A couple of things led me to start writing about art, and specifically graffiti—although if you’re a regular here you know I don’t always write about graffiti. Anyway I’ve always had an interest in graffiti, since, to me, it represents the need to create something—it’s not commissioned, it’s not wanted by anyone else. Frequently it’s breaking the law, but even the simplest, most slapdash tag represents someone’s need to express themselves. Another thing is I see a lot of graffiti and I thought it would be fun to take what I know about art history and theory and apply it to stuff you’re never going to see in a museum. And I thought I’d have an endless supply of things to say. I may not be a professional art critic but I can talk a lot about nothing, but that’s another story.
Well, this week I’m out. I can’t think of a single thing. Not a word to say. I’ve read about goings-on in the art world, although they’re limited with galleries and museums closed. And I’ve gone through my collection of pictures to see if something I haven’t used yet, or, heck, even one I have will spark something. No luck. Being blocked like this is frightening, as I know it is for all creative people. It must be even scarier for professionals to be completely out of ideas, to wonder if they’ll ever come up with anything ever again.
What prompts that desire to create in the first place? I know there’s a deep desire that comes from within, but, at least in my experience, and that of many others I know, outside factors play a large part too. When I was in college the poet William Stafford came and gave a reading. One of the poems he read was “The Little Girl By The Fence At School”.
Grass that was moving found all shades of brown,
moved them along, flowed autumn away
galloping southward where summer had gone.
And that was the morning someone’s heart stopped
and all became still. A girl said, “Forever?”
And the grass. “Yes. Forever.” While the sky —
The sky — the sky — the sky.
A few days later a friend of mine shared a poem he’d written that was inspired by hearing Stafford. It was about how he’d heard this great poet’s work and thought, “Hell, I could do that,” and went and sat in front of a typewriter until he fell asleep at it, unable to think of anything. My friend’s poem ended,
And I thought how the great ones make
it look so very easy and the empty page—
The empty page—the empty page—the empty page.
He then smiled and said, “It took me three days to write that.”
Sure it did, I thought. I bet it took you all of three minutes. But I still liked it. I thought it was funny and thought-provoking. I just couldn’t express exactly what thoughts it provoked. There seemed to be something very deep about the way it responded to Stafford’s poem, and what it said about the creative process, about influences and how what inspires us comes from both without and within, but I couldn’t get any of that to come out, and I wondered if I ever would.