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03/08/2006 Archived Entry: "Life is a controlled accident"

"A CONTROLLED ACCIDENT." That phrase from an old, old art class came back to me the other day as I worked on a creative project.

I've been following a 12-week course called The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. (Remember the book I mentioned finding so fortuitously in a cabinet? It was The Artist's Way.) And the experience has been ... something. Too fragile and numinous to talk about much at this point. But powerful.

"A controlled accident" is an artistic experience. The charcoal or the paintbrush or the pencil has a mind of its own. It doesn't quite do what you expect it to do when you apply it to the paper or the canvas. But as soon as the line or the color begins to flow, you know it's the right thing and you go with it, creating something surprising in symbiosis with your materials.

Novelists talk about something similar when they swear, "the characters wrote themselves" or "the characters went where they wanted to go." A novelist friend of mine once made three different attempts to kill off a character in a story. He couldn't do it. Despite the author's most violent intentions, and the character's own tendency to constantly get himself into horrible scrapes, the character wouldn't die.

Recognizing the writer's version of "controlled accident," my friend ended up writing two books with that character as their protagonist. The two are among the best of his works.

Even an artist like Mike Schwing whose work with wood must require intense planning and care, surely knows a controlled accident when he sees one.

To take advantage of a controlled accident, you first have to have a certain level of skill or creativity. The better you've built your foundation of skills, the more brilliantly you can adapt to and use the "accidents" that come your way.

As I worked with wood and glue and paint, hands busy creating and mind on The Artist's Way, I thought the controlled accident isn't just for art. Life itself, at its best, is a kind of controlled accident. You prepare. You do everything "right." Then life throws stuff at you -- pain, opportunity, opportunity disguised as pain, weird happenings. How well you adapt to and use the "accidents" determines how good a life artist you are.

Either this is really profound or my mother was right when she said an idle brain was the devil's playground. :-)

Posted by Claire @ 03:26 PM CST

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