You Can Make It

Monday, 25. May 2020 0:08 | Author:

The past several weeks have presented many of us the opportunity for rumination. One of the topics that I have given some thought to recently is artistic success. So when I ran across Florida Congresswoman Val Demings’ quote in the Washington Post, it gave me pause. Representative Deming is quoted by Jonathan Capehart as saying that her mother told her, “You can make it. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can be anything you wanna be and do anything you wanna do.”  That quote led me to think about a number of people in the arts who are pretty sure they followed the rules and worked hard, but feel that they are not yet anywhere close to their dreams. That seemed to warrant examination.

Perhaps they never really defined what they wanted to do or be. To want to be a Broadway actor is a very different thing from just wanting to be a working actor who makes his/her living on the stage, which is a very different thing from wanting to be a working film actor, which is a very different thing from wanting to be an internationally-known movie star. It’s not that it’s better to be one or another of these categories of actor; it’s just that they are different and the paths to getting there are different and have different sets of rules that must be followed. So it may be that a person dreamed of being one of these, but followed the path for another, and thus ended up in a place different from where s/he wanted to be. Something similar happened to Jerry Saltz. In his book, How to Be an Artist, he discusses all the paths he tried before deciding that writing about art was what he really wanted to do.

As long as we’re talking about rules, there’s that whole “playing by the rules” thing. Again, if someone is playing by the wrong set of rules, s/he may not be headed where s/he thinks she is going, but another place entirely. It is up to each individual artist to determine what the rules are for the path s/he has chosen. The rules for becoming an outstanding teaching artist in painting are very different from the rules for becoming an artist whose work is collected by museums and auctioned at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. Before someone can “play by the rules,” s/he must first know what the rules are for where s/he is headed.

As for working hard, that too means different things according to the track one is following. Most serious photographers work hard at learning the craft aspects of their field, and many work hard at developing a high level of artistry in their images. If all a person is interested in is making excellent images, the hard work can be constrained to those areas; however, if one wants to do fashion photography, there are a number of other areas that will require hard work of several kinds in order to position oneself successfully in that particular area of photographic art. Similarly, other kinds of hard work are required by other areas of specialization.

One thing that is not referenced in the Representative Demings’ quotation is a time frame. Some artists do not find success until they have lived a while. And we are talking about a fair number of artists.  Jerry Saltz, in the book mentioned above, for example, talks about the difficulties he had in arriving at his goal of being an art critic finally at the age of 41.

So maybe those who are feeling they are not close to their dreams just aren’t there—yet. Or perhaps they don’t want to work so hard at ancillary things, or don’t want to follow a particular set of rules or find that the dream they started with is not the one they now want. They just need to remember that dreams, like everything else, can always be adjusted.

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Of Uniforms and Ritual

Sunday, 10. May 2020 21:41 | Author:

Many things have changed since mid-March. Some of us are working from home; some of us are unemployed; a few of us are performing essential services and exposing ourselves daily to Coronavirus risk. Everyone’s life has changed.  Even those of us who have always been solitary artists have seen some change. Everybody feels off-balance, not exactly knowing what the next step might be. Part of the reason that we are feeling the way we are is the absence of uniforms and ritual in our current lives.

A friend of mine says that all successful people dress in uniforms. She did not mean, of course, literal uniforms, but rather that people whom she considers successful dress so that every day they are dressed similarly, whatever way that happens to be. For some that may be a sports jacket, button-up shirt, and jeans; for others it may be a two-piece suit. For Steve Jobs it was Levis black 501 jeans and a black mock turtle-neck shirt; the shirts were designed specifically for him by Japanese designer Issey Miyake.

Many of us developed “uniforms” that we wore pre-pandemic. One of the first things that happened when we were compelled to stay at home was the abandonment of our uniforms. Many of us quickly opted for T-shirts and pajama bottoms. Comfort seemed to be the order of the day, and changing clothes was just a ridiculous concept. However, a man I know who is one of the best-adjusted newly at-home workers I know told me that he just changed uniforms. Needless to say, he is a firm believer in the uniform concept evinced by Steve Jobs. He says that he adopted yoga pants (the loose ones—very comfortable, but a little more stylish than pajama pants or shorts) and a polo shirt, which enables him to be “camera ready” for the unannounced Skype, Zoom, or Teams calls. And shoes; he says the shoes (sneakers) are very important to feeling “dressed.” That’s his work-from-home outfit; it’s very different from his pre-pandemic wear. He says that when he’s off work, he changes clothes to help him differentiate work time and personal time. He also says having a uniform helps with his outlook and attitude.

A second thing that changed in March was our set of rituals. We all had developed personal rituals that we went through every day. Some were consciously developed; others were unconscious. Some of us did a quiet time or meditation every morning before we began our work day. Others of us went through the ritual of coffee, shower, breakfast, commute as a beginning to our days.

Suddenly, our routines changed and not only were we disconcerted and disoriented by the pandemic and its implications, but we are also absent our daily rituals that helped us begin and get through the day. This, of course, led to even more disorientation and distress. We were hit by a tsunami and at the same time became untethered from our moorings. Is it any wonder that many of us felt lost?

The good news is that we can adopt new uniforms and develop new rituals. We might do well to remember Karl Lagerfeld’s famous quote about sweatpants, which also applies to pajamas: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Uniforms don’t have to be “dressy” or what we wore when we “went to work,” but they can reflect a style and an attitude that moves us forward.

Likewise we can add ritual to our day. We certainly do not have to “go to work” to have ritual in our existence; we just have to tailor the little pieces of our behavior to our current situation and then repeat those behaviors until they become rituals that inform our days. The thing about rituals is, at least according to Scientific American, is they work. We certainly don’t have to do the same things in the same order that we used to, but it would be well to do the same things in the same order every day.  The routine and the ritual thus established will comfort us if nothing else.

Many think that the pandemic will be with us for a while, certainly far longer than any of us would like. Perhaps developing new rituals and adopting a uniform that matches our new mode of working will help us cope with this new and still-unsettling way of life.

Category:Productivity | Comment (0)

Beware of the Shoulds

Sunday, 26. April 2020 22:53 | Author:

So, you’re sheltering in place or you’re going to your essential job or you’re working from home or you’re passing the pandemic in some way or the other. Your situation likely is not like your neighbors’. As a matter of fact your situation is unique to you, and that’s why you ought to beware of the shoulds.

Every time you open an arts web site, some “authority” or the other is telling you what you should be doing during this time of international stress and disease. And many of them press the point so hard that if you were to take them seriously, you would feel guilty if you didn’t follow their advice. “Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined; Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus while quarantined. You should do something equally spectacular.” “Make art, even if it’s bad art.” “Now that you have time on your hands, use it constructively.” “What a perfect opportunity to do research for that story you want to write.” “This could be the time for you to make your best art!” “It’s a perfect time to learn those dance steps you were talking about.” “Now you can set up that home studio.” “Now is the time to write that novel.” “This is a perfect opportunity to work on that difficult piece you want to play.” “Now you have all this time to edit that last photo shoot.” “Why don’t you work on that sculpture now that you have the time?”

STOP LISTENING TO THOSE PEOPLE!

They are not you and do not know what you are dealing with. You may feel like the world has changed completely; it has. You may feel that the rug has been pulled out from under your existence; it has. You may be spending so much time dealing with exigencies of doing your job on line that you don’t have time for anything resembling art-making. That’s okay. You may be dealing with the unbelievable stress of having to completely change your lifestyle just to survive. That’s okay too. You may just not feel like making any art today, or this week, or this month, much less attempting a masterpiece. And even that’s okay.

Those you-should-be-doings are other people’s; they are not yours. Only you know what is right for you at this particular moment in time, and, if you are anything like me, it changes from day to day. Some days you may be super-energetic about developing new ways to work from home or approaching some other project. Other days may be hum-drum. On yet other days you may be totally depressed. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. You have to take each day as it comes and deal with yourself and your situation on that day only.

And on some days you may make art, or you may not. Although it feels like we have been doing this forever, we are still just feeling our way along, trying to deal with the shock and grief and uncertainty as best as we can on a day-to-day basis. We have no idea where we’re going, but we keep inching forward. What we do NOT need to do is beat ourselves up for not being creative and productive every minute of our existence. What we are going through takes some time to come to terms with—if we ever can. Our minds will turn to art and making it when it is appropriate for us—as individuals—not according to an admonition by some smug Internet pundit.

Chapter 24 of Jerry Saltz’s How to Be an Artist, is entitled “There are no Wasted Days.” In this very brief chapter he says that “your artist’s mind is always working, even when you think it’s idling….You are your method; your life is part of your work.” And it’s true. All that time when you are trying to cope with the new reality, your creative mind is working, absorbing, combining, understanding. When it’s time for you to produce, you will produce. And just as each person’s art is unique, each artist’s method and timing is personal and distinctive.

You will make art when you feel it is time, and it will be as good as it can be. Until then, just keep living and learning—and ignoring the shoulds.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0)

Overload

Monday, 13. April 2020 0:19 | Author:

It seems that there is only one topic these days. That, of course, is the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic-social distancing-quarantine triad. And it’s understandable. It’s fair to say that this triad of connected issues has impacted our lives probably more and more profoundly than any other “event” we have experienced since we first drew breath. It has changed the way we live and is even now changing the way that we think and react. As I suggested in the last post, it will certainly affect our futures in ways yet to be determined. Everything that we see and hear seems to be related to one or all three of these topics. And, combined with what we are personally enduring, it’s just too much.

Not that some good things have not come from this situation, much of it virtual. Many of the responses to this situation have been truly beautiful. For example there have been some moving virtual musical productions done from quarantine, such as the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s abbreviated version of Beethoven’s 9th  Symphony or the Italian youth choir il coro che non c’è performing Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Helplessly Hoping,” which is impossible to experience without crying.

In art there is the remarkable Izoizolyacia Facebook group, where Russians and Russian-speakers are engaged in a project to replicate artworks while in isolation. The rules are only that entrants must only use items on hand and that the work cannot be digitally manipulated. The range, quality, and quantity of the recreated art works is astounding.  (And you don’t have to read Russian to understand and appreciate the images.)

It may be too early for fiction, but a number of excellent essays are being published every day. For example, David Patrick Stearns has written a timely article on “Why Beethoven is so relatable right now.” Stanford professor of classics and history Walter Scheidel has written an intriguing article on “Why the Wealthy Fear Pandemics.” And there is also a thought-provoking piece by novelist R.O. Kwon that suggests that part of the mental problems we are facing is because, without knowing it, we are grieving. And these are but a few.

Every day artists and thinkers in all disciplines are responding to the pandemic. Much of that work is moving and thoughtful and intelligent. And many of these artists and thinkers are looking at different sides of the situation, but it is still only about one thing. Even “Saturday Night Live” produced a virtual “At Home Edition” on April 11, which was all about the pandemic.

Perhaps it is too much to ask that artists and thinkers look in a different direction, consider other topics. Perhaps the pandemic is simply too big to be able to do that. But I am beginning to feel saturated, over-saturated. Whatever we see, read, listen to is about the pandemic. It is almost impossible to get away from without isolating ourselves even more than we already are.

And I can’t say that I’m recommending that. The head-in-the-sand approach is never desirable. What is desirable is that we—for our own mental health—take a break: turn off the TV, shut down the news feeds, listen to some favorite music, watch a movie—for a while. Yes, we need to grieve; yes, we may need to cry, but we also need to lessen the overload on our psyches. Now might be the time for us to think about a project completely unrelated to what we are enduring.

It may not be time yet to activate those sorts of projects, but it is certainly time that we spent a little while away from the current state of the world and think about some other possibilities for our arts.

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The Morning After

Sunday, 29. March 2020 22:41 | Author:

The world is different these days. People—smart people anyway—are practicing social distancing and sheltering in place, isolating themselves in their homes in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep from getting the disease themselves. Some of us whose work depends on gathering in groups are trying to figure out what to do with ourselves. Others of us who teach find ourselves working harder and longer hours than we have in years, trying to figure out how to teach things online that would have been deemed impossible just a month ago. Still others of us who work essentially alone find little change in our lives other than perhaps the way we communicate with others and don’t socialize.

What is on our minds varies from person to person. Many of us are concerned for our personal safety and sanity. Others are concerned with the enormity of the situation. Still others are concerned with the politics that are evident as the US tries to deal with the crisis. Some of us seem totally unconcerned about what is going on and are continuing to live life as though there were nothing wrong while our neighbors are trying to adjust to working from home. Some are viewing the situation as an opportunity to catch up on projects they have not had time for. Others of us are completely panicked and hopeless, wondering how we are going to eat and pay the rent.

Still, there are those who take a philosophical approach to the situation. The number of articles available on the internet about how this global pandemic provides us an opportunity is expanding as rapidly as the virus itself. The type of opportunities pundits think are available are as numerous as the articles and range from self-introspection to transforming the way we live. Some, like David Suzuki think the virus represents an opportunity to make changes in our behavior that will benefit the planet.

This post falls more into this last category. As I was prepping for my first full online lecture on film noir, I ran across the statement that the notion returning to prewar America after World War II turned out to be a myth. It occurred to me that this situation is much the same. Never since World War II, has the nation, the world, been so completely absorbed by a crisis.  We cannot and will not return to a post-COVID-19 that will be the same as the pre-COVID-19 world in which we used to live. What we are now in is not the new normal, but rather the new interim. And it seems impossible to predict what the post-COVID-19 world will be like, how this virus and the crisis that it has engendered will have changed the country and our perceptions of nearly every aspect of reality.

And that’s the point. If we are still breathing, we have already been thinking about how this crisis has impacted our art. Some of us in the arts are wondering if or when we will work again. However, this is going to be over one day, and what I am suggesting is that we ought to turn our attention to what the situation might be after the pandemic. It is almost guaranteed that the world will be different—not just for artists, but for everyone. It has happened before. It is equally almost certain that what we have done before will likely not fit the new normal, whatever that turns out to be. The questions become how our art is going to fit into that new world, and how we are going to have to adapt what we do in order to be relevant in that future.

As Maureen McGovern’s The Morning After assures us, “there’s got to be a morning after.” Unfortunately, since we have no idea what the new world will look like, all we can do is stay adaptable. The time, however, to be thinking and preparing for that morning after in that new world is now.

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Survival Suggestions

Sunday, 15. March 2020 23:28 | Author:

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us into isolation. If you are an artist who usually works alone, a writer or painter perhaps, this is nothing new. You are used to spending the day mostly alone. For others of us in the arts, this a new and not necessarily welcome turn of events. Suddenly, many of us who are used to working with others are being forced into solitude.  This represents a significant disruption to our daily routine and requires some changes in thinking and doing. We are forced to, in the words of the Shaftoes, “display some adaptability.” Here are a few suggestions that may help you come to terms with your new reality.

  • Turn off the television—and your Twitter feed and any other news feed you have. It’s really easy to obsess over the news which tries to grab our attention 24/7. That’s too much. I’m not suggesting that you isolate yourself completely from all news (although that might not be a terrible idea), rather that you decide which news shows/feeds you will watch and when you will watch them and when that time is up, turn them off. It is not likely that you will need minute-by-minute coverage of the current situation. You can use the time for something productive or enjoyable or both, but only if you are able to tune out of the news. The following suggestions will be possible only if you do this one first.
  • No matter your situation, it has been and will be stressful. Now that you have a little more time for yourself, use it to rest. Sleep in. Take a nap. Disengage. Allow your mind to settle. Only then can you deal realistically with your situation.
  • Take some time for yourself. Along with resting, you can use some of this unexpected “free” time to do some of the things you haven’t had time to do. That time may involve doing nothing. It may involve relaxing in the sunshine. It may involve any number of things that you consider enjoyable that you just haven’t had time for. Now you have the time; use it for your benefit.
  • Watch a movie. You know, the one that you have been meaning to watch, but couldn’t spare the time for. Streaming services are still working and will show you the movie that you’ve been wanting to see no matter the time of day or night.
  • Listen to some music. Yes, most of us have music on in the background most of the time. But when was the last time you stopped and really listened to some music? Well, now you have the time. Do it. It will enrich you in ways you can’t even think about until you do it. It will make your day better.
  • Pick a project from your list and do it. You have no excuse, so you might as well do that thing that has been on your list forever—or for a few days. Use the time that you find that you suddenly have on your hands.
  • Go outside. Let the sun shine on you. Enjoy the grass and flowers and birds. It’s refreshing both physically and mentally, and probably something you don’t do often enough. Do it now.
  • Get to that book. Whether it’s a book that you have promised yourself you would read or a book that you promised yourself you would write, now is the time to tackle it. You don’t have to do it all at once, but this is the perfect opportunity to begin.
  • Make a schedule for yourself—build a routine. While some unstructured time can be a blessing, too much can be a curse. Most of us like to operate on a schedule whether we admit it or not, so faced with an indefinite amount of unstructured time, make yourself a schedule to give that time shape and form. Not a list, a schedule—what to do when. You will find that a schedule will allow you to more productively use your time. If you are a teaching artist, you might even simulate your school schedule since you are used to it. Having a schedule and developing a routine can make all the difference in whether your newly-found “spare” time is productive or not.

Certainly these are not the only suggestions for artists to survive our new socially isolated reality, but hopefully these will help if you are having difficulty adapting to the new, hopefully temporary, normal.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0)

Define It

Sunday, 1. March 2020 23:55 | Author:

Several weeks ago, a photographer, a writer, and I were having a drink. (Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it?) We talked about this and that, and finally the photographer, who does a lot of floral images, said that he wanted all his images to be sensual, but was having trouble making that happen.

“What do you mean by sensual?” I asked. It turned out that he did not know exactly what he meant by the word; it was more one of those “you’ll know it when you see it” kinds of things. We batted it around for a while and mostly discovered, at least for him, what sensuality wasn’t. It was sort of this and sort of that and a little of the other thing. He said it was a feeling but couldn’t get much more concrete than that.

“Have you ever tried to really define it in words?” the writer finally asked.

“Well…not really.” was the response.

“Maybe you should try.” she said. And we moved on to other things.

It turned out that the writer’s advice struck the photographer, who has spoken to me about it several times since. First he asked me if I thought it was really a worthwhile pursuit. I told him that, in my opinion, if he did not know where he was going, he could get there only by accident, and went on to explain to him the principle of the “directorial image,” a concrete image that many stage directors use to encapsulate their interpretation and guide the play toward a specific audience reaction. I understand that he is talking about a body of work rather than a specific picture, but the principle to me seemed to be the same.

In our next conversation, he told me that he had been doing some research—mostly into the dictionary definitions. He had explored sensual (of course) and sensory and sexual and erotic and titillating and carnal and on and on. None of the definitions had fit exactly the response he was looking for, but he had decided that knowing where he was trying to go was more likely to yield results than striking out blindly, although it was far less romantic.

In our third conversation, he said that he was very close to having a definition but that it was currently “too many words” for his comfort and “not exactly right yet,” and that he was trying to refine it. “More important,” he said, “it’s already affecting what I’m doing. I think about shoots differently, and my work is consistently getting closer and closer to what I want it to be. It actually helps my creativity; it’s like having an abstract aiming point. This is really a worthwhile exercise.”

And that last conversation made me think that this story was worth sharing. Many of us who work in the arts have never actually defined what it is that we are striving to accomplish. We move from project to project trying to realize the potential of each individual project without stopping to define exactly what we are trying to do. We, like the photographer, may not find an exact definition for what we want to do, but just the attempt to define our artistic goals can help focus our work.

Category:Creativity, Photography, Theatre | Comment (0)

And the Winner Is…

Monday, 17. February 2020 0:56 | Author:

The Academy Awards marked the end of the awards season for films, but not the end of the discussion and controversy surrounding the awards and the films, actors, and directors who did and did not get nominated or who did and did not win this or that award. Coupled with that are the discussions of who or what film should have won this or that award, and there is discussion of the snubs and the possible reasons for them.

There were two lessons to be taken from this year’s award season. The first is that nominations, wins, and snubs are political as well as aesthetic.

Artists who do not work in film understand that the various awards shows are simply spectacles attached to juried film contests. Unlike standard juried art shows, however, film awards programs are fostered by a series of advertisements not unlike electioneering. The reason is, of course, the potential income that winning such awards can bring. Still, at the bottom, the awards are nothing but grandly publicized juried contests with a great number of jurors.

As such, they are subject to all the vagaries of any juried show. Each juror has not only a personal aesthetic which informs his/her judgement, i.e. what is artistically worthy of an award, but a personal political view as well. That political view may include any number of considerations of what is politically appropriate at the moment with respect to the contestants and the milieu in which they work. Of course some of these considerations will overlap juror-to-juror; some will not. Multiply these concerns by the number of jurors and it is easy to see why some films rise to the top and some do not in any particular year.

Awards are voted and announced and then there is great indignation that someone’s choice did not win. However, if pressed, that person cannot tell you why this film should have won over the one that was chosen. The second lesson to be learned is that many film enthusiasts cannot articulate why they think one film is better than another one; they just think it is.

Perhaps the first problem to acknowledge is that comparing films is like comparing apples and roses and tricycles. Films are one-off creations, much like any handcrafted artifact. Yes, there are series and franchises, but each film is expected to stand on its own just like each painting or sculpture or photograph is expected to stand on its own.

If we are to compare a film about a “members of a poor family who scheme to become employed by a wealthy family” and a film about “a stand-up comedian…whose history of abuse causes him to become a nihilistic criminal” and a film about “two young British soldiers during the First World war who are ordered to deliver a message” we must have some sort of set of standards as to what makes a film good. Most people seem to have that, but are unable to articulate it. When questioned, they simply say, “It was just better.”

So my two take-aways from this year’s film awards seasons are: (1) these awards shows are simply hoopla associated with juried contests for films. There are hundreds of jurors, and they all come with their own aesthetics and political positions which influence their votes. (2) Non-jurors (and perhaps jurors as well) also have their own aesthetics and political positions with regards to the evaluation of film, but they cannot articulate their standards.

We should take these two considerations into account the next time we submit pieces to juried shows; it is likely that responses to our work will incorporate them.

Category:Aesthetics, Audience | Comment (0)

Change Just One Thing

Sunday, 2. February 2020 23:54 | Author:

Most pundits agree that to be really creative, we must step outside our comfort zones. Some even argue that “being an artist is about living in the uncomfortable zone.” Even writers who take issue with this idea think that to be creative in our comfort zones we must regularly get out of them to gain “new experiences and learning,” and to be more productive. Regardless of what we read on the topic, it seems that having something fresh and different in our environments can be of great service to both our creativity and productivity.

At the same time, we read over and over again that to be creative and productive we should be working in comfortable places and adhering to a fairly strict routines. How are we to reconcile this opposition of views?

The most obvious way to do this is to change something within our comfortable places and strict routines. The easiest thing to change is something physical. The rationale for this approach is that we become very accustomed to having things in certain places—to the point that we don’t have to think about them. If we move something, it is still present and useful, but it is in a different place and that creates a newness in the environment that can sometimes have surprising results.

As it turns out, several people have mentioned doing this very thing over the last several weeks. One is a theatre artist who decided to move a salt lamp that was on a very small table beside a recliner. Suddenly the very small table was able to hold a book and a coffee cup, and a new reading nook had been created. This changed where she did some of her reading, which, in turn changed some of her reading habits and general traffic patterns. She is still getting used to this new reading place and is tracking how many other changes will flow from just this simple modification.

A photographer I know who has two “changeable” walls in his home. He says that he changes out pictures on these two walls at irregular intervals, and that those changes are so powerful that they transform the spaces, which in turn causes his thinking to change when he’s in those rooms. This, he claims, makes the environments more creative.

Another photographer I know does essentially the same thing with wall calendars. She says that the changing of several images once a month spark ideas that she would not otherwise have had.

And yet another person, a writer, says that in the past he has had trouble getting to end of non-fiction books. What he did to overcome the problem was to move the current non-fiction from his reading spot or bookcase to a very conspicuous place where he would have to pass it regularly. This would discomfit him and he would be compelled to pick the book up and proceed toward the end.

What all these people have in common is that they changed a very small part of their environments, and those changes provided just enough newness or difference to make a creative difference in their work. A small change is enough to push us just a little outside our comfort zone for a short amount of time, so we can have the best of both worlds.

All we have to do is change just one thing. Try it.

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Finding the Rhythm

Sunday, 19. January 2020 23:02 | Author:

Sometimes we have difficulty beginning a new project, even if it’s a project very similar to one we have done before. The reason for this difficulty can be any one of many. The trouble begins when we just jump into the project, not taking into account any differences from projects we have worked on before. Sometimes all goes well; other times there is a significant mismatch between our approach and the project. Things do not go well at all—at least until we figure out that the problem is that every project has its own rhythm, and we, the artists, must match that rhythm in order to make any headway.

This was brought home to me this week. There were five projects on my plate: one older one and four new ones. One was completed successfully; two were begun successfully; two were begun less successfully.

Project number one was beginning a course that I teach every semester. (Yes, teaching a course is a creative project—at least from my point of view.) From the first minute, I fell into old patterns, making such adjustments as necessary for the new group of students, and the semester began quite comfortably—for that course at least.

The second project was beginning a course that I hadn’t taught in four years. The material was the same as it had been; even the text was the same. The first day of class, however, seemed to be very much a muddle. Ideas did not flow. Nothing seemed to connect. Everything was so disjointed that I cut the class time short and used it to prepare for the second class meeting. When that class came around, I moved into the material and very quickly found the rhythm that would work for the material with this particular group of students. So, after a stumble, the course seems to be beginning successfully.

Project number three was casting and beginning the rehearsal process for a musical. The first night of auditions was more than a little weird—everything seemed off. The musical director and I decided we could make a show, but things did not feel quite right. The second night of auditions was a little better. Then came callbacks where we really began to see what we had to work with. So we cast and had the read-sing-through. It was very unsettling. We have not yet found the rhythm for the rehearsal period. However, having identified some of the issues, I have hope.

Project number four was a photo editing project, the kind of project that I have done thousands of times. The editing of this session had been problematic from the beginning. My usual workflow was not as smooth as it normally is for some reason I could not determine. About half-way through, I modified the workflow and things ran more smoothly, but not as smoothly as I would have liked. Finally, as I neared the end of the project a pattern of work emerged that caused the editing to really run efficiently. I had finally found the correct rhythm for the project and was able to complete it.

The fifth project is, of course, this post. The beginning was difficult, but once the organization suggested itself, a flow with a steady rhythm quickly developed, and that led to a writing period that was much briefer than I had anticipated.

In reviewing these projects, I have been able to discover the factors that prevented an easy flow from the outset. It was, of course, different for each project, proving that virtually anything can throw off one’s creative rhythm. Whether the causal factor can be discerned or not, we must make every effort to find and follow the rhythm inherent in our artistic projects.

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