It is said of Richard Strauss that he would take a literary source (a story or poem) and then compose a piece of music that, in his mind, matched its flow of events and moods exactly. But, before unveiling his new work, he would suppress this literary point of origin, keeping the knowledge only to himself. His music told a story, possessed the shape of a story – but the specific characters and situations of that story remained cryptic, hidden.
We will never know how many artists work this way, with secret sources of inspiration, and obscured models. Launching an exhibition of new works, the Australian painter James Clayden stood proudly before his large, abstract canvas: forms, shapes, smudges of colour, mere suggestions of bodies and postures. A spectator looked at it and suddenly exclaimed: “Ah, the ending of John Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie!” Clayden was amazed: his template had been found out.