During a conference in Buenos Aires in 1938, Stefan Zweig proposed the path that should be followed to understand the miracle that leads artists to create timeless works.
Stefan Zweig looks into the mystery of artistic creation /
They say that even the slightest noise could chafe Kafka and dramatically make him lose his concentration momentarily. On the contrary, we know that at least one poet found inspiration in the clamor of battle and the dark and lethal hollowness of the trenches. Creation has always kept the mystery of its true workings a secret. We shall never know exactly what led Cezanne to stun the world with the sum of absences and geometrical planes, or Dostoevsky to describe human complexity from his old desk by the scanty light of a candle. We could even try to catch a glimpse of the rarity of this human condition by dissecting, with the most recent technological advances, the reaction of the brain in the midst of the creative act; however, we would not discover anything new about creation, just as those that submitted a handful of Oriental monks to a system of electrodes and MRI scans were unable to discover anything new about meditation.
Stefan Zweig warned us about the difficulty of this endeavor beforehand, and during one of his conferences he ventured to rationalize what in principle escapes logical apprehension. In his talk, dictated in Buenos Aires, entitled The Mystery of Creation, Zweig approached the subject with a new perspective, likening the act of creation with the consummation of a crime. The reasons that drove him to this were based on more concerned with the method than actually considering that there is a similarity in the motivation behind these two acts: in order to unveil the killer’s motive, and find the culprit, it is necessary to reconstruct each and every one of his movements, meticulously collecting every single fingerprint, and, in turn, with the artist we must proceed in the same manner. For what reason? The artist, just like a passionate murderer, could not explain a process that he was not completely aware of. In this way, criminology is a cast, which enables him to draw the outline of this arcane profile: artistic creation.
Deep down, the problem is the same, since in the case of the killer and that of the birth of a work of art; we are bound to reconstruct an action whose realization we did not witness.
The ideal case would involve a voluntary confession, where the artist would state the steps of his work’s gestation, but lacking this (because “the artist is incapable of observing his mental state while he works”), a worthy detective’s reconstruction seems to be the only road possible.
Zweig relied on several examples to act his theory out: Balzac weeping when he had to kill one of his characters, Goethe including in his complete works a poem by another author, Corot incapable of differentiating one of his own paintings and a poorly made counterfeit. The artist creates in a moment of ecstasy; outside of himself, electrified by inspiration’s the lightning bolt, he is capable of removing himself from reality to become diluted in that other luminous reality where the work seems to be unfailing. Zweig’s extravaganzas remind us that the most accomplished creators prove the common condition that joins all great artists and thinkers.
The artist does not lie when he asks himself, astounded before his own perfect work: “Did I really create this? When did I make this? How did I make it?”
The trouble of explaining creation also lies in the different natures of the artists. Zweig, will tell of the diametrically opposite paths that can enlighten similar works of art by comparing Mozart’s and Beethoven’s methods of creation. Before the gracefulness and lightness which Mozart composed with —previous sketches do not exist, and everything appears to have been written only once— Beethoven’s notebooks, brimming with crossed out sections and erased ones, show a titanic struggle to reach perfection.
Maybe that was why the title of my dissertation was not very correct: “The Mystery of Artistic Creation”, perhaps it would have been better to say: “The Thousand Mysteries of Artistic Creation”, since each artist adds another to the great arcane of creation: his own, personal, mystery.
In the same manner, the duration is a personal issue for each creator: Johann Sebastian Bach used to compose his cantatas week after week always on time for the Sunday service, while someone like Wagner needed years to conclude a single one of his operas.
...for the artist there is no law of time: he creates his own time.
Zweig’s fundamental message will be to ask ourselves why and how a work of art, empowers us to understand and delve deeper into its essence. By reconstructing, step by step, the genesis of a work we can become intimately close with it and with the complete oeuvre of the creator, not limiting ourselves to the surface of the gaze, but fully throwing ourselves into the mystery it represents, into that unknown process where a man or a woman who “have the same appearance as any other, sleep in beds like our own, eat at a table, dress like us” are able to create out of the blue a rare object capable of transcending our temporality, and offer us a unique opportunity to surpass the perishable.
The beauty of the stars has not lessened because our sages were able to calculate the laws that determine their movements, nor has the majesty of our sky lost any of its greatness because they were able to measure the speed of the rays that with their argentine glow dazzle our eyes. On the contrary, these investigations have made the miracles of the sky, the sun, moon and the stars appear all the more wonderful. The same can be said of the spiritual sky. The more we delve into the mysteries of art and the spirit, the more we admire them due to their immensity. No news are more delightful or satisfying than those that recognize that man was also endowed with the ability to create nonperishable goods, and that we will for ever be linked to the Eternal through our supreme efforts on Earth: through art.Tagged: creativity, writers, Stefan Zweig Credits: Image (Stefan Zweig. by Bassano Ltd half-plate film negative, 24 May 1939. Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios)