Notes Tharp Chapter 6 Scratching And Gob Squad

Tharp Chapter 6: Scratching

What is it? “You know how you scratch away at a lottery ticket to see if you’ve won? That’s what I’m doing when I begin a piece. I’m digging through everything to find something.”

Tharp describes the process of how she creates her ideas as “scratching.” Her ideas are formed by many smaller ideas that she gets by improvisation and exhausting all resources she can get her hands on.

Tharp distinguishes what she believes to be the difference of good and bad ideas. A good idea starts a flow of multiple other ideas, while a bad idea “closes doors” ending a creative process abruptly.

She claims “You don’t scratch for big ideas.” Big ideas only appear when there is an ulterior motive than to just create. Usually money, or attention. “That is why you scratch for little ideas. Without little ideas, there are no big ideas.”

The idea of improvisation being an effective tool for her to create. “appreciate the  gift of improvisation. It’s your one opportunity in life to be free… giving yourself permission to daydream during working hours.”

Stephen Kosslyn’s (Harvard psychologist) 4 steps for ideas:





Tharp struggled with retaining, until she discovered the video camera

Common ways to scratch for ideas:

Reading, everyday conversation, other people’s handiwork (Attending shows, visiting museums or galleries for inspiration), from mentors and heroes, nature,

Rules for scratching:

Be in shape- whether that be physically or mentally, after a pause of creation one can be “rusty”

Scratch in the Best Places:

Not necessarily to be taken literal, as in a physical place. But, make sure you are using the best of the best as a starting place. “If you read for inspiration, read the top-drawer writers, and read their masterworks first… scratch among the best and you will automatically raise the quality of ideas you uncover.”

Never Scratch the Same Place Twice:

“Gain no new information if you retrace your steps.”

I would be interested to hear her expand on this idea. I have always been taught that we can learn from the past if we re-examine with a new perspective.

Maintain the White Hot Pitch:

Using anger and frustration as motivation even if chaotic the adrenaline rush can get the creativity flowing.

*Focus on individual creation

  • ●  Need t​ angible idea​ to begin creative works (no matter how small the idea)
  • ●  Tharp’s process of “scratching”:

○ Sifting through as much information, sensory input, other works, etc. to find an idea that begins a piece

  • ●  Ideas are all around us!
    • ○  Good idea: “keeps generating more ideas and they improve on one another”
    • ○  Bad idea: “confining and restrictive”
  • ●  Don’t wait for big ideas. Scratch for little ideas/choices. Little ideas are necessary to build big ideas.
  • ●  Give yourself permission to improvise and play
  • ●  Idea can be acted upon in four ways:
    • ○  Generate it
    • ○  Retain it
    • ○  Inspect it
    • ○  Transform it
  • ●  Sources from which to scratch for ideas:
    • ○  Reading
    • ○  Everyday conversation
    • ○  Other’s work
    • ○  Mentors and heroes
    • ○  nature
  • ●  Ways to make scratching easier
    • ○  Practice your craft regularly
    • ○  Be inspired by the best sources
    • ○  Try new things
    • ○  Work with intensity

Gob Squad

 Starting point is to come up with a concept to build off of.

Three questions they ask themselves while creating:

  1. What do we want to be working on next?
  2. What is on our minds?
  3. What can we learn from the last piece?

“You’ve got to come to an agreement together.”  – the process of collaboration, and even if all parties aren’t 100% on board with the idea there is at least some agreement made to continue progressing the piece.

Input from all group members from their day to day lives.

Continuous process, it isn’t “okay today we start project A, okay we finished project A now onto project B” – instead there are always several different inspirations and ideas circulating while working on different pieces.


“theory and practice are like the chicken and the egg – it’s hard to say which comes first.”

Discussion on the role improvisation plays in creation: similar to Tharp

Aside from the mention of improv, the process of Gob Squad and Tharp seem different. Tharp is more of an individual process while Gob Squad is a collaboration between many artists.