Inspiration and rationality in art: an early Romantic view by JW Harrington

From Schiller’s Aesthetical and Philosophical Essays, 1795.
Published in English translation by Harvard Publishing Company (New York), 1895.

Excerpt,  pp. 246-7 (boldface added)

"I believe this to be the test to distinguish the mere dilettante from the artist of real genius. The seductive charm exercised by the sublime and the beautiful, the fire which they kindle in the young imagination, the apparent ease with which they place the senses under an illusion, have often persuaded inexperienced minds to take in hand the palette or the harp, and to transform into figures or to pour out in melody what they felt living in their heart. Misty ideas circulate in their heads, like a world in formation, and make them believe that they are inspired. They take obscurity for depth, savage vehemence for strength, the undetermined for the infinite, what has not senses for the super-sensuous. And how they revel in these creations of their brain! 

"But the judgment of the connoisseur does not confirm this testimony of an excited self-love. With his pitiless criticism he dissipates all the prestige of the imagination and of its dreams, and ... leads them into the mysterious depths of science and life .... If nature has endowed him with gifts for plastic art, he will study the structure of man with the scalpel of the anatomist; he will descend into the lowest depths to be true in representing surfaces, and he will question the whole race in order to be just to the individual. If he is born to be a poet, he examines humanity in his own heart to understand the infinite variety of scenes in which it acts on the vast theatre of the world. 

"He subjects imagination and its exuberant fruitfulness to the discipline of taste, and charges the understanding to mark out in its cool wisdom the banks that should confine the raging waters of inspiration." 

Art & Intuition by JW Harrington

Reading through a few artists' blogs, I realize that most artists, like most people we know, are hell-bound toward attempts at rationality.  The positions and decisions that our friends, children, and leaders arrive at may seem highly irrational to us, but most of us are eager to "rationalize" everything we do.  So, artists who teach -- especially who teach beginners -- have to get folks to focus on creativity, on process.

Angela Wales Rockett (Painted Crow Studio) focuses her students on "intuitive painting -- creating without expectations."  Sandy Bricel Miller (Red Ochre Studio) has told me time and again how difficult it is to get adult students beyond their disappointment at the results of their hard efforts to re-create what they see.  (Isn't that what a camera is for?)  Amy Bryan (Amy Bryan Visual Arts) notes how her sixth-grade students are much more open to their own creativity than her students in higher grades.  I'll bet most sixth graders clamp down on their creativity over the course of the year of being psychologically pummeled by their seniors in middle school.  

While artists of all disciplines know the importance of rationality, it seems we find that our role includes getting others to own their creativity, spontaneity, and even irrationality.