Post from May, 2012

Artistic Purpose: Everyone’s Is Different

Sunday, 27. May 2012 23:42

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to interact with interviewers, curators, and other artists at a reception and after-party for a show in which I had a piece. Only after I had read the article that resulted from one set of interviews did I rethink the conversations with those that I had met. It seems that a significant number of people came with the idea that those who make art make it for one predetermined reason, although that reason seems to vary from person to person.

This realization supplied an explanation for the mismatch I felt with one of the interviewers. We were coming from two entirely different places with regard to the reason for the origin of an artwork, and I suspect, the functions of art as well. This caused me to become curious as to how someone would develop a preconception of artistic purpose.

My guess is that this predetermination is the result of being “educated” in “what to look for in art.” Many take art classes (or acting classes, or dance classes, or sculpture classes, or photography classes), and often the instructor will ask what the work is about, and the student is expected to explain his/her work—or the work in question— to the satisfaction of the instructor and the class. Students quickly learn what plays in terms of explanation and what falls short, given the expectations of those in the room.

Some come to believe that this is a proper way to discuss art. As a result of these discussions some students change the way they think about art and creativity. Some would argue that changing the way you think about what you create is a good thing. However, if the result is that you mold your work into someone else’s idea of what constitutes good art or the appropriate reasons for creating art, are you still an original voice, or just a parrot?

The best teachers I know in all artistic disciplines are very careful to separate giving students information or craft skills and helping students explore creativity. Never do they expect students to meet certain expectation in terms of what the work is about. They are, however, quite adept at asking question that get the student to make choices, to think, to explore in his/her own mind if a different way of looking at the subject would yield a different, more satisfying result. The process is one of encouragement and guidance.

Re-reading and rethinking confirmed my belief that those who are in the arts, those who create, do so for very personal, if not private—and very different—reasons. Some are exploring relationships. Some are commenting on society. Some are reacting to politics. Some are investigating psychological concepts. Some are expressing inward thoughts and feelings so deep that words are inadequate. Some are trying to find out who they are. Some are making things to sell. Some are using art to relax. Some are creating pieces that they hope will grace museum walls and floors.  Some are just experiencing the joy of creation. Some are compelled to create.

This list is practically endless. There are as many reasons for creating art as there are artists. And the reasons are dynamic; they can change and evolve as an artist develops and grows. And hardly ever do they meet someone else’s expectations.

So when you look at a piece of art, try to put aside your own notions of why art is created. You have no way to know what was in the artist’s mind when he/she created the work; you have only your own training and experience. You might try to figure it out based on the work. But to do that honestly, you have to interact with the art as it exists, and take away what it gives you.

Category:Audience, Education, Presentation | Comment (0) | Author:

Context Matters

Sunday, 20. May 2012 23:09

Just as mise-en-scène informs the characters and their story in a film, the context in which we view art influences what we think of it. When we view a painting, for example, we not only get input from the work itself, but from the color and texture of the walls, the temperature of the room, the ongoing conversations. We become aware of the adjacent works and note how the juxtaposition of nearby pieces impacts the one upon which we are focused.

If you are one who tries to see a great deal of art, you already know that where you see the art can be almost as important as the art you see. There is a tendency to make certain assumptions about the art based on the viewing space and situation. Different venues generate different expectations and different art experiences. Consider the difference in viewing art at an auction, in a formal gallery, in a casual gallery, in a paint-spattered artist’s studio, in a tent at an art fair, in a friend’s apartment.

Consider too the other aspects of the situation. Is wine being served? In glass or plastic? Is there a crowd? Is there music? Is there lively conversation? Is there conversation at all? Are you alone or with friends? Does the lighting enhance the art? Is it daytime or evening? The list of contextual variables is almost endless.

Environmental factors are not limited to situations in which you might purchase art. There are also museums, each of which provides its own context. Sometimes that context can vary room-to-room or show-to-show. Some shows provide a great deal of solitude which allows you to really contemplate the work. This is very different from viewing art in an environment of timed entry and a docent in every doorway.

Each gallery and museum has its own unique ambiance and thus provides a different context for any piece of art under consideration. The purpose, of course, is to establish a context that will allow you to see the work under what the gallery managers and museum directors perceive to be the best possible circumstances so that you will have a greater appreciation for the work. If you have visited many galleries and museums, you have certainly noticed that some do a much better job at this than others.

Simply put, the environment, the context impacts meaning, impacts perception, impacts attraction. I know a person who saw the Michelangelo’s Pietà before it was put behind bullet-proof glass. He is very pleased to have had that opportunity, since, for him at least, the protecting acrylic diminishes the work considerably. Can anyone really believe that viewing the unprotected Mona Lisa would be the same experience as seeing the painting in its climate-controlled glass case?

Sometimes the context can be more powerful than the art. In those cases we remember the surroundings more than the work itself. Not long ago, a friend and I walked through a gallery that is rented on a per-show basis and can be modified by the tenant. The show that was opening was a photography exhibit that seemed to be very personal to the photographer.  Affixed to the walls above the photographs were somewhat clichéd quotations. The tiredness of the quotes was not the problem; the fact that all but one were crooked was.

After we left, we spent a long time discussing whether the slanting of the words was purposeful or simply careless application. In either case, it framed the environment of that particular show. That this verbal presentation became the topic of discussion rather than the art illustrates again the power of context.

The ambiance surrounding works of art, seeps into the work, and fuses with it. It impacts the work and cannot do otherwise. It’s part of the art transaction that cannot be avoided. The trick then is to be able to mentally decontextualize the work, so that you can be sure that you are actually appreciating the piece, not the context in which you find it.

[This post was originally published in the Gazette that was distributed as part of The Salon Show (February 18- March 24, 2012) at Pop Up Art House in Henderson, NV]

Category:Audience, Presentation | Comments (2) | Author:

Make Your Work as Important as Your Next Breath

Sunday, 13. May 2012 22:54

One of the most difficult, yet basic, tools for the actor is the character objective. The objective, which goes by several different names, is that thing which supplies the motivation for a character in a play. Objectives not only serve to ground the character’s motivation, but to give the character consistency.

Those beginning the formal study of acting typically have trouble with objectives. Two things stand out as causing the most difficulty. These are: (1) finding the “right” objective, i.e. one that will work for an entire scene, an entire act, or an entire play, and (2) making the objective sufficiently important so it will really do what it is supposed to do. Even if the actor is successful in resolving the first problem, he/she will find that it is one thing to understand the objective intellectually, and another thing entirely to make it important enough to support a believable performance.

In trying to communicate the necessary level of importance of the objective to acting, I finally came to the statement, “Your objective has to be as important as your next breath.” That not only communicates its significance, but the ongoing nature of the objective in the work.

Recently, it became apparent to me that the idea of objectives might well apply to arts other than acting. Having a strong objective and making it as important as breathing brings a character to life and makes the actor’s work compelling. Isn’t this exactly what we want to do when we create a sculpture or painting or print or photograph or dance? We want to create work that is alive and compelling.

Having a strong objective and making it important adds clarity to our work. Toward the end of his recent book, Con Art: Why you ought to sell your Damien Hirsts while you can, Julian Spalding details several qualities that he believes artists must possess. Among these is clarity; he notes that “the task of artists is to make their meaning clear not to show off their technique, though many lesser artists throughout history have been content to do just that.”

Some may think that using a strong objective and making it important might make the process of art-making grim or mechanical. It does tend to make the process more serious, but certainly neither grim nor mechanical. And it does not inhibit the enjoyment of creating; if anything it enhances the process. This same strong goal and importance is precisely what keeps children involved and focused in play.

Another misconception is that having a strong objective will remove ambiguity and mystery from a work of art. On the contrary, having a clear objective and letting it inform your work can clarify and focus the ambiguity or mystery that you want the work to exhibit.

Another thing that consciously using objectives in your work can give you is power. A former student, an actor, told me recently that she had been able to make a seasoned director cry with a one-minute audition piece. To her, that was confirmation of her power and ability as an artist—regardless of whether she got the role or not. When you realize that you are able to impact others to that degree, you begin to understand just how much power your art can have.

Working with objectives successfully is difficult for many developing actors. This is probably the case for other artists as well. If it’s something you haven’t considered, you may want to give it a go. Where to start? Read an acting book or talk to an acting coach. Then adjust the theory and advice to fit your own work. Then implement what you have learned. Don’t expect it to be easy. The results will be worth it. Make your work as important as your next breath.

Category:Communication, Creativity, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

Art is Expensive – at Both Ends

Sunday, 6. May 2012 23:53

The price of art is on everybody’s mind again. This time the impetus is the sale of Edvard Munch’s pastel, “The Scream” at Sotheby’s New York for $119.9 million. The auction results were flashed around the world; in some cities radio stations “interrupted programming to announce the news.”  Within twelve hours of the sale, my RSS reader had picked up 22 articles and blogs related to the sale. And the range of conversations that this one transaction spawned was amazingly broad.

During the same week Lee Siegel, writing about Broadway theatre in “The Opinion Pages” of The New York Times lamented the fact that “what was once a middle-class entertainment has become a luxury item.” And it’s true. Even those of us who live far from Broadway have to decide if going to a professional theatre production or a concert is a budget-wise thing to do.

Although some have alleged that recent prices for high-dollar art have much more to do with investment speculation than with the art itself, Patricia G. Berman  says that “The Scream,” may actually be worth what was paid for it. But what gets forgotten in conversations about the value and price of contemporary art, at least that which is not inflated beyond reason by investors, is the cost of producing that art. For example, there is enormous expense in producing a play on Broadway, and beyond that is the risk for the investors.

Consider the revival of Death of a Salesman, which is the topic of Siegel’s editorial: there is not only the cost of the theatre rental, but the salaries of a world-class director, actors, and designers, not to mention all of the technicians that were required to construct and decorate the set, hang the lights, build the costumes, and those who run the show both backstage and in the house. It is an expensive undertaking.

And it is lamentable that this work, and a lot of art, is priced out of reach of many people. The reasons are complex and manifold, a reflection of the economic and cultural times in which we live.

Even art made and sold off the island of Manhattan is expensive, for all of the same reasons. Each medium has its own set of unique expenses, in addition to a huge investment of time and energy. Very few artists are in a position to give their product away. Yes, there are occasional free theatre presentations (and some of them very, very good), and artists sometimes make work for family or friends, but the reality is that if you make art, you will be required to invest not only your time but your money as well.

And, in case you didn’t know, art materials are not cheap. Even arts which have become increasingly digital, such as photography, have considerable associated expense. Yes, you can take pictures with your phone and post them on the internet, but if you are involved with fine art photography, then you probably want a more versatile camera, and you certainly need editing equipment and software, and, if you intend to show your work in galleries, you will have the expense of printing, and perhaps mounting, matting, and framing.

And all of that takes money, which is what stops a lot of young artists. They simply have do not have the funds to create their art. Some, who are driven to create, find ways to generate funding to produce their art. For those who can’t not make art of some kind, there is no choice.

In order to create, we must endure the expense.

Category:Audience, Creativity, Photography, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author: