The Duende (When You're Hot, You're Hot...)


Well-known member
Federico Garcia Lorca, the great Spanish poet, composed an essay on the Duende, Play and the Theory of Duende. Garcia Lorca spoke of Duende as an idea of artistic inspiration having its roots in the Andalusian folk music and dance form, Flamenco. When a performance was absolutely brilliant, one spoke of the dancer or the guitarist as "having Duende."

The American poet, Edward Hirsch wrote an entire book touching on the theme entitled, The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration. Hirsch noted that the ancient Greeks and Romans did not think of "genius" as we do. They did not think of a person as having genius or being a genius ("Picasso was a genius"). Rather, the genius was an external being... a muse... an angel... God. On those occasions when inspiration clearly struck an artist, they thought of the person as truly having the genius/angel/muse at that time. This concept in part explains how sometimes an artist's work is brilliant and other times... not so much. It also hints at how artists might be absolutely phenomenal for a period of time (Bob Dylan, Wordsworth, Coleridge, etc...) only to fade into mediocrity.

I was thinking of this notion of inspiration while working on the last stages of my most recent painting. Now I am not suggesting that I thought I was touched by genius or truly inspired or anything so pretentious. Rather... I was thinking about how it seems as if you can never be certain when things will click for you as an artist.

The day before I finished my most recent painting, I was feeling fine and full of optimism. I had virtually the entire day alone to myself to work as I saw fit without interruptions... blasting some of my favorite music. And the result? I kept flubbing up and drawing as if I had forgotten how to draw a straight line... even with a ruler.

The following day I had planned to set about working again, but I was exposed to constant interruptions. When I finally set about to draw... in the afternoon... turning on the music once again... my wife came home complaining of a headache and wanted only to lay down in silence. I turned of the music almost as soon as I had started it... and then I also came down with a headache... probably stress/frustration over not being able to get any work done. I sat for several hours in my favorite chair petting my little pup in my lap. It was only toward later that evening when my wife went out with a friend that I finally set to work in silence. I rapidly repaired all the clunky efforts of the day before and then quickly completed the rest of the painting as if I could do no wrong.

I've noticed this unpredictability in my artistic ability over the years working in my studio. Inspiration... virtuosity... the "genius/muse/duende/angel" have been wholly unreliable. There have been times when I cannot believe how rapidly and flawlessly I have solved "problems" in a painting and completed it. And there have been other times, I have spent endless futile hours making the most ridiculous and amateurish mistakes. I remember one occasion in which my wife dropped me off at the studio. After a short time organizing the space and staring at the painting, I came down with a pounding headache. Normally, I would have just driven home... but this wasn't an option. I had 6 hours or more until my wife would be back. Feeling like crap, I set about to work on the painting... and it was as if I could make no mistake.

When you're hot, you're hot...?

So what have your experiences been with the Duende/Inspiration/the Muse/"Genius"/the Angel?
So what have your experiences been with the Duende/Inspiration/the Muse/"Genius"/the Angel?

Alas, none that I recall. Like anyone else, I have "off" days, and other days in which things flow better. Indeed, I think the whole thing is to get into that state of "flow", and some days it just won't happen. But on the whole I have long been rather suspicious of the whole idea of inspiration or muses. Apparently, if you don't believe in them they don't visit you either. :D
Unlike so many others here, I am just a dabbler and by no stretch of the imagination a "real" artist. I am fortunate in that I can be like a child at play and make paintings and sculptures purely for the fun of it, so what is commonly thought of as inspiration does not really come into the picture for me. I have, however, experienced the effect of achieving something worthwhile at times that don't seem right and without trying too hard, rather than at ideal times and under the best of conditions. This has happened in all aspects of my life, not just while playing with art materials.
I think I'm with Brian. I have good and bad days, and the opposite on those very same days. They are interchangeable. I mean that by way of having the feeling that I'm in the zone for a day, then, at the end of that same day, looking back, I'll stare at all the work I just did and know I certainly wasn't visited by anything magical. I was probably in a state of delirium for all of that time.
Yeah, I firmly believe in the saying that inspiration has to find you working.
I don´t believe in inspiration as an external force descending on an artist. It is a state of mind, that you can induce by getting to work on something that interests you, leading to that kind of obsessive state where the world around you disappears, and you don´t feel the passage of time. And that sure feels magical.
I have one aspiration when I paint and that is to enjoy the session and not worry what I paint because it's a passage of time that I enjoy. I look at it with an artistic eye after a few days have passed. Sometimes it's quite enjoyable what I managed to capture and other times it's a trip to the garbage can. So sometimes hot sometimes cold. No biggie either way.
Arty... the Duende is spoken of as often connected with music... especially in live performances during those moments when they seem to be alive with a white heat producing something transcendent. Have you felt such in all your years as a musician?

From my own experience, I was thinking of how unpredictable those moments are when I have truly surpassed myself and maybe been truly inspired. Looking back over all of my paintings I recognize that there were a few instances in which I certainly surpassed anything I had achieved up to that point and I am struck by how these works fell together almost effortlessly. For the most part, I am in full agreement with Picasso that while inspiration exists, it doesn't ever show itself while gazing at your navel but rather, must find you working.
I find that when I labor over a painting, it looks stiff and amateurish, and sometimes I won't even finish it. But when a painting just "flows" I can look back at it later and think, "Did I paint that?" That has only happened a few times. :giggle:
There is a time when I begin painting where I achieve total calm, when all that matters is applying paint. I alway feel like that when I paint.
Leggevo del flusso ,di entrare nello stato mentale,il flusso. Quello descritto da Snoball e Maybenartist.
non ricorso se era quello che diceva il libro.disegnare con mal parte destra.
le spiegazioni del libro ,le nozioni scientifiche non erano vere o accurate nel spiegare il percè avviene ciò e perchè alcuni esercizi per entrare nello stato mentale funzionano però dipingere o disegnare possono essere una sorta di meditazione e ciò può sbloccare il processo forse per molti motivi. Lèggevo un consiglio di Ken,ogni momento del disegno é impo ma alcuni sono più noiosi,se vai nel flusso,trans questo problema non ci sta. Iniziato libro ed esercizi forse quello stato mentale lo provavo le prime volte,poi no,mi tornavano sempre in mente pensieri e ricordi sgradevoli o negativi (2 episodi negativi per me collegati direttamente al disegno come il perchè smisi per anni) che mi ancoravano Ad altro, non solo al disegno o al nulla.
alcuni esercizi erano copiare disegno al contrario, non pensare alla cosa che disegni
You're right Joe, negative experiences can affect you for years, even a lifetime. I think the state of mind almost has to be there first, in order to get in that "zone" and lose yourself in the process of making a painting.
I'm with EJH and Snoball on this one.

Some days I can't draw for the life of me and am gobsmacked as to why that degree of dysfunction would occur. Most other times it comes rather easily after a lifetime of practicing.

But that stroke of inspiration is a different animal. I do believe that you can conjure it up, though not as easily as rubbing the magic lamp. It's a mental state in conjunction with something externally interesting for me, though I confess at times it comes completely from imagination.

Nothing in my experience leads me to think that practicing alone brings the muse to your brain, however. Sure, it can improve your skills. Genius is not subject to practicing alone in my own experience or in watching others.

Overworking always flattens my experience and results. Reworking is even worse in my case. The freshness of that initial observation combined with the meditative mental state is what brings out my best. Your mileage may vary, of course.

One time painting with my group, one of the pros stopped me at a few lines of a structural sketch with the brush and virtually cajoled me to stop right there and not screw it up. Another time with the group I had a flash of inspiration painting Seal Rock in San Francisco and had to stop myself after 15 minutes to keep from messing up an inspired painting. The former came out OK anyway, but the latter came out great for my purposes. Maybe I have only a time-limited muse??? LOL
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I never know what's going on with my muse, now that I think about it. :ROFLMAO: ...I think she may have packed her bags and went on a permanent vacation.