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Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce by Peter Clothier
2011 Interviews : Peter Clothier

Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

A Conversation with Peter Clothier, Author of 'Persist'

By Molly Anderson-Childers

Peter ClothierToday I'll be chatting with author Peter Clothier. A generous contributor to the Creativity Portal community, Peter's work is an inspiration to readers around the world. Readers can sample his work on three different blogs, check out his author website, or listen to his podcasts, "The Art of Outrage" to become more familiar with his work.

Clothier is the author of Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce. Peter, welcome to Creativity Portal —- or should I say, welcome back? It's great to have you with us today. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about all things creative!

Q: Tell us more about Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce. What inspired this work, and what do you hope readers will gain from your insights?

A: Persist is a collection of essays written over a period of thirty years. The first was written at a time when I was Dean of Otis Art Institute, when faculty were teaching students about the need to be "professional." I understood what they meant, of course: that they should take themselves seriously as artists. At the same time, I knew that the vast majority of them would not be going out into the world and making a fine living as artists. They would need to find ways other than financial success and critical acclaim to keep their creative spirits alive. I wrote an essay called "A Word for the Amateur," in the hope of restoring the dignity of that much maligned concept. Since the publication of that article, in the 1970s, I have been observing the contemporary art scene as a writer and reviewer, and not much has changed. If anything, the art world has become more about fame and money than ever before. What I'd hope readers of Persist would gain is the inspiration to pursue their goals as artists (writers, dancers, actors…) despite the discouragements of a highly commercialized culture. We owe it to ourselves to "persist."

Q: Can we talk about your writing process a bit? I know it takes a lot of discipline to work as a writer. I'm wondering whether you keep to a set writing schedule, or if you simply write when inspiration strikes?

A: My book is very much about process and insists on the idea of practice. Inspiration very often does not strike. It's a matter of getting down to it and doing the work. I have found a very useful model in Buddhist meditation. You learn to show up, sit down, get focused, concentrate, and persist. Every time the mind wanders — and it wanders a lot! — you bring it back to your point of concentration. This is my writing practice. I show up, sit down, get focused on the writing, and persist. And yes, I do maintain a writing schedule. My best writing time is in the early morning hours, so my practice is to get up in good time, do my half hour of meditation, and get to work. I may only have two good writing hours a day, but that's enough. The rest of the working day is valuable for research, editing, posting, and so on. The business…

Q: I just read your post about Doldrums. How do you persist with your creative work when you're just not feeling inspired?

A: That can be a tough one. Generally, the sheer force of practice helps me get through such times. I don't sit around too long and agonize. There's a chapter in Persist called "What to Say When There's Nothing to Say," which describes a number of tricks I use to get back into the rhythm. When you think of it, there's really never "nothing to say." There's always something going on in the mind. All I need to do is take a good look inside and find out what that is. Sometimes it's just a matter of writing down the first few words, and following where they lead me. There's this wonderful adage: "How do I know what I think 'til I see what I say." Writing is a process, like all creative work. It does not simply result from inspiration, it actually generates it.

Take the time to sit quietly and watch what's going on inside. The mind is always at work. Meditation has taught me that it's possible — and always fascinating — to watch it. Once you catch a glimpse of what the mind is up to, you have a starting point.

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Updated 1/10/14