'Creating art isn't easy'

Andrew Wyeth’s and Esther Mahlangu’s views on creativity make fascinating reading in these exclusive extracts from Wisdom by Andrew Zuckerman (Wild Dog Press), a large-format book featuring the thoughts and images of achievers in arts, religion, business and politics

Extract one: Andrew Wyeth
You could go for months and not find a thing that excites you. Inspiration can come from the wind whipping a leaf across in front of you, or across a highway; that’ll excite you and get you going. Inspiration is a very, very tricky thing to even talk about because it’s such a—it’s like making love.
Sometimes you can do it and sometimes you can’t. When it snaps, it snaps.

To sit down and think up what I ought to be doing, which I’ve done at times—I hate it. I know one of the best portraits I ever did happened without me knowing it was going to happen. I was sitting in the middle of my studio room and I had this black man standing with me there, and he sat down in front of me and watched my brush, and I felt his head peering down at me. I began to draw the corner of his mouth and the slight smile, and the little bit of dampness of where he had been drinking wine.

And I kept drawing and he was more and more interested. And it just happened. All of a sudden, out of this flat piece of paper came this amazing head. It just grew naturally. I didn’t tell him to look here, look there. He was just glued to what I was doing. The drawing, the watercolour dry brush, is called The Drifter. You look it up sometime. You’ll see what I mean. It’s perfectly natural. I didn’t say, “Sit over here.” It just happened.

Extract two: Esther Mahlangu
When I grew up, I learned that you must respect the elders. You were supposed to understand that you are young and the elders were supposed to give you the relevant rules and regulations.

Today there is no respect. We are trying to teach children our customs. That is why I teach customs and respect; and I also teach embroidery and beadwork. Most parents don’t stay with their children—they work in towns, and therefore they no longer teach them about ubuntu, culture, paintings and embroidery. That is why I gave myself this job of teaching these children. I teach them respect. They must respect themselves and their parents.

Students of painting must not be misled by people who say to quit because painting is useless. If you like it, then do it for your personal development.

When I am painting, everything is in my mind. I don’t think anyone can tell me what to do. When I start painting, everything just comes.

When I begin to do something, I know where to start and how to do it. We used to see our forefathers and grandmothers doing it, and then we learned from that and memorised it. Whatever we learned stayed in our minds forever. That is why I have a school to teach kids: so that these skills can continue.

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