Nearly twenty years ago, I discovered the Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia. That led to my buying two of his LPs, which I enjoyed until my turntable stopped turning. Then I simply forgot him.
Over this past year, however, I stumbled upon the numerous recordings of Paco de Lucia that are available on YouTube. I wouldn’t say that I’ve developed an obsession with the now deceased guitarist, but if there is a Paco de Lucia rabbit hole, I’m still going down it.
Please don’t assume from this that I play the guitar or am a connoisseur of flamenco music. I am neither, but watching Paco de Lucia’s performances on YouTube gives me profound pleasure.
If I were to try to explain what draws me to these videos, I would say it’s the privilege of being in the presence of a true artist as he experiences inspiration. Paco de Lucia’s usual posture was to sit calmly while he played, his one leg crossed to support the guitar as his fingers flew over the strings. But it is the expression on his face as he played is that I find so mesmerizing. He seems caught in the beauty of the moment, transported even.
In an interview that he gave shortly before he died, Paco de Lucia drew back the curtain to explain how he’d come to understand inspiration and creativity. He began by saying that artists have to be working, consistently working, so that they don’t miss inspiration when it appears, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. Paco de Lucia wasn’t guaranteeing that work always leads to inspiration, but rather that inspiration, inherently unpredictable and out of our control, can only “show up” when we are pursuing our craft, whatever that may be.
Paco de Lucia ended the interview by describing something that I wish everyone would experience at least once in their lifetime. In his soft voice, Paco de Lucia described inspiration as an overwhelming experience more powerful than the strongest drug.
Those words by themselves might sound canned or trite. But the look on Paco de Lucia’s face when he uttered them convinced me that he was sharing his secret to a life of joy.
Reminding us of the power and importance of inspiration in life may be the most important role that artists can play in our society—that is, if we listen to them. But we won’t hear their wisdom as long we say to ourselves, “I’m not creative, and I’m certainly no artist.”
I believe that Paco de Lucia would disagree. He knew that any activity can become art when inspiration breaks into our lives.
We rob ourselves of life’s joys when we believe art is confined to museums, concert halls, or formal art classes. Art is as near as tackling a familiar problem with a new approach, as near as writing a sympathy card from the heart rather than repeating common clichés, as near as taking the risk of adding a new spice to an old family recipe.