The element of surprise

I watched the John Cougar Mellencamp film Plain Spoken recently, and among the many interesting things he said in it was this:

True art is always a surprise. It’s not constructed. If it doesn’t surprise the person that’s writing it, it’s not going to surprise the person that’s listening. Art always has to be a surprise.

I don’t think he was at all undermining craft, because he emphasises craft throughout the film, but saying there must be something, at some point in the process of creating, that jumps out and surprises you. Otherwise the song, or poem, or whatever it is is predictable and lifeless. This echoes what Robert Frost said:

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

It also highlights something I need to work on: letting go of control (which usually has to do with fear) and letting a poem (or God, or both) lead me more.

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