It was one of those wonderful dinner parties with family and good friends, good wine, and good conversation. Mary is discovering her voice as a writer. Elly, my mother-in-law, is an accomplished novelist. She was in a mood to give advice.
"Don’t read anyone with too strong a voice. If you read Faulkner, you’ll write like Faulkner. If you read Salinger, you’ll write like that." She doesn’t say reading is bad; she herself is alternating between Proust and Tolstoy while working on her novel. "Virginia Woolf is OK. So is Austin. You have to read, but you need to be careful."
One must permit influence, however; we don’t create in a vaccuum. I read a passage out loud to the table from one of my big photographic gurus, Frederick Sommer. Much of his philosophy about the creative life is about how what you bring to the table is nothing new. You can’t pay attention to what isn’t already contained within yourself, otherwise you wouldn’t recognize it.
"Isn’t it spiritual though?" asked Janis. "Doesn’t something come from outside ourselves?" Well, duh! was my response. "Well, the source is outside the physical realm. We bring it to the material. If that isn’t a spiritual path, what is?"
I told my story of being in Israel. When I was in Jerusalem, I felt deeply the potent energy of that city, and was having spiritual epiphanies right and left. I’m not Jewish, but I felt the deepest connection among Jews and at the Western Wall, and I visited there every day to pray, to meditate, to photograph. The spiritual was knocking loud at the artistic gates for me. Robin was keeping a careful eye on me for signs of psychosis (for something called Jerusalem Syndrome—it sounds like I had a mild case of it).
My creative juices rose to the surface there because something in me needed that climate, and that spot, for it to be realized. There is, at the best of times, a sense that you’re tapping into all available experience in the universe in the act of creating, even if that experience appears to be outside of anything you’ve ever known before. But it’s already inside you, otherwise, how else would it seem so familiar? It is what I regard as the spiritual dimension to creativity. It’s all available, but you have to make choices to make it material in the right way. To not read Faulkner. To decide you’re not undergoing a religious conversion in Jerusalem, just tapping into real good juju. Artmaking is the act of applying form and structure to that cornucopia of available, unconscious experience that lies beyond our individuality. We’re all drinking from the same well.