Why that Artist’s Method Won’t Work for You

It seems that almost everyone who is beginning in the arts wants a prepackaged process. This is easily seen in arts classrooms where potential actors, painters, photographers, sculptors, writers eagerly await how-to prescriptions of how to warm up, how to approach the material, how to get results. They are looking for the magic path that will take them from the classroom/studio to producing acclaimed work one project after another.

Acting students have heard, after all, that there is a Method, and if they follow the procedures of The Method, they will certainly produce good work. What they don’t realize is that the method which originated with Stanislavski, has been modified by his innumerable students, so there are now multiple methods, each claiming to be the True Path to great acting. The same is more-or-less true for all the arts. For example, some photographers think that if they follow Ansel’s process, their pictures will rival his; some writers believe that if they use the same methodology as [insert name of famous writer here], their work will be just as good.

And this seeking of the magic process is not limited to novice artists. There is a constant parade of articles, workshops, classes, all telling the seeker what might be wrong with his/her process and why the one that the writer/presenter is offering will make the seeker a better actor, painter, photographer, writer. The fact that the workshops and classes are full and the articles have readers indicates that even practicing artists are still looking for the Holy Grail of artistic process.

The narrator in Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance blames this on technology: “Technology presumes there’s just one right way to do things and there never is.” That sentence was published in 1974; it’s an even stronger statement now when technology has pervaded every area of our lives. And his point is well taken; it seems that every piece of technology comes with instructions which imply that there is only one right way to use whatever the tool happens to be. So it becomes ingrained in our thinking. Pirsig’s narrator goes on to say that there are, in fact, an infinite number of ways to do things. He says of a true craftsman or artist: “He isn’t following a set of written instructions because the nature of the material at hand determines his thoughts and motions, which simultaneously change the nature of the material at hand. The material and his thoughts are changing together in a progression of changes until his mind’s at rest at the same time the material’s right.”

Stella Adler in The Art of Acting says much the same thing. She says, “Mr. Stanislavsky had his Method.” Continuing, she says that what worked for Stanislavsky will not work for contemporary actors simply because they do not live in Stanislavsky’s culture or have his experiences and influences. The proper goal for the actor, she says, is to be independent of The Method, of any instructor, and to reformulate it the actor’s method in his/her own way.

Just as there is no one warm-up that will serve all dancers or actors, or any other performer, there is no one way of approaching whatever our art is. The best we can do is study various methodologies, try them out, and, adopt those techniques that, when we apply them, are not necessarily the easiest for us, but that yield the best results.

Studying the processes of successful artists is one of the ways to acquire ideas that we can adopt or adapt. But we must remember not follow the processes of others blindly, but to pull out those ideas, methods, and procedures that will lead us to our best results. Thus we develop our own working procedures and our own process. And once we have a base process, what we may find is that we will have more success if we modify it, as Pirsig suggests, to fit the material of a given project.  Then we will be masters of our own unique, flexible process, and our work will be the better for it.

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Date: Wednesday, 10. August 2016 1:03
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Uncategorized

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