Finding Your Own Voice

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.

Date: Sunday, 21. November 2010 23:40
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Originality

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