Post from December, 2015

Edit Hard

Monday, 28. December 2015 1:04

Some people will tell you that art is hard. It is. While there is no question that art is more interesting and engaging than thousands of other jobs, it’s not easy. There are difficulties in every art: sculpture, photography, painting, writing, dance, acting, directing, choreography. Not only do all arts have predictable associated difficulties, but individual artists bring their own individual issues to the work. Yes, art is hard.

Among all of the difficulties associated with any given art, perhaps one of the hardest is editing. Some believe that editing is simply a matter of correcting a few obvious things and polishing a little. Such people, I would suggest, are either amazingly good or an amazingly bad artists. Or perhaps they are simply unaware that editing one’s work stringently will invariably make that work better.

Most of us create in flow or some other altered state, so often our art needs fine-tuning. Editing is the procedure by which we refine our previously rough work. It is not simply correcting a few obvious things and polishing; it is an exacting and difficult process.

The difficulty stems from the fact that we must look at our work with what amounts to new eyes. These “new eyes” give us the necessary objectivity and discipline to do the job. The task is to see and correct all flaws, lapses, inconsistencies, and omissions. We must complete all ideas that are incomplete and fill in any holes we might find. At the same time we need to cut away the irrelevant and unnecessary. Even digressions, perfectly acceptable in most art, must be made somehow relevant or removed.

While completing, filling-in, and modifying are sometimes tough, it’s the cutting-away that is the most difficult and causes the most concern. When we create, our minds make jumps and connections, which, while valid, may not be relevant to the current project. Such elements must be either brought into relevance or excised. Often, the latter is the correct solution, but it’s not easy, particularly when the portion to be removed is good work. Our inner editor, however, is telling us that because of a lack of relevance that good work needs to be on the cutting room floor.

But, as much as we dislike our own work—the case for many never-satisfied artists—it is still part of us and somehow deserves our protection. This means that our objectivity and discipline can never waver. We must cut out every scrap that does not contribute to the piece in question. We must look at every line, shape, action, stoke, step, movement, paragraph, and syllable to determine whether it contributes to the work or does not. If it does not, it has to go.

This does not mean, however, that those excised elements—particularly the good ones—have to be assigned to the trash; they just can’t be used in this project. Perhaps the excised portions can be stored—in a notebook or digital file or the back of the studio or a storage area or somewhere else. Perhaps they can be used elsewhere: perhaps they can add dimension to another project, or perhaps they can form the basis for an entirely new project. What they cannot be is part of the current work.

And that may cause us some angst and perhaps even some tears, but it has to be. We must edit hard. Only that way can our work be the best it can be.

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The Case for Quality

Monday, 14. December 2015 1:38

In the last post I used a quote from Penn Jillette’s Every Day is an Atheist Holiday in which Jillette says, paraphrasing Billy West, that there is only one show business, and all artists and performers are in it. In the next couple of sentences he postulates a hierarchy within this one world of arts/entertainment, noting that “a magician has to be a damn sight lower than a poet. We’re above ventriloquists, but not near poets.”

Although this would seem to suggest that there are classifications within art and some sort of hierarchy, nowhere in this book does Jillette offer any criteria for making judgements about which arts go where. He just sets forth the notion that some arts are inherently more valuable than others. As I acknowledged in the last post, “there is art that is more sophisticated than other art. There is art that encompasses what it means to be human in a much more profound way than other art. There is art that is more expensive than other art.” This would suggest that value of a work of art is not a characteristic of the art itself, but is actually assigned by critical audience members.

Taking that into account along with the notion that all arts/entertainment is one thing, we must, when we are making value judgements (rarely done without some sort of comparison or at least an implied comparison) about any art or artist, be sure that we are comparing kumquats with kumquats and not disparate kinds of things. Comparing musical theatre to legit theatre makes no more real sense than comparing stage magicians to ventriloquists.

Likewise, it should be obvious that comparing a sculpture by Praxiteles to a piece of sculpture by John Chamberlain is invalid except in a very restricted academic sense.

To suggest that a straight play is better than a musical just because it is a straight play or that a sculpture by Praxiteles is superior to a sculpture by Chamberlain simply because the Praxiteles work is figurative is the worst kind of snobbery.

And while snobbery is never justified, some people genuinely believe that there is a hierarchy and some arts are more sophisticated, or more profound or just “higher” than others. Others think that there are only subdivisions: ventriloquism and stage magic and poetry and sculpture are all subgenres of the whole arts/entertainment thing, with one subgenre having much the same value as another.

But more important than whether stage magic is superior in some way to ventriloquism is whether the stage magic that is being performed is of quality. It is not a matter of subject matter or where the particular subgenre stands in the hierarchy. It’s about how good it is. There is good stage magic and not-so-good stage magic. There is good ventriloquism and not-so-good ventriloquism. There is good musical theatre and not-so-good musical theatre. There is good legitimate theatre and not-so-good legitimate theatre. There is good pornography and not-so-good pornography. There is good abstract expressionism and not-so-good abstract expressionism. There is good minimalism and not-so-good minimalism. There is good sculpture and not-so-good sculpture.

If we must make distinctions, and we seem to be inclined to do that, then properly those distinctions should not be about the level of the work in terms of subject matter or degree of sophistication or profundity, i.e. the relative “value” of the work. Rather they should be about the quality of the work—and that is a whole other discussion.

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