Great Art Requires Great Craft

It should be self-evident, but somehow it isn’t. If you want to be great artist, or even a good one, you must master the use of your tools. You must develop the humble craft side of your art as well as lofty artistic side. It’s the part that no one wants to do. Hardly anyone wants to spend hours drawing body parts, or painting still lifes, or learning the intricacies of photo processing software, or doing acting or dance exercises, or singing scales. But it’s necessary.

Often beginning actors want to perform significant plays before they learn to analyze character, visual artists want to paint collectable images before they learn to draw, dancers want to dance Giselle before they can successfully execute a pirouette, photographers want to win a national photography award before they master all the controls on their digital cameras. The fact is that doing all those exercises that build craft is simply unappealing—it’s work, and sometimes unpleasant work.

But regardless of the appeal or lack of it, mastering craft is necessary; it is the base upon which art is built. When you examine the work of acknowledged masters, regardless of the medium in which they excel, one of the things that literally jumps at you is the obvious mastery of the medium. This has nothing to do with the ideas or emotions they manage to incorporate into their work, and everything to do with having put in the time and effort to learn what the medium can and cannot do, and how best to manipulate it in order to say what they need to say.

The impetus for the rush to bypass craft seems to be the desire for instant celebrity. Because there are some very young, relatively inexperienced people who are successful in some arts, less-experienced artists have come to believe that there are shortcuts that will make them famous faster.

It does seem, however, that this instant fame occurs less frequently in arts that require significant investment on the part of their audiences, e.g. reading a novel or contemplating serious visual and plastic art or watching live theatre. I want to read novels by writers who not only have something to say, but know how to tell a story and how to make a metaphor. If I am going to pay $120 for a theatre seat, I want someone with the acting chops of a Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Willie Loman, not someone who has been catapulted to pop fame because of an outstanding profile and someone else’s skilled direction and editing.

And to obtain those chops in acting or any other the art, you have to build up a set of skills. You have to know how to handle your medium. And, unfortunately, development of skill requires time—time to make mistakes, time to let your voice and body mature, time to experiment with various aspects and various approaches, time to practice. That’s the way artists learn. Because it’s not just what’s in the imagination, it’s what you do with that imagination and how you present it to the world that matters.

Yes, mastering a craft can be tedious. It can seem endless, and it can seem difficult, but it is necessary. If you are to make the art of which you are capable, if you are to make something of worth, you must not only be creative, but you must have a means for presenting those ideas and feelings to the world. To try to do so with a skill level less than mastery is to do a disservice to yourself and your art.

 

 

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Date: Monday, 26. March 2012 0:04
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity

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