Modern-dance master Twyla Tharp has been an inspiration for decades with her kinetic and innovative dance, but her views on the creative spark are surprisingly down-to-earth. In her book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, she doles out hard-boiled advice: practice your craft, keep moving, don't compromise. Better take her word for it.
You downplay inspiration—but haven't you experienced transcendent artistic moments?
I know that sense, and I am grateful for it. Now, can I remember the last time that came to pass? Nope. I think that people who practice their craft regularly don't look to inspiration to the extent that people do who are, shall we say, dilettantes.
Tell me how your mom—these are your words—"built you step-by-step for a creative life."
By 6 months old, I was at the piano with [my mother] having ear training. Her sense was that if you isolate the kid when they're very, very young, they have a better shot at accomplishing something. I was isolated from all the kids in the neighborhood, even from my own family.
Did that fit your personality?
I didn't have a choice. It was either do it or rebel. Had I not had positive feedback, I might have rebelled.