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Machines Like Us

Machines Like Us interviews: John Fisher

Saturday, 22 September 2012

One might argue that creativity is what makes us human; it is the driving force behind all progress and invention, and is the impetus behind art, music, science, and the march of civilization itself. We have all experienced bursts of creativity, but what is this mysterious quality, and what makes one individual more creative than another?

In this frank and insightful interview we discuss creativity with a man who processes this illusive quality in spades: renown stone-sculptor John Fisher—an American artist who spent twenty years in Italy, perfecting his craft in the shadow of Michelangelo. He is a man of intense passion and remarkable skills who takes a profoundly philosophical approach to art and its impact on communities. For over thirty years his public, on-site carvings have fascinated residents of the towns to which he is invited, as they observe his intuitive process. Without models or preliminary sketches, Fisher magically pulls figures out of the stone.

(In addition to this interview, John has assembled a delightful history of his life and work for Machines Like Us readers, which can be found here.)

Interview conducted by Norm Nason.

MLU: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, John. I know how busy you are and I appreciate you taking the time away from sculpting to have this exchange.

JF: I'm looking forward to doing this, so let's get started.

MLU: Let's begin with a deceptively simple question: What is creativity?

JF: My great teacher, Tom Blodgett, said: "The creative act is one of desperation." The logic behind this is that if you are doing something you know how to do, you may be very good at it, but you are just repeating something you have learned before. Whereas when you really go out on a limb, when you have no solutions, when you are about to fail, that is when adrenaline kicks in and you pull out the creative act. I attempt to put myself in the most critical and dangerous situations to ensure that this principle keeps me on my toes scrambling for solutions. Putting the whole project in jeopardy is the best way to make it a success. I'll take a stone I have spent months to obtain and thousands of dollars to purchase, then blast into it with heavy machines, with no idea what I am doing. Or imagine finally getting the finest linen canvas, laying in color, value, in big strokes; painting a scene in the last light of day, knowing that the light is changing every minute. That is the way it feels to create. There is a time towards the end when you can slow down and carefully paint in the finishing touches, when the experience is quiet. But the bulk of the time it is a near mortal battle. Creativity = Desperation.

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