Inspiration is for amateurs

Hard work, routine, and pursuit of technique beats talent.

Chuck Close

Chuck Close

I’ve always admired the work of the American modern painter, Chuck Close. When we visited the Walker Art Center I always stopped to see his paintings in their collection. As much as I admire his iconic paintings, I have an even greater admiration for the way he views work as the key to art. He sums it up in four short words:

“Inspiration is for amateurs.”

To be fair and complete, the quote is:

“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us show up and get to work.”

While I know practically nothing about the visual arts, to the extent this is true in those disciplines, it must also be true in music. As a vestige we carry around the idea that there is an element of magic in beautiful art, a persistent belief in being touched by one’s Muse as a prerequisite. This is nonsense, of course. It is the doing of something that yields creation. And Chuck Close explains it well:

“Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will - through work - bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art [idea].’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you [did] today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.”1

Isn’t this too what is essential about Suzuki practice? “If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.” Elsewhere, in a description of his daily routine, Close says: “I work every day out there [in the studio], every single day.”

Only on the days he eats? ;-)

  1. Joe Fig, Interview with Chuck Close in “Inside the Painter’s Studio” [return]
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Alan is the main practice partner and accompanist for a young violinist.