An Animated David Lynch Explains Where He Gets His Ideas

“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 Eraser­headBlue 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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Lynch Explains Where His Ideas Come From

Pat­ti Smith and David Lynch Talk About the Source of Their Ideas & Cre­ative Inspi­ra­tion

David Lynch Explains How Med­i­ta­tion Enhances Our Cre­ativ­i­ty

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.


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  • saijanai says:

    TM isn’t a fish­ing pole. You missed the point of the metaphor, I think. TM is mere­ly a relax­ation prac­tice that cre­ates a sit­u­a­tion where the mind can rest more deeply than usu­al, in the direc­tion of com­plete rest.

    Cre­ativ­i­ty aris­es out of mind-wan­der­ing rest, but it aris­es out of *qui­et* mind-wan­der­ing. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, mind-wan­der­ing for most peo­ple is extreme­ly noisy, not qui­et, so cre­ative moments are few and far between. Long-term TM prac­tice accus­toms the brain to be very qui­et while in the mind-wan­der­ing mode, and so cre­ative moments are more like­ly to hap­pen, and when they do, they are like­ly to come from those deep­er (more qui­et) lev­els of the mind, where the big cre­ative fish swim.

    In David’s anaol­o­gy TM would pro­vide you with a reel with a longer fish­ing line for your fish­ing pole, so you can hook the fish that swim deep­er than you could with­out prac­tic­ing TM.

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