Friday, February 10, 2012

Look I made a hat

One of my favorite songs from any genre is "Finishing The Hat" from Sunday in the Park with George. I don't know that there's a better description of the process and the pride of creation. The smallest detail involves a constant passage from the world of the artist into the world of the artwork -- a submission to the reality of that created world. And then when it is done, the accomplishment is immense not because of the magnitude of what has been created, but because of the power exerted and the change from nothing to something: "Look, I made a hat where there never was a hat."

What attracts the artist is control. When circumstances take control away from you in the real world, when you are blocked or limited by location or by other people, you take control in the arena that is yours alone. But Sondheim is saying that it's not about being the king of that world; it's about creating an environment where the world exerts its own logic and brings its power to bear on you, where you obey the forces that are bringing it into being.

I've come late to the addictive power of the maker. Writing is something I've done all my life, and I've felt that sense of being able to craft words and phrases that are more than the sum of their parts. But to make something come alive for multiple senses -- for sight and touch, for warmth and movement -- you need to create in the physical world. That's something I didn't start doing until a few years ago. The transformation is both laborious and intoxicating. Which is exactly how Sondheim describes it.

Creation awaits me this weekend, and I'm afraid and excited, the way I always am before starting a project that will have a bunch of challenges, probably some setbacks, and could go horribly wrong. I love the pride that comes from the improbable existence of a finished object. But even more, I think, I love knowing what goes into them -- their story, their birth pangs. "Look, I made a hat" requires and includes the whole song that comes before: "Reaching through the world of the hat like a window/Back to this one from that."

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