Artistic masterpieces, whether they are in visual, audio, or written form, often require a lengthy creative process that can take many months or even years to complete. That’s why it is so surprising to hear about a popular book being written in a matter of days, a hit song being composed in minutes, or famous paintings done in hours.
Sometimes the motivation for this accelerated creativity is tied to money, which is to be expected considering so many artists, even those who go on to become hugely successful, struggle financially prior to their breakthrough.
Here are 10 masterpieces that were churned out super fast.
Related: 10 Literary Masterpieces So Bad They’re Actually Pretty Good
10 Visage: Head of a Faun
Some professional painters have been known to create marketable work in just a couple of minutes, like the record-setting Morris Katz, who came up with a process called instant art. Using this quick-fire technique, he is said to have done 225,000 paintings.
Pablo Picasso had a reputation for being prolific as well, “estimated to have completed some 13,500 paintings in his life,” according to Artsy. In 1937 he produced his famous Guernica mural in just three weeks, and according to an oft-repeated anecdote, he once responded to a request for a portrait from a lady who approached him in a café by sketching her likeness on the back of a menu in five minutes. However, one of his most impressive quickie works is “Visage: Head of a Faun,” which he did for the 1955 documentary Le Mystère Picasso by Henri-Georges Clouzot. It was created in five minutes as the camera was rolling. The time constraint is due to Clouzot’s limited supply of film stock.
“Visage: Head of a Faun” was recently featured as part of the Picasso and Paper exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. During the few minutes Picasso spent on the drawing, he repeatedly transformed the piece, “taking it from flower to fish to chicken to face and builds up from a monochrome drawing with bright, saturated colors,” says Open Culture.
9 A Study in Scarlet
Although the majority of Sherlock Holmes tales are short stories, which were first published in magazines, the series author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, did write a few full-length novels led by the famous detective. The first of these was A Study in Scarlet, involving the discovery of a corpse at a rundown house.
Originally printed in 1887 in Beeton’s Christmas Annual, it was later published in book format. Not only did this mark Sherlock Holmes’s debut as a character in literature, but it also describes the first meeting of Holmes and Watson. Additionally, it has the distinction of being the first Holmes story to be adapted to film. While the novel is relatively short, it is still impressive that Conan Doyle was able to write it in only three weeks, especially since this was the beginning of such an enormously popular franchise, which is still going strong more than 130 years later.
8 The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The story of how Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic 1886 horror novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was created sounds like a kind of horror story in itself, especially to anyone who has ever tried to write a book.
The author, who was suffering from tuberculosis at the time and may have been under the effect of medicinal cocaine, had been toying with the basic concept of a story about dual identity. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde idea came to him in a dream one night, which caused his wife Fanny to awaken him when she heard Stevenson screaming. He is thought to have written the original draft in three days. However, Fanny was so critical of the story that she burned it. Stevenson spent another three days rewriting the draft. Or, that’s how the story goes. It likely took him about six weeks, still a feat for such an impactful book.
7 “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”
Singer/songwriter/producer Terius Youngdell Nash—better known as The-Dream—may have just been kidding when he announced after arriving at the recording studio one day that he was going to write a song that would be the next big single for Beyoncé. But the results were anything but laughable. A single off Beyoncé’s 2008 I Am…Sasha Fierce album, the catchy, highly danceable, ultimatum-themed song “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” took him 17 minutes to compose and made it all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard Charts.
Insider quoted The-Dream as saying: “Usually those songs that take the small amount of time are usually the bigger ones because you’re not thinking about it.”
6 Gismonda Poster
Compared to some of his truly speedy fellow painters, the length of time Czech artist Alphonse Mucha spent on his first Sarah Bernhardt poster, almost one week, may not seem that impressive. But in light of the work’s prominence, it is a very short time. Primarily remembered as a very popular decorative and commercial artist who often used mythical and nature themes in his work, Mucha got his big break in December 1894 by being in the right place at the right time.
Bernhardt ordered a new poster design from Parisian lithographers Lemerciers for the play Gismonda. Savvy when it came to marketing, the legendary French actress wanted something different and was in a hurry. Since most of the designers in Paris were on vacation at the time, the workshop manager was in a tight spot. He asked the young, virtually unknown Mucha, who just happened to be there working on something for a friend, if he could design the poster for Bernhardt.
“Within a week, Mucha produced a poster for her that is now considered a cornerstone of the Art Nouveau movement,” according to Marie Vítková of the National Museum in Prague. The poster of Bernhardt dressed as a Byzantine princess, set against a gold background with palm leaf, is still among Mucha’s most famous, along with such designs as Zodiac and the Sarah Bernhardt poster for La Plume.
As well-loved as The Beatles’ music has been for more than 50 years, some of their more simplistic bubblegum pop songs might sound as though they were dashed off in just a few minutes. Ironically, it was one of the group’s most poignant songs, “Yesterday,” which was written at lightning speed. In addition to its artistic merit, this 1965 single from the group’s Help album is so popular it holds the record for being the most covered song of all time.
According to NME, the melody for the 1965 song came to Paul McCartney in a dream and took less than a minute to write. “I have no idea how I wrote that. I just woke up one morning, and it was in my head. I didn’t believe it for about two weeks,” explained McCartney.
The lyrics took much longer, a couple of months. The song was credited to McCartney-Lennon; however, John Lennon made it clear, a few years later, that he had not co-written “Yesterday,” giving all the credit to Paul McCartney.
4 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
What started out as a class assignment in 1960 became the basis for what is now considered a literary classic. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is about an unconventional school teacher/mentor in 1930s Edinburgh. To some degree, a coming-of-age story told from the perspective of her adoring students, this short novel was written in just one month.
Author Muriel Spark explained: “We were given to write about how we spent our summer holidays, but I wrote about how [my teacher] spent her summer holidays instead. It seemed more fascinating.”
The book was later adapted to film, becoming a very memorable 1969 movie with Maggie Smith winning an Oscar for starring as the title character.
3 “Your Song”
The timeless and endearingly unpretentious 1970 Elton John classic “Your Song” didn’t take long for John to compose or for his lyricist Bernie Taupin to write. As was their habit, the two collaborators worked on it separately, but this 1970 ballad was quickly created, both musically and lyrically. Still one of the pop star’s best-loved songs, this track became John’s first hit single in America.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Elton John remembered: “It came out in about 20 minutes, and when I was done, I called him in, and we both knew. I was 22, and he was 19, and it gave us so much confidence.”
2 The Boy in Striped Pyjamas
Even with the knowledge that author John Boyne barely took time out for food or sleep, it is still mind-boggling to imagine him writing the first draft of his highly acclaimed 2006 Holocaust novel The Boy in Striped Pyjamas in just two and a half days. The speediness of this process is an exception to how Boyne previously worked, typically taking a number of months to write a book.
It is astonishing to think that any full-length volume could be written in a couple of days but particularly a weighty and emotionally compelling story such as this. The book tells the story of an innocent nine-year-old Bruno who strikes up a friendship with another young boy Shmuel, an inmate at a concentration camp, where Bruno’s father has recently been put in charge.
The book was turned into the commercially successful but somewhat controversial 2008 film, released as The Boy in Striped Pajamas in North America, starring Asa Butterfield.
Sylvester Stallone was one of many artists motivated to work fast due to money being tight. He was so broke just before writing the screenplay for Rocky, he was trying to sell his dog, which he could barely afford to feed. Stallone found inspiration in a fight he had recently seen between super-star heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali and the little-known Chuck Wepner, aka “The Bayonne Bleeder.” During the fight, Wepner actually managed to knock Ali down. Stallone said, “I thought if this isn’t a metaphor for life…” The result was his original Rocky screenplay, which was completed in just three days.
This story about underdog boxer Rocky Balboa taking his shot at the title was not only a massively successful Oscar-winning movie, but the 1976 classic launched a multi-film franchise and made Stallone a major star overnight. Obviously, much more than a sports drama, Rocky is widely considered a cinematic work of art that also turned out to be one of the most inspiring films of all time. It is almost beyond comprehension that a screenplay for a motion picture of this magnitude could be written in just a few days.