Post from July, 2016

What Artists Should Really Be Asking

Monday, 25. July 2016 0:16

In the Afterword to the audiobook version of his novel, NOS4A2, Joe Hill, who describes himself as “a guy who prizes the imagination above all other personality traits,” says that he thinks that:

Everybody actually lives in two worlds. There’s the world of stuff, of coffee in the morning and bad jobs and bad hair and work and physics and chemistry. And that’s what we think of as life. That’s the world you live in. But I actually think that people spend as much time spends as much time in the world of thought. And in the world of thought emotions are as powerful and as real as gravity. And imagination is as powerful as physical law. And that world also really and truly exists. You could even make a philosophical argument that that world exists for us more than the real world.

Hill goes on to discuss how “a good reader can make a good book that much better.” He singles out Kate Mulgrew and Wolfram Kandinsky, of whom Hill says, “That was a voice that spoke to the deepest parts of my imagination.”

We in the arts are used to concerning ourselves with imagination, but usually only from the creation sided of things. We use our imaginations to create worlds that do not exist in physical reality. We use our imaginations to fantasize over what might be. We use our imaginations to foresee what shapes our artifacts might take.

What we don’t do is concern ourselves so much with our audience’s imaginations. Note the last quote from Hill. What made certain audio books come alive for him was that the voice that read them “spoke to the deepest parts of his imagination.” Suddenly, we have two imaginations working on the same piece, in this case an audiobook. We have, if you will, one imagination (that of the author) engaging the imagination of (in this case) the listener through the medium of the reader.

As a long-time listener to audiobooks, I can confirm Hill’s assertion that “a good reader can make a good book that much better.” Until I heard Hill’s comments, it did not occur to me to question why some readers make the book really come to life and others just get through it, why anything Frank Mueller read was golden. And now I know. Mueller and the other readers that I really appreciate are the ones who have spoken to my imagination, not just my ears.

And then it occurred to me that that is exactly what we, as artists, should be doing: speaking not just to our audience members’ ears and eyes, but rather speaking to our audience members’ imaginations, engaging those imaginations. Too often we use our own imaginations to create art that does not engage the imagination of the viewers. We create and throw it out there, and the audience acknowledges it, but doesn’t take it home. There are a number of reasons for this, but one certainly is that we failed to engage the audience member’s imagination.

It is only by engaging our audience’s imaginations that we can actually communicate with them, create something that has real meaning for them, make something that really impacts their lives. Otherwise, what we create may appear to them pretty or interesting or even intellectually stimulating. But it will not impact them in the emotional, visceral way that many of us want our art to communicate. So the question we should be asking ourselves is not “how can I communicate my vision to my audience?” but rather “how can I make my vision engage my audience’s imagination?” The answer can only lead to making our art more than it is.

Category:Audience, Creativity | Comments (1) | Author:

The Downside of Obsession

Monday, 11. July 2016 0:11

There have been a number of posts discussing the fact that many artists are obsessed and probably need to be (for example). There is, however, a downside to that same single-mindedness, and it manifests itself in at least two areas.

The first is tunnel-vision. When an artist, or anyone for that matter, is pursuing some goal obsessively, that person develops tunnel-vision. There is nothing that exists in his/her world except the object of the obsession. This, of course, can be a good thing; no distractions exist. If that artist enters flow, then all the better because his/her whole consciousness is turned to the creative project at hand. The problem comes if the artist is experiencing tunnel-vision and is not in flow. That means that there is a single-minded effort but the whole consciousness is not involved. That means that ideas that should feed into the creative process are kept out. The objective and reaching it becomes far more important than the process.

The second aspect is, for lack of a better term, drive. In this case drive means pushing toward the goal as hard as the artist can go down a single path. And that’s the problem right there: the push. Again, this is a much more serious problem if the artist is not in flow. What happens is that the artist is moving toward the goal so hard and so fast that it doesn’t occur to him/her that there may be other paths to the same goal, easier paths, paths that would lead to greater creativity, paths that would lead to a more complex and interesting result. And if the movement toward the goal is not successful, the artist continues to try harder rather than considering input from other paths or another methodology, both of which would occur to him/her if he/she were in flow. This is akin to the artist beating his/her head on a rock; the harder he/she tries, the less successful he/she is likely to be.

This happened to me recently. I spent four hours on a project that should have taken twenty minutes (I’m thankful that it was not a more complex problem; I might have been at it for days.) It was at the end of the day, and the push to finish the project took on a life of its own; no matter how hard I tried, the goal was still out of reach. What finally stopped me was exhaustion. After I stopped, decided that maybe when I started on the project the next day, I would take a different tack. And that is exactly what I did; after some rest, the project looked a little different. I tried approaching the problem a different way and success came within thirty minutes. The problem had been that I was trying so hard to get to the goal, I missed other approaches that would yield success much more quickly.

So while obsessive behavior is probably necessary to be successful in the arts, improperly directed single-mindedness can be detrimental to the creative process and a huge waster of time and energy. That kind of obsession can be detected easily. Does it feel like you’re beating your head on a rock? If so, it’s time to change your approach. Flow doesn’t feel like that; flow almost removes you from the world, so that you have very little, if any, self-awareness. Our goal should be appropriately-directed and managed obsession. And that will appear when we merge the self and the creative process.

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