Post from November, 2010

Internet Inspiration

Sunday, 28. November 2010 23:40

While I was stumbling around the internet the other night (Yes, it’s true; I use StumbleUpon to find curious and interesting websites I might not find otherwise.), I landed on a web site called The Inspiration Blog. This called to mind other arts inspiration web sites that I have run across. I have seen a quite a few and dismissed them, but somehow seeing this one caused me to wonder just how many of them there are out there.

The short answer is a bunch. As a matter of fact if you enter “art inspiration websites” into Google, you will get 3,340,000 hits (at least that’s the number I got last night); if you enter “photography inspiration web sites,” you only get 1,480,000. I’m sure that you could play this game all night if you wanted, just plugging in a different art in front of “inspiration websites.” Or you can go generic: “arts inspiration websites” (3,740,000 hits). That’s a lot of websites devoted to arts inspiration.

Then there is the variant form of the game: enter “arts inspiration workshop.” You get an amazing 5,260,000 hits. Even allowing that some of those may be duplicate websites or references or duplicate workshops, that’s a lot of workshops.

Having gone this far, I thought I would try another source, so I went over to Amazon, and found that Amazon catalogues 4,941 entries about “art inspiration,” with 1,919 of these in the books category. That’s a lot of products and a lot of books.

One has to conclude that there are a lot of people out there who are looking for inspiration in the arts. Who knew? Well, a lot of authors and webmasters and workshop coordinators seem to have known, or at least seem to have thought that there were a lot of blocked artists in the world, and thus a market for inspiration. That means that there are a lot of people who are in the inspiration business, which is a whole topic in itself.

I have never been to an arts inspiration workshop, and I have never read a book designed to inspire the reader artistically, although I have read a few about creativity. But I have visited more than a few arts inspiration web sites, and, frankly, I have never found any of them to be terribly inspiring. They may be for some people, but for me they do virtually nothing. Picasso said of inspiration, “the artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” He could have as well added “from the world wide web,” had there been such a thing then. Although I have never gotten anything from an arts inspiration web site, I have run across images and words on the web that resonated with me, but they appear in places that I stumbled on, or they came from websites that I visit regularly because I appreciate the quality of the work posted there; I’m sure that I’m not alone in these perceptions.

My problem with arts or any kind of inspiration web site is that they are aggregates; some are even aggregates of aggregates. Now aggregates are fine, except that for an aggregation to exist there must be an aggregator. And an aggregator is by definition also an editor, a filter, if you will, because he/she must decide what to put in and what to leave out, so when you go to an aggregate website, you are submitting yourself to someone else’s taste, to someone else’s artistic aesthetic in determining what is and what is not inspiring.  I agree with Picasso; I think inspiration comes “from all over the place,” and I’m pretty sure that I do not want my potential inspiration to be filtered, or edited, or censored.

How about you? Do you ever find inspiration on the web? Do you find it on inspiration websites? Where else do you find it? Or are you one of those artists who have no use for inspiration and trust only in their own abilities?

Category:Creativity | Comments (4) | Author:

Finding Your Own Voice

Sunday, 21. November 2010 23:40

Sharon Olds, who was raised as a “hell-fire Calvinist” began to find her own voice as a poet through a sort of “deal with the devil:”

I said to free will or the pagan god of making things, or whoever, let me write my own stuff. I’ll give up everything I’ve learned, anything, if you’ll let me write my poems. They don’t have to be any good, but just mine. What happened was enjambment. Writing over the end of the line and having a noun starting each line — it had some psychological meaning to me, like I was protecting things by hiding them. Poems started pouring out of me and Satan was in a lot of them. Also, toilets.

And find her voice, she did.

This week I spoke with an actor who was going through the same sort of despondency that pushed Olds into making her deal, although the actor was not fully aware of the real nature of his situation; he just knew that he was not satisfied with what he was doing. Later in the week, I talked with a designer who voiced similar questions about his work. I think that it’s a natural sort of artistic identity crisis that almost every creative person goes through, and keeps going through until he/she finds an answer or just gives up.

I suppose that there are artists who speak with unique individual voices from the beginning, but many of us wander around creating pieces that we feel finally do not accurately represent our point of view. Or we create work that somehow fails to say exactly what we want to say. Or we spend our time doing work that is derivative to the point of not being our own. Or we do this and that and the other thing and find that while it is all acceptable, it is somehow not really us, or it is us, but somehow not satisfying. While I was in the last category, you (if you have this problem) may be in one of the others, or you may have a category all your own.

The real question is how do you get out of that category and go about finding your own voice.  You can try making a deal with the devil, as Olds did, and hope for a similar sudden burst of intuition. My experience is, however, that such visions are few and far between, and you certainly can’t count on them.  So I think you might try another approach: experiment. Take a risk or two or three or four or seven. Try things outside your comfort zone. Try different twists and variations and approaches and processes until you find the one or the combination that is authentic, that represents your ideas—that is you.

Maybe that sounds a little clichéd, a little too easy. May be. But I have found that to really experiment, to try really new and uncomfortable things is difficult even on a good day. Sometimes, just to think of new and uncomfortable things to try is difficult. But to do them, and then to be honest with yourself about the results of those experiments is even more difficult. But it’s how you find your voice, or at least one way. In addition, you may find out a number of other things about yourself and your art, useful things, things that you can’t find out by thinking, or pretending, or even imagining; things you can only discover by doing and reviewing the result.

So, if you haven’t already, go find your voice. Imagine, think, intuit. But then put those thoughts and intuitions into action. Do, play, experiment, discover. It’s the only way to learn what really works—for you. Then you can produce art that is authentically you. It may not be completely original. Some people posit that originality is no longer possible, but that’s a subject for another time. What it will be is authentic. And few would argue that authenticity is not possible. Go find yours.

Category:Creativity, Originality | Comment (0) | Author:

Process and Product

Sunday, 14. November 2010 23:54

The theme of a number of conversations I was involved in this week was the notion of process in the artistic universe. “It’s all about process.” “You have to go through the process.” “You can’t throw out the process just because you are unhappy with the product.” “The process is constantly being refined. It’s how we learn.” These are just a few of the statements I have heard in the last seven days.

Most artists I know would agree with the first quote. When asked whether their work is about process or product, the vast majority will answer “process.”  We are taught in schools and workshops and discussions that it’s all about process. Many of us believe it on the basis of experience.

My experience as both a stage director and photographer has borne this out, at least to a point.  A younger director, who had opening night nerves on the third night of the run, once asked me if it ever got any better. I told him that it did not, but it does. It gets better when you realize that what you do as a director comes to an end once the curtain goes up. There is absolutely nothing you can do to impact the outcome of tonight’s performance; you might as well not be there. Often I am not, as is the case with many directors. They have come to realize that it is about the process. Once you have done what you can do to make the production the best it can be, given the tools you have to work with, your task is completed.  No amount of anxiety will make the production be any better than it is.  Your job is to take the production through the rehearsal process and then turn it loose. You conference, cajole, coerce, and sometimes conjure to make it what you can, according to your vision. You create; then you are done. Your product, if you have one, is then in the hands of the actors and technicians.

As a photographer, you involve yourself in at least two very different processes: that of setting up and capturing the image and then that of post-processing, of arriving at a final image. It is much the same as theatre, but a bit easier to summarize, and ending with a tangible product (if you commit to print). You do what you can do to create the best you can create, and then you are done.

However, once you are done, once the process ends, there are all those resultant products.  As Plotinus said, “In the realm of process anything coming to be must come to be something.”

Sometimes, we become so wrapped up in process that we don’t quite know what to do with the product. Some of us do nothing. However, others us decide that we must deal with the product as well as the process. Then we move into a different mode. Then we become marketers, salesmen, negotiators, showmen. We worry about getting the product in front of someone. We are concerned with how our product will be perceived. We hope that we will find someone who will be able to recognize what it is and appreciate it. Sometimes that can get in the way of the artistic process; sometimes it can be integrated so that it becomes part of that process.

Regardless of how we view the product, regardless of how much product we produce, we must return again and again to the process. We must acknowledge that process is a major building block of creativity. And we must learn to trust those processes we have developed and are developing to create product that will communicate whatever we have to communicate. Participating in the process is what we do; participating in the process is making art.

Category:Audience, Creativity, Photography, Theatre | Comments (2) | Author:

A Question of Audience: For Whom Do We Make Art?

Sunday, 7. November 2010 22:30

Conventional wisdom says that we make art for our audience. Contemporary experts tell us that we make art for our markets and that if we do not have a market, we should go out and develop one. We should commercialize our art.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to the commercialization of art. No one in theatre who is honest could be. Theatre is inherently commercial; you must sell tickets or you cease to exist. Theatre producers hold to the axiom, know your audience.  Those who do not, or will not learn are destined to be unsuccessful, regardless of the work they produce; only accidentally will they hit the mark and satisfy their particular public.  Even those who are considered “cutting edge” have knowledge of the audience who will be occupying the seats and appreciating (or not) the work that they do.

Perhaps the same axiom applies to all artists. Perhaps success is measured in terms of sales. We certainly have people telling us that developing a clientele is the way to be successful in the world of art, no matter which path we choose to take in that world. And there is no shortage of advice on how to do that: we are counseled to limit what we to do a specific style and create niche markets to occupy. We are also told to exploit social media, to basically turn ourselves into a brand, and our art into a business.

But in the face of all this advice I wonder what happens to the artist. Does he/she become merely a producer of the commodities demanded by his/her public? Does he/she find that pandering to the market (a charge often leveled against musical artists who become popular) leads to a more financially rewarding life, a more artistically satisfying existence?  Does the market take over? I am reminded of stories of writers who were so compelled to write that they would scribble on napkins, toilet paper, matchbooks rather than deny their art.  Certainly, the market was not on their minds.  In fact, most of us did not get into the “arts game,” as a friend of mine called it recently, to get rich.  I know an artist who claims that she would “live in a cardboard box” before she would abandon her art. I hope it does not come to that, but it does illustrate the nature of the artistic impulse.

Some great artists were and are also great marketers, shifting between the roles of artist and huckster with ease, each approaching his/her market in a unique and profitable way. This is what I hope the pundits are trying to tell us.  If we want an audience for our art, we must figure out a way to sell it, and we can rely on no one but ourselves. This does not mean that we pander. It means that we, like savvy theatre producers, locate those people who can and will appreciate and support what we do, who will eventually, we hope, pay us for it.  If we do not succeed in our marketing efforts, we have still made the art. We have still created that which we had to create.  Because regardless of sales effort we do or do not undertake, we make art because we have to. We are, in a sense, our own audience because, ultimately, we make art for ourselves.

Category:Audience | Comments (1) | Author: