Post from October, 2017

The Key Ingredient

Monday, 23. October 2017 0:29

A friend of mine whose house was ruined in the recent flooding of Houston has been hard pressed to make decisions about redecorating. She knew what palette she wanted but, as anyone who has decorated recently knows, the choices even within a single color group are myriad. So she looked as swatches and remained undecided. Then she made what she thought was an unrelated decision; she decided to replace the front door and picked one out; it came in colors, only one of which was in her palette. It was only then that she realized that the front door color would dictate her color choices, at least in three major rooms, and so she could not go forward with her paint selection until the door arrived and she could actually see what the key color in her newly-painted home would be.

Another person in the same situation had exactly the same problem. The choices were too many to consider all at once; the result was a very frustrating indecision. With the help of her daughters, however, she managed to solve the problem by deciding to use a theme throughout the house. That decision allowed her to paint and decorate each room individually, with the whole being tied together thematically. Other choices immediately fell into place.

A writer I know had all the pieces of his book except the beginning; he couldn’t figure out what the beginning should be—at least not until he looked around in the small-town all-night diner where he was having a cup of coffee. That place and its patrons immediately became the beginning of his novel.

The same phenomenon applies to visual work. Some of my abstract photographic work takes the form of grids. The assembly of a grid is complex process which on most days is fairly difficult. However, I have found that somewhere within this process is a single image that will bring everything together, or at least provide a direction for the remainder of the grid.

And it applies to performing arts. Often when actors are developing their characters, the results will be incomplete until the actor “accidentally” discovers that one thing that, like the key image in my grid example, will bring the whole thing together, tying research to imagination and allowing the full creation of the character.

What we are talking about is the key ingredient, and it seems that every creative process requires one. Sometimes it’s a major thing, but more often it is one tiny detail that causes all the other pieces to fall into place, triggering the project’s final shape. It’s the image that enables the director to move forward with the film, stage play, or musical. It’s the chord change or musical phrase that pushes the musical composition. It’s the juxtaposition of words that propels the poem toward completion.

The problem with key ingredients is that they are almost always “discovered,” arrived at seemingly by accident. Sometimes artists are slow to recognize that every project needs one. Others recognize that every project needs a key ingredient, but have no idea how to find one.

I wish I could say that I have a sure-fire way to locate the key ingredient every time. But, alas, I cannot. The best I can do is to suggest that we, as artists, need to recognize that such things exist and can aid the creative process tremendously. Beyond that, I can only suggest that we stay open to all possibilities and allow serendipity do its work.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

“I Never Thought About It Like That Before”

Monday, 9. October 2017 1:13

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard that phrase or some variation three or four times. In each case it was a genuine acknowledgement of a new and interesting viewpoint on an old topic. It’s not a saying that we hear all that frequently, so it surprised me to hear it so often in such a relatively short time span. And there’s a reason that it’s not all that common; it’s because we are seldom presented with the opportunity to say it. Rarely are we presented with a new and interesting viewpoint on an old topic.

And that’s sad, because it seems to me that that is exactly what artists should be doing: looking at topics (Old topics are just fine—are there really any new topics?) with new eyes and thinking about them in new ways and then showing that new, unique, and interesting viewpoint to their audience. Isn’t that what all the great artists have done—forced their audiences to look at a subject from a different perspective—one they never thought of before? And suddenly their world changes. Because of the new point of view, they see the matter in a completely new light, and if their mind is open only the smallest bit, they are forced to acknowledge how different the topic is when viewed from this new direction.

If the artist is in the business of making artifacts to sell and has found a comfortable market niche, s/he may not be interested in doing anything differently; the old point of view may be working very well. However, if the artist is about creating new things, developing a new viewpoint may be exactly what is needed. It will provide the artist with a different approach to his/her work which can only result in work that is new and different, work that is more thought-provoking and interesting than previous work.

Still, it’s difficult to look at thing differently than we have in the past. Artists, like almost everyone else, have comfortable habits, both physical and mental. We do things the way we’ve done them in the past, and we think about think about things the way we always have. And it becomes really easy to convince ourselves that we can create within our comfort zones. And we can, but our work of tomorrow is likely to look like our work of today which looks like our work of yesterday. Our work is of high quality and has a consistent point of view. What could be better?

Work that is of high quality and is new and fresh and unexpected might be better. That is what we could anticipate if we can manage to come out of our comfort zone and look at our subject matter and take a fresh look at our subject matter. With that fresh look will come fresh insights, and those fresh insights will cause our work to be new and fresh as well. And because our work is new and fresh and interesting, we have more to give our audience.

The net result is that we will be better artists. It is likely that we will not reach our full artistic potential until we are willing to come out of that comfort zone and look at the world or at least the artistic part of our world in new and different ways. Only by doing that will we grow as artists.

Category:Originality, Productivity, Quality | Comment (0) | Author:

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