I call myself the Creative Coach, but I have said little about what I think creativity is. Is it really a flash of inspiration, a lightbulb moment? I think those brief moments of insight only come from long looking and seeking.
I revisited the Hotel Biron, Auguste Rodin’s museum in Paris last month, where I was struck by a sculpture of a dancing couple, The Waltz, created by Rodin’s mistress Camille Claudel. It caught the pair in a flow of movement, the metal more like water than bronze. Camille started to work with Rodin at the age of 17. Rodin saw no distinction between craft and art and was prepared to repeat the shaping of an arm or hand over and over to get it right (some of the displays show a dozen attempts at one arm gesture). Camille was a brilliant pupil and looking at the Waltz, she surpassed him.
The sculpture spoke to me because it had a truth and honesty about it. I saw the same thing in Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures and drawings at the Tate exhibition. He said: “I am very interested in art but I am instinctively more interested in truth”. He drew his studio models time and time again in his effort to unlock that mystery, remarking: “Diego has posed ten thousand times for me. When he poses I don’t recognise him. When my wife poses for me, after three days she doesn’t look like herself. I simply don’t recognise her.”
There’s a debate over the claim popularised by Malcolm Gladwell that it takes 10,000 hours’ practice to achieve mastery in anything. But my question is what is the mastery for? Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika, best known for The Wave, wrote, with extraordinary humility: “When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75 I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvellous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before.” He died aged 89, and his drawings exhibited at the British Museum demonstrated just how far he had come in his search.
I may not live that long, and I will never be a master of any art. But I know I am a creative being and I sincerely believe that anyone can be. I can look and I can learn: a morning walk can show me – if I look – raindrops caught on spiders’ webs, mushrooms emerging from the beech leaf litter, a ray of light illuminating the corner of a field. Seeing such beauty and experiencing the connectedness of life in those moments may not be in itself a creative act, but it is a step towards the truth.