Artist Roger Dean and Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett sat down for a very stimulating conversation about the creative process in front of a small and very fortunate audience on Saturday 18th November at Trading Boundaries in East Sussex. Both icons within their respective fields, they talked about where they feel ideas come from and the importance of technique in music and painting, among many other things. Audience members were invited to ask questions in the end.
Dean began by recounting an occasion when he heard the late psychedelic musician Ramases asked by a journalist where ideas came from. Ramases responded by pointing behind his head and saying: ‘They come from here,’ indicating that it may sometimes feel like certain thoughts enter our mind from the outside.
‘The point is that they come,’ Dean continued. ‘I’ve never heard anyone say how they generate it; what mechanism produces them. They always seem to appear… And thank god they do!’
When asked by Hackett how big a role inspiration from the outside might play, he replied: ‘Ideas might be inspired by something you see, but they’re also somehow generated in a different way. You can spend an enormous amount of time being inspired, but the flow of the ideas is not step one, two, three, four of a simple linear process.’
‘If I have a deadline of a manageable amount of time ahead, that’s more of a problem than if it’s instant,’ he explained. ‘If I have to come up with an idea and the execution of an idea instantly, that usually works for me. I usually manage to do something, and it’s usually good or good enough to develop. But if I have the time to worry about it, that’s a problem.’
We also learnt that Hackett’s father was an artist who didn’t make it until later in life: ‘He worked for Shell until about he was 40. And at the same time I became a professional musician, he became a professional artist,’ he recalled. ‘He was selling paintings alongside Bayswater Road, on the railings at Hyde Park, and one day a woman liked one of his paintings, and he said: “I can let you have that at the end of the day.” He’d already promised that painting to someone, so he went home, painted another one, dried it with a hairdryer, got back, and sold both paintings on the same day. He prided himself on a quick turnout… But the question is, how long did that painting really take him to do? Maybe it took him all of his 40 years to have the skill to be able to pull that off.’
In our interview with Dean earlier this month, he touched upon the topic of the importance of technique in art. At some point during Saturday’s discussion, he asked Hackett about his opinion on the matter: ‘Do you find that craftsmanship is part of the creative process?’
‘I’ve never been asked such an intelligent question in my life… Therefore I’ll have to flannel,’ Hackett responded. ‘But it makes me think about a very good friend of mine who was a commercial director, who once said: “Oh, for god’s sake, Hackett, don’t fall back on technique!” But then lots of prog is all about technique, isn’t it? And yes, you could do a lullaby, or you could add a solo with a lot of notes, and they’re equally valid.’
He went on: ‘I’ve found that when I could only play two or three chords, which I’d learnt from my dad, I had more joy as a guitarist, because the more you can do, the more you expect from yourself… It’s like the first time you flew as a bird, the first time you saw a colour, the first time you heard a song.’
‘And that means that it’s harder and harder to be satisfied,’ Dean concurred. ‘I think you can’t have great art without great craftsmanship, ultimately. There’s a Japanese saying about martial arts: “You train the hand, so the hand trains the mind.” And I think that says a lot about the creative dependence on skill.’
‘I’d never dare to give anyone a music lesson, because so much of my technique is shot full of holes,’ Hackett replied. ‘But the most important thing to teach someone is that the only requirement is to love it… And I think that’s the biggest lesson is: don’t try to do it for a living.’
Talking about the constant creative evolution of an artist, Dean said: ‘I get asked what my favourite painting is, and my default answer is that it’s the painting I’m just finishing. It can be disappointing; it can turn out not how I want it, but it always has the potential to be the most exciting thing I’ve done.’
‘That’s it; the greatest album is always going to be the next one,’ Hackett agreed. ‘I’m still trying to get it right! It’s always a tough one to come back to the blank canvas.’
Trading Boundaries started 21 years ago when director Michael Clifford began importing furniture, handicrafts and textiles from India. Today their beautiful showroom is housed in a Grade 2* listed building, and it’s also home to the official UK retail store for Roger Dean’s work. They also regularly host live music events – previous performers included John Wetton, Rick Wakeman, Martin Barre and the Yes tribute band Seyes. In December this year, Carl Palmer and Steve Hackett have gigs scheduled, among others.
Visit TradingBoundaries.com to learn about the upcoming live music and other events.