Over Thinking Your Art

A well-meaning friend of mine recently commented, after reading one of my posts, that I over think my art.  What an interesting comment.  How do you over think your art, exactly?

At first I was puzzled, but then I thought about it.  Can you under think your art?  How much thinking about your art is enough thinking and how much is too much (or too little)?

For a start, my friend didn’t read very far.  In order to pass a fair comment, you’d have to read a little more than a few minutes of stuff.  There are over 370 posts here, for crying out loud!  The sample isn’t a representative one.

Secondly, my friend writes song with fluidity and rapidity.  That’s her process and way of working.  What she probably meant was that I take too long over my songs.  Well, that’s not quite right.  I jam, improvisationally, without rehearsal, once a week, on guitar.  That’s creating musical ideas out of thin air.  No thinking allowed.  What comes, comes.  The skill is in putting it together with another musician’s own stream of consciousness expression and making it sound like something coherent.  We’re getting good at that.

When I paint, I usually paint quickly, alla-prima, wet into wet.  That’s my comfort zone.  I can complete a finished painting in ninety minutes, from colours that people shout out to me, just before I put brush to canvas.  That’s not over thinking anything at all.  If there’s a fault, it’s that it’s too spontaneous.  So, to counter that, I also sometimes paint a painting over several sessions, spanning weeks or months, or over a period of maybe four to six hours.  They all come out differently.  What there isn’t, is a lot of intellectualising, while I do it.  I know the theory, I know the techniques and I just paint.  But not always.

When I make music, I do plan that meticulously.  I know what kind of finished result I am looking for and it takes time, effort, technique and technical craft skills to achieve.  It’s a bit like those artists that can paint photo-realistic animals in pastels.  They take their time at it.  Every hair has to be drawn.  In my music, every musical and sonic effect is deliberate and matters to me.  I care about counterpoint and good harmony.  I like to arrange with novel sonic timbres.  That, to me, is my process and my art.  I am an intellectual person.  I write intellectual lyrics.  I want to think my music through, rather than just smash and grab.  I am not a drive by record producer at all.

Even in song writing, because I am delivering what I consider to be challenging lyrics, I want them to be placed in a reasonable song structure that has a well crafted form.  All of this takes knowledge and study.

In recording, knowing the tools you use helps create that really polished finish that I want to achieve.  So in the case of music making, I don’t think I am over thinking it all.  People might be impatient to hear the results or compare the length of time I take unfavourably with other music producers, but so what?  They’re not trying to do what I am trying to do.

In writing, most of my posts are first drafts.  This is just how they come out.  This is how the voice in my head talks, with all the writing style devices that you can read here for yourself.  This is what I hear when I listen to my own thoughts.  This really is my vocabulary and style of expressing myself.  I might do a light edit before I post, but generally this is it, warts and all.  If you read this blog and go “whoa…too many big words and long sentences” that’s more about you than it is about me.  I’ve always been like this.  To change would be to subvert my very being.  No thanks.

In writing a book, however, I take pains to get the structure right.  I don’t write a lot of fiction, tending toward non-fiction subjects.  I still care about the pace of the narrative and of clearly explaining things, in a structure that makes immediate sense, but it’s definitely a different discipline.

I suppose it is possible to over think your art as a means of procrastinating and never committing your ideas to a medium.  Maybe we’re all guilty of that, from time to time, but again, I believe that you never actually procrastinate.  Much of the time, the project goes around and around inside your head, percolating.  The result, when it finally comes out is a richer brew.

So can you over think your art?  I’m not sure I agree.  In my case, I choose how much thinking I put into my art, depending on circumstance and the finished effect I am trying to achieve.  No sense in spending twelve months on an impressionistic painting, or of trying to capture an elaborate soundscape in a first take, at a jam session (though that’s an interesting way of working, too!)

So I am content that I am thinking about my art as much as I want to think about it and as such, it’s neither too much nor too little, so long as I get the result I am shooting for.  It’s my process.  Being intellectual is being true to me.  It’s the authentic me.  If that doesn’t suit anyone, then my art isn’t for you.  Sorry.

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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11 Responses to Over Thinking Your Art

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  5. Jarrod says:

    First of all I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you do not
    mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing.
    I’ve had difficulty clearing my mind in getting my ideas out there.

    I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10
    to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips?
    Kudos!

    • Write first, think about whether it is good enough later. The important thing is to have a thread of thought and to just write from the heart. Go back over it, in a second pass, to correct sentence structure, punctuation, grammar and spelling. Always edit. The main thing is to capture it all, while the thoughts are fresh. Fiddle with it, once you have done that.

  6. royceborn says:

    I know this is a late comment but im glad I’m not the only one…I am in a band and recently my bandmates keep saying the same thing…I can’t pop out riffs the way some guitarists do, and am expected to write a part and then move on to the next one…by the time the song is done its a mess and we are all suffering musical ear fatigue and when we listen to it a few days later we discover it sucks…when I write on my own and write all the parts by myself that is not the case cause I take time to let the song mature and listen to what the music in my head is doing before sitting down and figuring out what I am hearing…it makes it flow naturally and much more “catchy”

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