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Joni Mitchell and the key to her creativity


Joni Mitchell is one of the most influential figures in music’s history; she wrote in such an open, honest and confessional manner that it was hard not to be swallowed up by her songs. Many artists have attempted to mould themselves into a shape reminiscent of Mitchell, using her influence to guide them. Although she’s now enjoying her retirement and isn’t set to return to the stage anytime soon, her career boasts of material that has earnt Mitchell a legacy that few will ever be able to match.

Her approach towards lyrics, mostly, was utterly groundbreaking and the honest way that she created her art left a mark on music that is always going to be there. An artist like Joni Mitchell is the definition of a mercurial talent. Throughout her career, she curated her creativity and used this to cultivate her audience, ensuring that she has remained an influential artist across the decades. Mitchell always stayed true to making art that she loved for herself first and foremost. With 19 studio albums under her belt, Mitchell has rightly become one of the esteemed pantheon members of 20th-century artists and beyond.  

It’s not just music that allows Mitchell to channel her creativity. She’s also an astute poet and painter, which enables her to express things in a plethora of magnificent ways. In an interview with CBC in 2013, Mitchell opened up about her creative process and opened up about the keys to her recipe for success. 

“With the poetry, you’re making the head jump, and you’re rating it for linguistics. I’ve got Irish blood, which gets the blarney running and all of a sudden there’s a lot of alliteration in my thought patterns. It’s good to sit down to address a melody that you’re working on or something because the blarney’s running, but, it’s a jumpy head going, ‘good, better, best’ and you’re evaluating,” Mitchell explains.

“With painting, the head process is completely different. It’s like meditation, and you come down to synapses,” Mitchell states before delivering a bizarre array of sounds designed to replicate these synapses. Explaining the sound she made, Mitchell added, “It’s just the universe, the wires and it just comes down to synapses that are non-verbal. The discourse has been silenced, so it’s a very different headspace from poetry.

“You’re watching your busy head from a detached point of view, and you’re stealing from it. ‘Good thought, bad thought, ooh colourful, eh not quite to the point’. You then peel some more layers off it, that’s the way that I write, and I know that’s not how everybody writes, but, it’s an active brain, and the analytical process is in play.

“In painting, the analytical process appears from time to time as a command. ‘Red in the upper left-hand corner, the nose is too fat’,” she then adds in a robotic voice. “It’s more like a zen-mind, painting, whereas writing from a Buddhist position is more neurotic.”

It’s fascinating to hear Mitchell speak so openly and candidly about how she attacks the creative process depending on how she is expressing herself through her art. Whilst writing poetry and lyrics seem to come from the same part of Mitchell’s brain, painting has offered her an entirely new way of channelling her creative energy that even now her brain is seemingly still flowing with.

Not many people have a creative mind on the scale of Mitchell, in-fact her more remarkable skill is her ability to fine-tune that talent and carve gold out of it, which she has done for over half-a-century. Whether she’s got a paintbrush in her hand, pen or guitar, Mitchell knows how to use her mind as a vehicle to sift for treasure.