Post from August, 2015

Idea to Art—a Method

Monday, 24. August 2015 0:37

Some artists have a condition that is the opposite of writer’s block; they have so many ideas that it is difficult to choose one to work on. This causes such artists often spend much of their time going in circles trying to decide which idea to address. This, of course, can be a very frustrating problem and can lead to inaction if not complete paralysis. Uncertainty becomes the artist’s predominant mode.

The mode can continue to dominate even after an idea is selected. There is then uncertainty about the chosen topic and how to deal with it: is it too big? Is it too little? Is it too complex? Is it too simple? Is it too amorphous? Is it trivial? What media is appropriate? What structure will best serve the topic? The questions go on and the artist finds him/herself again going in circles.

What to do? My suggestion is for the artist to develop a methodology for moving from idea to art. For some this idea is intimidating and generates another set of questions. How would one go about doing such a thing? How is it possible to figure out what methodology to select? How is it possible to know if this is the right methodology? Will this make the work less than it could be? Is this even artistic?

Although it sounds almost contrary to the notion of art, the rules and methodology set out to help students write essays will also work to help the artist establish a workable approach regardless of the subject matter.

The first phase of writing, as described by The Little, Brown Handbook (Fifth Edition) is Development and is the one which offers the most useful ideas for the artist. This phase consists of four steps: Discovering, Gathering, Focusing, and Organizing.

Discovering includes two parts: (1) selecting a topic: the book suggests that the writer select something he/she cares about. This certainly works for any artist. Even though many artists care about many things, he/she can develop criteria to be used in selecting the next idea to work on. The second part of Discovering helps in this regard; that is (2) limiting the subject. Most writing texts provide numerous examples of how one might do such a thing.

Limiting the subject is perhaps the most important step in this methodology for the artist. The limits that he/she places on the idea will in many ways determine the direction of work. For example, certain limitations will eliminate certain media and certain structures; at the same time those limits will suggest other media and other structures. As these avenues become apparent, it is likely that the artist will be led in the direction of the remaining three steps: Gathering, Focusing, and Organizing, all of which are necessary for the creation of a piece of art as well as an academic paper.

Gathering consists of acknowledging purpose and assembling the pieces that will support that purpose, and finding a pattern of development, what artists might refer to as “structures.” The next step is Focusing. In writing, this means developing a thesis; in art it means essentially the same thing: refining the purpose to decide what specifically is to be said. Then finally is Organizing, bringing all the pieces together and shaping them to support that Focus.

So whenever the world of our ideas becomes too big to handle, we might consider applying this methodology. It is an approach that has allowed any number of freshmen to write acceptable papers and it can help us as well. It is not a rigid system; we will soon discover that we must adapt and modify as we develop the subject and it begins to take on an artistic life of its own.

Even though it sounds very mechanical and unartistic, this approach provides a method to move from idea to art, and it works.

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Honing Your Edgy

Monday, 10. August 2015 0:12

Edgy, in terms of art, is one of those words that fall into the I-can’t-define-it-but-I-know-it-when-I-see-it categories. Since the term has come up in conversation recently, I thought I would seek some definitions. Here are a few: “new and unusual in a way that is likely to make some people uncomfortable;” “Applied to books, music, or even haircuts which tend to challenge societal norms and reveal the dark side. Cutting edge;” “things, behaviors or trends which are provocative or avant-garde.Edgy seems to have connotations that go further than those associated with cutting edge, generally defined as “forefront; lead.”

Both Charles Bukowski and Edward Albee have been called edgy, and both have earned that label. Albee has always exceeded contemporary norms for playwriting. When Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? hit the stage in 1962, much of the talk was about how edgy it was; when it was released as a film in 1966, it was considered to be “pushing the envelope both in terms of language and content.” When the play was revived on Broadway in 2005, some of the language was updated, e.g. “Screw you!” changed to “Fuck you!”—probably to reflect the times and keep the play as edgy as it could be 43 years after it was initially performed.

Bukowski, so far as I can determine, did nothing that was not edgy. In fact, edginess seems to have informed almost everything he thought or said publicly. For example:

When you flip the pages, nothing but butterflies, near bloodless butterflies. I am actually shocked when I go through this magazine because nothing is happening. And I guess that’s what they think a poem is. Say, something not happening. A neat lined something, so subtle you can’t even feel it. This makes the whole thing intelligent art. Balls! The only thing intelligent about a good art is if it shakes you alive, otherwise it’s hokum.

Bukowski was talking about poetry in a magazine he had run across, but he could have been talking about any form of art. While Albee is much more reserved in the advice he offers, Bukowski encourages, almost demands that artists be edgy: “Let’s allow ourselves space and error, hysteria and grief. Let’s not round the edge until we have a ball that rolls neatly away like a trick…We must let the candle burn—pour gasoline on it if necessary.”

So what, if anything, does that mean to the individual artist? An artist certainly does not have to produce edgy work. An artist can produce work with very round edges if he/she wants. Some would say that Thomas Kinkade did exactly that and made a great deal of money in the process. Again, such an approach is not limited to painting or poetry or any particular medium; it rather is a philosophy of what art is really about and what it should do.

If an artist decides that he/she agrees with Bukowski and really wants to produce work that will be avant-garde, provocative and perhaps dark, it is certainly his/her prerogative. The trouble is that when the artist steps completely out of the safe zone and goes too far, he/she can lose any potential audience. And that is a risk some artists are willing to take. But if an artist wants to produce edgy work and still have an audience, then he/she will have to produce work that goes almost too far.

Deciding how far to go and still produce honest work can be challenging, but worthwhile. For example, in the past my photographic work has tended toward the subtle; recently I have begun to experiment with edgy. Whether these experiments will alter my overall body of work remains to be seen, but I have certainly found the experience valuable. Based on that, I would encourage you to give  a try, or at least think about giving it a try. Of course, the most difficult part will be deciding how far to go and exactly where the line is between too far and not far enough.edgy

Good luck.

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