I can’t reveal my methods, of course. Few artists or writers of any sort can and will tell how they do their fine things, says Professor Alexander (I don’t know the guy from Adam, but he was quoted in an essay that I read recently in an antique book that I bought for Rs 50.). Prof Alexander then goes on to provide some valuable hints on how geniuses like Shakespeare, Leonardo, Raphael and me actually work.
My methods are fairly similar. I start out with an empty mind, staring at the white space on my computer and press a few random letters on the keyboard. In a little while, the mere feel of the keys begins to excite me, the cold engine of my mind warms up and before I know it I have produced a masterpiece.
Pre-existing vision does not pre-exist at all. It only comes into existence while the technical and physical work of painting or writing goes on. To what may end by being a masterpiece an artist may come at first with a mind empty and stone-cold. It may be that “another commonplace model to paint” was all that Raphael thought as he began the Sistine Madonna.
Suppose it so.
Well, he gets his tackle out and starts. In a little while the mere feel of the brush in his hand begins to excite him; the cold engine of his mind is warmed a little; it inclines to move; there kindles in him a faint spark of curiosity about the being who is before him; the quickened mind enlivens the hand, and the brush moves more featly; eagerness is growing in all the employed faculties of the man; images, thoughts, memories crowd in upon him till he wonders at himself with a kind of alarm mixed in his delight - will he ever able to keep himself up to this pitch, he is now so much above par, so strangely endowed, for while it may last, with spiritual insight and also with an unwonted dexterity of hand?
With an ease and confidence that amaze him he sees, infers and conjectures new things behind the fleshen mask of the familiar model’s face. A wonderful creature, this sitter! Wonderful creature, a nursing mother! A marvel, all motherhood, all humanity. ‘What a piece of work is a man!’ So it goes on, and if he can hold long enough the pitch of his exaltation, this mutual stimulation of spiritual and technical power, a masterpiece may come out of it, a Sistine Madonna, a Hamlet or a Gioconda, a thing absolutely new and surpassing, where nothing like it has been before.
The portrait proceeds, not from the imaginative anticipation of the portrait that is to be executed, but from a lively and intelligent excitement, using the skilled hand
as its instructive organ.