Elements of Style: the Untaught Part of Art

Yesterday afternoon I was reminded of one of the skills of a stage director that seldom gets noticed or discussed: deciding the how and when of giving specific notes to actors. For the words you say to actors to be maximally effective, ideas have to be couched in the right phraseology and then timed right. You have to know when to cajole, when to confront, when to use humor, when to be severe. It’s a thing that most directors do instinctively, although sometimes I find myself calculating so as to have the most impact. It is also a thing that is never, to my knowledge, taught in directing classes. Most of us learn by trial and error that developing these skills will allow us to become better directors and produce better shows.

This conversation caused me to start wondering how many things there are that fall into this same category: skills that are never taught in formal training and are hardly ever noticed or mentioned. Every once in a while you will run across a reference to something that “was not taught in art school” or “is never discussed in a seminar on photography” or was never explored in any teaching/learning environment, but not often.

For example, I know from experience that order in processing images matters, that  performing individual adjustments to an image in a certain sequence makes the process easier to control than doing it another way, yet no one, it seems, teaches that. I am sure that in every art there are skills and procedures that are analogous to image processing and giving notes.

So the question is, how do these untaught things impact us? And the answer is that they are elements of style. The way that you talk to actors, the way that you process images, the way that you handle the clay, the order in which you assemble phrases, the way that you layer the paint are pieces that, when assembled with other pieces, comprise your personal style. Aside from your vision and your subject matter, it’s what separates you from all the other directors and photographers and ceramicists and poets and painters. It’s part of what makes your art unique.

These untaught things may not influence the way that you see the world, but they certainly impact the way you express what you see. The fact that they are evolved rather than learned is reason your style develops rather than appearing full-blown when you begin your art career. Every day that you work adds to your experience which adds to your style. The things that you develop yourself, whether they are built on a foundation of formal schooling, apprenticeship, or self-education, become part of the work that you do, become part of your style, become part of your art. As Berenice Abbott has put it, “You have to evolve on your own.

And these untaught things may be the most important part of your art, the part that makes your art distinctive, the part that makes your disparate works form a cohesive whole. Hans Hofmann said that a work of art “is a world in itself reflecting senses and emotions of the artist’s world.” Your style is, in large part, responsible for that reflection, for the delineation of your artistic world. No matter what you have learned from others, your style, that you have evolved yourself, is what defines your art.

Date: Sunday, 6. March 2011 23:59
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Originality, Photography, Theatre

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