Is Art Removal or Addition?

Behold my wisdom, dudes.
Behold my wisdom, dudes.

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.

– Michelangelo


I tend to think of writing, or any other art, as about addition – the accumulation of ideas and pieces into something grander than the sum of their parts.

But is it really that way around?

Michelangelo suggested that the statue lies ready in the stone, and all the sculptor does is remove what’s in the way. It’s a view of art that fits sculpture well, but can be applied metaphorically elsewhere – the idea of cutting away options until what remains is the best you can find. Connected to this, Anne Bogart’s conception of theatre as violence, discussed in this Idea Channel video, treats creativity as the removal of options, the¬†reduction of an endless sea of possibilities down to just one in each moment.

"Couldn't you have discovered me a little larger?"
“Couldn’t you have discovered me a little larger?”

Whatever the truth, this view of art as subtraction is a useful tool for me, because it makes me look at writing differently. It makes me consider all the possibilities and recognise how many I reject with each tap of the keys or stroke of the pen.

What do you think? Is art, and in particular writing, about adding elements, taking them away, or a mixture of the two? Does looking at it differently help you to create? Let me know what you think in the comments.