“Where do you get your ideas?” Every artist dreads having to answer that most common of all questions. Well, every artist with the exception of David Lynch. The director of such modern cinematic quasi-nightmares as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive will gladly explain exactly where he gets his ideas: from his own consciousness, “the TV in your mind.”
He’ll also gladly explain how he gets them by, not to mix the metaphor too much, using the folksy terms of fishing: “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.” And to bait the hook with? Why, bits of other ideas. Those words come from his 2006 book Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, a slim volume on this and that which gets into some detail about his use of Transcendental Meditation as a kind of fishing pole to reel those especially compelling ideas in from one’s consciousness.
A couple of years after that, Lynch sat down with The Atlantic to talk about his special brand of creativity (as distinct from his special brand of coffee, no doubt also a fuel for thought). They’ve just recently animated his remarks to make the short video above, a visualization of his idea-getting processes, including daydreaming, traveling, and looking into a puddle in the gutter.
“I always say it’s like there’s a man in another room with the whole film together, but they’re in puzzle parts,” says Lynch as hands chop a fish into frames of celluloid. “He’s flipping one piece at a time into me. At first it’s very abstract; I don’t have a clue. More pieces come, more ideas are caught. It starts forming a thing. And then one day, there it is. In a way, there’s no original ideas. It’s just the ideas that you caught.”
The ideas Lynch has caught have become, among other things, some of the most memorable films of the late 20th century — and, according to last month’s BBC poll, the best film of the 21st century so far. What’s more, he claims not to have suffered for them, illustrating his argument of suffering as antithetical to creativity with an imaginary scenario of a diarrhea-afflicted Van Gogh. As for what part of his consciousness he fished that image out of, perhaps we’d rather not know.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.