Self-Consciousness Is the Enemy of All Art

Ray Bradbury? Erica Jong? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The science fiction luminary Ray Bradbury relied deeply on his intuitions and his imagination to compose lyrical prose. He believed that creativity was obstructed by over-thinking and intellectualizing. The following two statements have been attributed to him:

  • Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art.
  • Thinking is the enemy of creativity.

Are these quotations genuine? Would you please help me to find citations?

Quote Investigator: In 1962 Ray Bradbury wrote an essay titled “The Queen’s Own Evaders, an Afterword” which discussed his seven month sojourn in Ireland where he succeeded in his primary goal of co-authoring the screenplay of “Moby Dick”. Bradbury also learned about the Irish people which later inspired the short play “The Anthem Sprinters”. His essay featured musings on the creative process. Bradbury stated that an artist should not attempt to explain an artwork while it is being created. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

To try to know beforehand is to freeze and kill.
Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.

In 1971 Bradbury addressed the opening banquet of the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Press Association held in Park City, Utah. He presented guidance for writers: 2

The speaker said television is the place you learn how to be mediocre. You learn from it, you grow from it, you learn how not to do things.”

Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. You cannot intellectualize creativity. You can think about something before or after — but not during,” he declared.

These two citations provide solid evidence that Bradbury employed both of the statements mentioned by the questioner. Further, the citations below show that he reiterated these observations later in life.

In 1980 “People” magazine published a profile of Bradbury; the journalist Sally Koris visited with him in Los Angeles: 3

“I jumped up and went to the typewriter and wrote a poem called The Nefertiti-Tut Express,” recalls Bradbury. “You’ve got to write fast or your idea turns to sludge.”

The poem, like all of his works, sprang full-blown from his imagination. “Don’t think!” commands Bradbury. “Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”

An interview with author Erica Jong conducted in 1981 was reprinted in the volume “Conversations with Erica Jong”. The interviewer mentioned academic approaches to literature based on semiotics, phenomenology, and structural fabulation. Jong’s reply emphasized a point that was similar to Bradbury’s: 4

EJ: Those things have nothing to do with the creative process except to impede it. If a novelist is stupid enough to listen, they create self-consciousness which is the enemy of art, the enemy of creation. I cannot see that that does anything to help the writing of books. Maybe it’s good at some point in your life to help organize your view of literature.

In 1984 the syndicated cryptogram puzzle called “Celebrity Cipher” used a remark by Bradbury as a solution: 5

PREVIOUS SOLUTION: “Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” — Ray Bradbury

In 1990 Bradbury published “Zen in the Art of Writing” which reprinted part of the 1962 essay. Hence, the quotation was further distributed: 6

To try to know beforehand is to freeze and kill.
Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.

In 1993 the “Chicago Tribune” of Illinois printed a small set of miscellaneous quotations under the title “Replays”. The first item was from Bradbury: 7

Replays
“Thinking is the enemy of creativity.”
—Ray Bradbury

In 1999 a student speaking at a high school graduation ceremony referred to Bradbury’s statement about creativity: 8

Salutatorian Jessie F. McComb drew on advice from writer Ray Bradbury: “Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity.” The class of 1999 was innovative, she said, starting several new programs and leaving behind artwork on the school’s walls.

In conclusion, Ray Bradbury should receive credit for the comments he made in 1962, 1971, and 1980. Erica Jong made a similar remark about self-consciousness in 1981.

Image Notes: A woman symbolically contemplates the mysteries of creativity. Image from KELLEPICS at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Pam McLaughlin whose inquiry posted to the Wombats mailing list led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to discussant S. M. Colowick who pointed to “Zen in the Art of Writing”.)

Notes:

  1. 1963, The Anthem Sprinters and Other Antics by Ray Bradbury, Chapter 5: The Queen’s Own Evaders, an Afterword by Ray Bradbury, (Essay date: July 31, 1962), Quote Page 154, Apollo Editions: The Dial Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1971 April 16, The Salt Lake Tribune, ‘Instill Fun,’ College Writers Urged (Special to the Tribune), Quote Page 4B, Column 6 and 7, Salt Lake City, Utah. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1980 November 24, Volume 14, Number 21, Article title: Sci-Fi, of Course, but Ray Bradbury’s Literary Exploits Go Well Beyond Either Science or Fiction, Article author: Sally Koris, Time Inc., New York. (People magazine online archive at people.com; accessed June 6, 2012) link
  4. 2002, Conversations with Erica Jong, Edited by Charlotte Templin, (Interview with Erica Jong conducted by Diana Cooper-Clark in 1981; interview reprinted from “Interviews with Contemporary Novelists”, Macmillan 1986, pages 115-143), Start Page 86, Quote Page 89 and 90, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1984 July 21, Mobile Press Register, Celebrity Cipher, Quote Page 2-D, Mobile, Alabama. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 1990, Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Chapter: The Secret Mind, Quote Page 108, Joshua Odell Editions: Capra Press, Santa Barbara, California. (Verified with scans)
  7. 1993 June 27, Chicago Tribune, Fast Track: Replays by Cheryl Lavin, Quote Page SM12, Column 1, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  8. 1999 June 7, Telegram & Gazette, Leominster graduates with dignity by Christine Guilfoy, Quote Page B1, Worcester, Massachusetts. (ProQuest ABI INFORM)