To Create Brilliant Art, Push Your Imagination to Extremes

A friend of mine recently went to see a show in which there was an actor with only five lines. But, she said, his performance was so intense and interesting that she bought another ticket and came back to another performance just to watch him. She described his work as “brilliant.” Some who heard her description of the actor’s performance thought that he had gone to extremes. The same week, I attended a performance which was essentially an exercise in missed opportunities, both in terms of acting and directing. No one connected with the production had gone to extremes.

What compelled my friend’s interest and was lacking in the performance I attended was not just the interpretation of the characters, but the originality and imagination that the actors brought to the roles they were playing. It’s the difference between being competent and being amazing.

This is not so much about a lack of creativity, but rather about an unwillingness or inability on the part of artists to allow themselves to venture into the risky areas of imagination. And this is not just an issue in theatre. In all the arts we find a sort of “this is enough” mentality with regard to creativity. The art reaches an “acceptable” level of imagination and inventiveness and we call it finished.  The result is that much art looks and sounds alike, whether it is acting, directing, painting, photography, or writing.

We have a tendency to work in our creative comfort zone, producing art that will please, and maybe even delight, our respective audiences. Within our comfortable framework we generate work that is clever and innovative. Photographer David LaChapelle says, however, “There’s always clever art being made and there’s always something novel being made and I don’t think that’s enough anymore.

If we are, in fact, artists and not merely artifact production units, we must agree with LaChapelle. Competency, cleverness, and novelty are not enough. We must always be reaching for the metaphor, the image, the idea, the detail, the technique that will move our work from good to outstanding. We must not be satisfied with just producing work that our audience will like and perhaps appreciate; we need to think about taking those extra steps, those risks, that will allow us to create art that is, like the actor’s work mentioned in the first paragraph, so intense and interesting and compelling that our audience wants to experience it again and again.

We must create art that is not just attractive or poignant or meaningful but is strikingly so. Those of us who work in the arts cannot allow ourselves to become complacent, doing what we know works. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, we must be willing to stretch our imaginations to discover new possibilities.  Those of us who teach in the arts must challenge our students to reach for more, to explore their imaginations to the fullest and apply that exploration to their creations.

To be brilliant, we must dare to go to extremes with our imaginations. This striving to expand the limits of our imaginations is not just something that we aspire to, it is a requirement.

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Date: Sunday, 11. March 2012 23:51
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Audience, Creativity

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2 comments

  1. 1

    Yes…to all of the above. I’ve never understood the comment that some piece of art was “pretty good.” There’s no such thing as mediocre art. There’s good art and then there’s everything else. I know that it’s possible to strive for “good” and miss the mark because of limited resources (materials, people, money, etc.) but I don’t grasp the concept of beginning a project knowing that at some point you’re going to step back and say “well, that’s good enough.” What that really translates to is, “that’s all I’m willing to give it.” Art has nothing to do with being comfortable. In fact, the opposite is true. It can often go beyond risky to scary, but the pay off when the end product is good is well worth the discomfort.

  2. 2

    I agree with you, but I think in a number of cases, artists don’t really know how to stretch their imaginations. It simply doesn’t occur to them to go to extremes. And without knowing how to push the limits, what you call “good enough” is the best they can do.

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