Thursday, June 7, 2012

On the value of first ideas in art and writing

Many of those in the know, with regards to writing, will tell you that your first ideas should always be taken with a grain of salt or ignored. In fact, they often say that following them is a bad idea. 

But there are times when I have to beg to differ on this. Sometimes the first idea you have contains the spark of genius and the necessary propulsion to carry an entire artwork, whether it is writing or visual art. The best of these to follow are your eureka moments, your epiphanies, to do with life or the imagination as these often shed light on an issue that others would be interested in. Also, they often touch on something significant.

Those first ideas you have may just need a bit of rounding out to make them usable. They may need a bit more thought than you're used to putting into an idea before it can be properly followed. Your initial idea might be simple, inelegant and possibly difficult to use as the basis of a piece of writing or an artwork. But give it a chance to build in your mind because usually the thoughts that strike you out of nowhere, the thoughts that hold your initial imaginings, are the key to filling your art with life. And art and writing are truly valuable and appreciable when there is life to be seen in it.

Of course, there are ideas you should just keep on going from and never look back at but don't discard all first ideas like that. You will miss out on some beauties.

There is something rather horrible that can come from discarding an idea that is brilliant but difficult for one that is toned down and easier to work on. And that is dullness in the final piece. A dullness that will likely lead you to starting all over again (either that or being rejected), possibly with the original idea. In restarting you have to discard all the work done up to then, if none of it is salvageable, which is a touch torturous to do. 

There is another problem that can occur in restarting an imaginative piece. That is that you run the risk of producing sub-par work through being thoroughly exhausted with the whole concept. If you see this happening it is probably best to move on to another project. Don't discard all your work though as a break might be all that's needed and revisiting it later could lead to success.

The problems with first ideas, any ideas really, don't stop here though. 

Like many other ideas, even brilliant first ideas are susceptible to being overworked. When any promising idea is overworking for enthusiasm it can be destroyed. Through rethinking and retouching you can make an idea bloom and take on a brilliant shape that will amaze those reading or seeing it. But there are times, which happen quite frequently, when the idea that was so worthwhile at the beginning looses all life as the writing or art becomes lifeless, staid and still through overwork.

In such circumstances, the value of rethinking and retouching a work becomes less than we'd normally like. While editing, retouching or re-sculpting come in handy, extraordinarily so in the case of writing, you have to remember that there is a point when it all goes to far. 

Given that writing any full length book takes so much time and effort (much the same as making life sized brass sculptures in effort if not physical labour), it is often terrible to discover that the reworking you've done has completely destroyed the energy of the original idea, that spark that lead to writing in the first place.

Luckily, in writing, most of the reworking done is to our advantage. Language is smoothed out, a writing style formed and the structure is perfected. Much is done in reworking writing that enhances the original idea and I would never suggest forgoing editing entirely or that it lacks value. But be careful in your editing. Watch out when smoothing over the crucial points or those idiosyncrasies and flairs of imagination. They might be just what makes your work special.

The degradation reworking can cause to art is plainly obvious when you look at overworked or incorrectly worked art. Colours can still and stagnate, brush strokes are lost through overlaying, lines blur or become less organic, texture flattens out, visual perspective and sense is lost to the need for accuracy.

There are of course times when a fair amount of reworking is required to bring about an idea to its true form in art but if you touch it from then on disaster can strike. What would happen if one more chisel mark was made into David? Or many? What would happen if it was smoothed down just that tad more? How many lines and details will be lost?

And all this without it being a problem with the original idea. I'm actually more inclined to warn against over-thinking and overworking than following an initial idea. Just be sure to give careful consideration to all your ideas and, if you want to sell your work, see if they match a market out there.

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