Grace Makes Beauty Out of Ugly Things

I paid for and downloaded Daniel Lanois’ mp3 soundtrack for his film Here is What Is about two weeks ago, and it’s been on heavy rotation. At work, I’ve just played it over and over, probably twice a day on average.   Track 5 is a spoken track: it’s what Brian Eno has to say to Lanois about Beauty and the composing process. After so many listenings, this track had seeped into my conscience such that when I was trying to think of a way to encourage my writing students in Advanced Composition class that they shouldn’t despair if it takes writing 2, 3 or 6 drafts of junk in order to start seeing the beginnings of something better, the first thing that came to mind was to quote Eno: “beautiful things grow out of sh**.” 

Here’s what he was telling Lanois:

“Well, I’ll tell you, one thing I would say about your film is that, what would be really interesting for people to see is how beautiful things grow out of sh**.  Because, nobody ever believes that.  You know, everyone thinks that Beethoven had his string quartets completely in his head.  They somehow appeared there and formed in his head and all he had to do was write them down and they would kind of be manifest to the world.  

But I think that what’s so interesting and what would really be a lesson that everybody should learn is that things come out of nothing.  Things evolve out of nothing.   You know, the tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest.  And then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing.  I think this would be important for people to understand, because it gives people confidence in their own lives to know that’s how things work. “

And it was what Eno said at the end of his mini-soliloquy that I really wanted them to hear:

“If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted, they have these wonderful things in their head, but you’re not one of them, you’re just sort of normal person, you could never do anything like that — then you live a different kind of life.  You could have another kind of life where you could say, ‘Well, I know that things come from nothing very much, and start from unpromising beginnings, and I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something …‘ “

So I played track 5 for them in class and encouraged them to just start writing something – anything – even if it feels like an unpromising beginning.  Then let the power of revision  make that “right situation” for the seed to grow and begin its transformation into something beautiful.

Sounds sort of like something a friend of Lanois and Eno’s said a few years back, eh?. 


2 Responses to Grace Makes Beauty Out of Ugly Things

  1. Silvrlvr February 10, 2008 at 6:53 pm #

    As somebody who works in a creative field, I’d take issue with Eno characterising first attempts as “s***.” Maybe I’m taking it too literally, but to me, all first efforts and threads are valid artistically. You don’t until later whether it’s s*** or not. Then you make the call to keep trying or rip it up and start over.

  2. calhouns February 12, 2008 at 1:48 pm #

    I wonder if Eno meant that first attempts are invalid? I don’t think he did . . . maybe he meant that when something starts to become beautiful, it seems so different from what it seemed like when you began that, in comparison, that beginning stuff seemed like the antithesis of beauty. At any rate, I loved that he basically encouraged folks to not abandon a project just because it’s not fully formed when you get started on it.