreted them.
    All: yes, reading and more reading and reading again – I so agree.

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