The Artistic Value of Networking — Yes, There Is One

One afternoon when I was in graduate school, we had a big deal guest lecturer, as was demonstrated by the suspension of all theatre classes so the entire department could go hear this person. At that time, I was not very knowledgeable about directors, particularly those from England, so his name did not register, and I could not tell you today who the celebrated director was. But I went and observed that this man was enjoying playing the role of British Artiste. And why not? But I listened, and what he said has stayed with me.

His thesis was that the stage director is like a magpie. I did not know that the European magpie is “considered one of the most intelligent of all animals,” and I knew nothing of the folk tale that the bird is a bit of a thief, picking up this shiny thing here and that trinket there and taking them home to decorate his/her nest. The guest speaker went on to explain how the resourceful director would take a bit from something he/she read, something from a play or movie that he/she had seen, something from a conversation with an actor. The director would then use these bits and pieces to modify and decorate, if not fabricate, his/her production.

What this director described was not so much stealing whole ideas or approaches, but rather a gathering of a pinch of something here and at smidgen of something else there and then using it along with original ideas, sometimes unconsciously. Such an approach is a long way from the “theft” I have discussed a couple of times: here and here, or, as some would have it, “homage.” Such blatant activity is attributed to film director Brian De Palma, who, interestingly, is described with the same simile: “Like a magpie, De Palma would take a camera angle from here, a plot idea from there, and weave them together into his own cinematic nest.

It seems to me that most artists do something similar: we take an idea from a conversation with a colleague, a concept from something we have seen, an image or metaphor obtained from someone else we meet at a party. Then, if we are at all original, we add these notions to our own—sometimes subconsciously—and bring forth a new idea, something we might not have conceived otherwise. Then we turn that idea into reality. And sometimes, a single work will suggest a series, and we are really able to capitalize on this new idea.

This happened to me just this week. It was an unusual week in that I went to three openings. These were very different events. One was a one-person show at a community college; one was a group show at of diverse artists in a converted warehouse, and one was a group show of emerging young artists at a storefront gallery in a trendy neighborhood. And the art involved was as different as the locations. But somehow sights and sounds and little bits of conversations at the three locations resonated and coalesced with a possibility that had not resonated before and which was suggested by a colleague some time ago, and there was a brand new idea—not quite the same idea that had been suggested, but literally a connecting of pieces to construct a new possibility, which, before the weekend was over, had turned into, not quite a series, but a diptych.

And the experience of putting the diptych together spawned other ideas, so there may be a real, if vaguely-connected, series that comes out of these experiences.

So it turns out that networking, which many of us have a tendency to avoid, can be about things other than making connections with other people and moving the business side of your art forward (not that that’s a bad thing). It can be about gathering bits and pieces and arranging them in your mind with a touch of imagination and creating something brand new. It is decidedly worth your time.

Date: Monday, 23. July 2012 0:04
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Originality

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