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Words Matter

Sunday, 8. April 2018 23:53

Art agents, marketers and galleryists, both physical and digital, are quick to tell artists that the story behind the picture will help the sale. The story, they say, engages the viewer in a way that just studying the piece cannot. Artists, therefore, should be ready and willing to tell the story behind each image. In fact, Austin Kleon had a recent blog giving writing advice for artists and visual thinkers. Obviously, these art world figures think that words matter.

Because of my theatre background, I have always taken issue with this approach, and have been very vocal about my feelings concerning curtain speeches and program notes. Naturally, I extended this thinking to the story behind the picture. My opinion was that— just like theatre—an image should speak for itself. I may have been a bit hasty.

Since last weekend was a long weekend, I spent some time in Marfa, TX (which I recommend to nearly everyone). One of my favorite things in Marfa is the Chamberlain exhibit in downtown Marfa right beside the railroad tracks. (For anyone interested, the hours/days of opening are quirky and subject to change without notice—in fact, they’ve changed in the week since I was there.) Having seen the exhibit before, I was not surprised by anything except the laminated artist statement that was available for pickup near the entrance.

In his artist statement, written in 1982, John Chamberlain says that his artistic decision-making has to do with “primarily sexual and intuitive thinking.” There were other things in the artist statement that were of value (and may appear here at a later time), but the comments about making decisions based on the sexual aspects of his psyche caught my eye. Two caveats, however, must be put forward: 1. this statement may not mean that sex is the topic of the sculpture but only that the pieces that he puts together to create his sculptures have a “sexual fit.” 2. Chamberlain was possessed of a wicked sense of humor, so he may have put sexual references into his artist statement just for fun.

So it’s difficult to tell whether or not he was being serious. No matter; the important part is how much those words mattered, even when they were somewhat suspect. I found the artist statement after I had made my first round of the exhibit. I read the statement and then went through the exhibit again. The pieces had changed! Or rather my perception of them had. The words had made a difference in how I was looking at the pieces and what the pieces seemed to be saying.  And it was not just the sexual references in the artist statement, but the whole of it. What was essentially a statement of Chamberlain’s approach to making art, somewhat ambiguously expressed, had altered my understanding of the pieces.

Still, I cannot fully recant my position. My position on curtain speeches and program notes has not changed. This is probably because a play by its nature speaks for itself, and if the director feels s/he has to explain the play, it probably has not been done well. And I still hold that visual art, whether it be two- or three-dimensional, should speak for itself. Like performances, if it must be explained, it’s probably not successful. However, if there are notes about artist’s procedures or ideas that are available, and those notes are absorbed by the viewer and then applied to the viewing of the art, they may well modify the viewer’s appreciation and more fully engage the viewer (regardless of the art genre). Whether this is good or bad, I cannot say; what I can say is that it’s true. Words matter.

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We’re All Commercial Artists

Monday, 12. February 2018 2:31

In his review of Phillip Boehm’s Alma en venta (Soul on Sale), D. L. Groover proclaims, “I guess Arcadio [the protagonist] never heard of a professional artist. Isn’t that their calling? You paint and people buy. Van Gogh wanted to sell his work, Rembrandt wanted to sell, Picasso wanted to sell. I don’t think they were troubled by their soul being appropriated.” All artists want to sell what they do.

The commercial nature of the practice of making art is not readily apparent. Most of us got into the arts world because it satisfied some need. We did not think about bringing in money when we first picked up a pencil or a paintbrush or a camera or a hammer and chisel. We talk about process and creation; we talk about technique; occasionally we talk about artifact. But we don’t talk about selling.

Except for those of us who choose to study “commercial art,” a specialized field which freely admits that talents and skills can be used to make bespoke art in exchange for money. Other arts that freely admit that a box office is part of the equation are theatre and film, but even then there is the division between art that sells well and readily (musical theatre and adventure films) and “serious art,” which sells far less well and for which there “should” be an audience, but sometimes isn’t. It’s still all about selling.

The only difference is whether an artist is tailoring his/her product [artifact] to a specific audience or whether s/he is making it for other reasons and tailoring it only to artistic and aesthetic needs, hoping that someone will like it enough to pay money for it. The second type of artist would say that the first type is commercial and pandering; the first type would say that the second type is being snobbish and unrealistic. No matter what you call it, the bottom line is that ultimately it’s still all about selling.

And there are, of course, artists who take positions all along the line from one of the above extremes to the other. Some artists take the “fine arts” approach and enter show after show, trying to gain recognition, increase their exposure, find their tribe, and ultimately sell, whether it be to individual or institutional collectors. Some show their work in online arts communities. Some narrow their work to specific niches, trying to find an audience. Some broaden their subject matter, trying for the same thing.

Other artists take a more direct commercial approach. They shift their focus from “fine art” to commodity art, creating wearable art which is often shown and sold at street festivals. Some make their work available in prints, posters and household decorative pieces sold directly to consumers through internet storefronts. Some hang out shingles and do wedding photography or commissioned work. The goal is the same: sell.

We all make art for different reasons, and we all have something to say with our art. And regardless of how significant or trivial our message, we all want our art to communicate, to be accepted, and ultimately to sell. We take many different paths, and money may not be the most important outcome, but it surely is one of the outcomes we seek—either directly or indirectly. At the bottom of it we’re really all commercial artists.

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Science Offers the Proof

Sunday, 8. January 2017 23:38

Although we seem to be living in a post-factual, science-denying society, I still have a tendency to put faith in scientific findings. And one of the things that science has found is that art is good for us—neurologically. While there are numerous studies that tell us how we benefit our brains if we make art (for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), what is more interesting—to me at least—is how art impacts the mental health of audience members.

My interest in this topic began with a Salon article on “Why Abstract Art Makes Our Brains Hurt so Good.” The article, written by art critic Noah Charney, describes the work of Nobel-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel, which says essentially that abstract art forces the viewer to engage in bottom up thinking. This is thinking that “includes mental processes that are ingrained over centuries: unconsciously making sense of phenomena.” Bottom up thinking stands opposed to “top-down” thinking which is based on personal experience and knowledge; such thinking is used “to interpret formal, symbol, or story-rich art.” Thus “looking at formal art is actually a form of passive narrative reading;” abstract art, however, “strips away the narrative, the real-life, expected visuals [and] requires active problem-solving….It makes our brains work in a different, harder way at a subconscious level.” Charney concludes his article by stating, “Abstract art is where we began, and where we have returned. It makes our brains hurt, but in all the right ways, for abstract art forces us to see, and think, differently.”

But it’s not just abstract art.

One British study concentrated on “beautiful paintings” and found that simply viewing images of beautiful paintings increased blood-flow in the brain “just as it increases when you look at somebody you love.” The study concluded that there is now proof that “beautiful paintings make us feel much better.”

Study after study has found that the benefits of experiencing art include decreased stress levels and “a significant improvement is psychological resilience.” One study concluded that “The brain hardwired to process art” and generates pleasurable emotions while doing it.

Kevin Loria writing for Business Insider looked at a number of studies on the impact of viewing art. They found that:

  • “Viewing paintings triggered responses in brain regions associated with visual understanding and object recognition, as might be expected, but viewing artwork also was connected to activity associated with emotions, inner thoughts, and learning.”
  • There was an increase in critical thinking and social tolerance after visiting an art museum.
  • Arts programs may help older adults stave off cognitive decline. Viewing art can “relieve mental fatigue and restore the ability to focus.”

Some studies have evaluated brain response not only to visual, but to auditory arts as well and found that the benefits, though slightly different, were still there. “When you’re doing [either experiencing or making] art, you brain is running full speed.” Other studies have shown that any art is of benefit in making the brain healthier. For example, there is new research that makes “a strong case that engagement with music, dance and other arts may be just as powerful [as exercise and taking on new challenges] for preserving mental health and acuity throughout our lives.”

And studies are ongoing. New technologies are being developed to measure exactly how and how much benefit we receive from engagement with the arts.

The conclusion is that what we as artist do is important, not only because it allow us to say what needs to be said, but because the artifacts and performances we produce have a positive neurological impact on the brains of our audiences. Studies are just beginning to measure the degree of this impact. We do important work; science offers the proof.

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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.

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Creative Entrepreneurship: the Implications

Monday, 2. May 2016 0:12

In his article The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur” in The Atlantic, William Deresiewicz details what he sees as the implications of the latest art marketing paradigm. Some of these are direct interaction between artist and collector, artist diversification and versatility, and others that do not seem onerous. However, he decries a number of potential implications for arts and artists, including the following:

  • Works of art will become commodities, consumer goods.
  • There will no longer be an audience, but rather a customer base.
  • Art will become more like entertainment, less like art: familiar, formulaic, user-friendly.
  • It will be “the age of the customer, who is always right.”
  • Work that is “safer will be favored.”
  • “The measure of merit will be the best seller list.”
  • The artist will be “only as good as his/her last sales quarter.”
  • Artists will “spend more time trying to figure out what customers wants rather than what they want to say.”
  • Aesthetic judgment will be reconfigured because ratings and reviews render everyone’s opinion equal. Taste will be democratized; there will be no more gatekeepers. This will mean that no one can tell an artist his/her work is bad.
  • Breadth will displace depth.
  • As “winds of market forces blow the artist here or there,” artistic interests and directions will shift; there will “no climactic masterwork of deep maturity.”
  • Art itself may disappear, replaced by craft; artisans will replace artists.
  • “A vessel for our inner life” will be lost.

While some of these implications of the new art marketing paradigm don’t sound so bad—at least to me (the resurgence of craft and the artisan, for example), on the whole it sounds pretty awful. Art as we know it will disappear. Except it won’t. What Deresiewicz fails to recognize is that we have been living with this paradigm for some time now with not too many ill effects.

This “new” paradigm is nothing more or less than the Hollywood paradigm applied to other arts. This has been the working paradigm for the production and marketing of American film (and to some extent American theatre) for a hundred years. The results have not been devastating; American cinematic art still exists.

Yes, the majority of films are strictly commercial. After all, from its inception, the movie industry in this country has been about making money. This has led to some copy-cat work, an endless number of uninspired sequels, and formulaic movies that are only a little more imaginative than a daily work schedule. And all but a few are made with consummate craftsmanship by true artisans.

But then there are those artisans who aspire to do better, who are willing to take a risk on a film that is out of the mainstream, a film that is indeed “a vessel for inner life.” There is, it seems, in every generation of filmmakers, two or three directors who are not motivated by money. Oh, to be sure they have to be sufficiently entrepreneurial to raise enough capital to actually make the movie, and there is an expectation that the resulting film will not be a financial loss, even if it doesn’t generate $100 million and action-figure sales. Still, these directors, these artists, produce exceptional work within this paradigm.

And a paradigm that can give us the work of Chaplin, Lubitsch, Hitchcock, Scorsese, Eastwood, Kubrick cannot be all that bad. It’s not that it’s a dreadful paradigm; it’s that it’s a paradigm different than the one we’d planned on.  Perhaps we, as artists, should stop wringing our hands over the terrible state of art marketing and instead concentrate on the opportunities that a new paradigm brings.

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A New Paradigm: the Creative Entrepreneur

Monday, 18. April 2016 1:40

In his article The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur” in The Atlantic, William Deresiewicz makes a statement that echoes one in the last post: “Everybody understands by now that nobody can count on a job.” That established, he goes on to say that the new paradigm for those in the arts is the “creative entrepreneur.”

Deresiewicz  details the previous paradigms for art:

  1. Artisans who were master makers and who were financed by patrons. This paradigm existed in one form or another until the late 18th/early 19th
  2. The solitary genius became the paradigm for artists during the Romantic period. This view of the artist also brought us “Art for art’s sake” and Gesamtkunstwerk. The artist was a cultural aristocrat, a rock star of the period, not bound by rules that governed other mortals. It’s an idea that that still has some currency.
  3. The artist as professional appeared in the mid-20th By that time, art had become something of a religion and “in America especially, art, like all religions as they age, became institutionalized.” This, of course, led to museums, opera, ballet, and theatre companies, arts councils, funding bodies, educational programs. Artists acquired the trappings of professionalism: professional degrees, professional positions (usually in higher education), awards, fellowships, credentials.

Deresiewicz says something that artists are loathe to admit: the paradigm of the artist is based on the market of the period. And the market has changed considerably since the middle of the 20th century. In the early 21st century the most successful marketing is done by entrepreneurs using the internet and the cell phone—bypassing 20th century institutions and marketing directly to consumers. It has happened with commodity merchandise, music, video, gaming, and now art. “Audience” has become “customer base. “

There are a number of implications to this model which Deresiewicz points out. I find that I cannot agree with all of his conclusions, particularly the most dismal, but I appreciate his bringing them to our attention (and will discuss them in the next post).

The real problem is the artist’s application of this information. If he/she is no longer institutionalized and can no longer can count on a job, entrepreneurship is the best available alternative. Each artist must do what Hazel Dooney was advocating several years ago: bypass gatekeeping institutions and market directly to his/her audience.

The push toward entrepreneurship demands that artist know something about marketing, thus the “proliferation of dual M.B.A./M.F.A programs.” Coupled with the idea that we, in our careers, will have five or six jobs perhaps in multiple fields, artistic entrepreneurship strongly suggests that the artist must be literate in multiple platforms. And this is just within the art world. (The always-suspect “day job” is not considered here.)

This sort of thing is already going on, of course. An Equity actor I know, in addition to acting, is an author and a poet, and teaches—mostly workshops, some connected with cultural arts organizations and some self-booked. He also does anime voice acting and has done set construction from time to time. He works primarily in the arts, but in very different aspects of the arts.

Likewise, photographers often expand their practices to include not only weddings, but also senior photography, infant photography, portraits, boudoir, industrial, headshots, even pet portraiture, all of which used to be strict specializations.

Artists of all stripes are marketing and selling on the internet, either through their own web sites of through one of the hundreds of arts market websites such as Etsy, RedBubble, and FineArtsAmerica.

While I’m not sure that I like the term “creative entrepreneur,” the idea does seem to be appropriate to the world in which we live. We don’t have to like it, but we do have to deal with it. And in dealing with it, we can either fight the paradigm or embrace it. I rather suspect that our survival as artists depends on our embracing it. Just how we interact with this new way of doing things, however, can be just as individual as our art.

 

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The Necessity of Fantasy

Monday, 25. January 2016 0:00

There’s a guy I know, a vociferous reader, who refuses to read anything that could be considered fantasy. “Not realistic,” he says. He reads mysteries, detective stories, lawyer novels, not seeming to realize that those books he is calling realistic are every bit as fanciful as those written by Anne Rice or Stephen King or Margaret Atwood or George Orwell. (Although in Orwell’s case, one might argue that his books are not fantasy at all, but rather prophesy.)

Those of us who work in theatre are told from the very beginning that stage dialogue is not realistic speech. If well written, it has verisimilitude, but it is stripped down, shaped, and refined to support the action of the play. We accept this. We know that film is not reality; in fact at least one text on the subject says that since the digitization of the motion picture, all movies are fantasy and live action just one of the subsets of animation.

It’s all make believe. We know that the characters in movies don’t really die; neither do the protagonists of novels. Equally unreal is the person who is held captive in a graphic novel, or experiences a life-threatening situation in a staged photograph. At the same time, this make believe, or imagination, if you will, allows us to teach, learn, show, tell, explore, reveal in ways that would be impossible without a flight of imagination.

Fantasy is often denigrated for two reasons: first, some feel that it is unworthy of genuine consideration in the art world simply on the basis of subject matter. For many it means dragons and magic and monsters and things that are impossible—at least on this plane of existence and therefore could never contribute anything meaningful to “serious” art.

The second reason has to do the sociological and psychological implications of some fantasy art: violent video games and pornography, just to mention the two most talked-about examples. No one, it seems, actually knows the effects of interacting with these works: some say that participating in these fantasies short-circuits any need to act out in reality; others say the opposite, that exposure to these fantasies actually encourage that acting-out of similar activities in the real world. Regardless, all seem to agree that such fantasy art has a significant impact on its audience. Were the subject matter different, many would say that such impact marks such art works as highly successful.

However, fantasy does not necessarily mean the extremes noted above, or even magic and supernatural. It can merely mean a flight of fancy, or simply “imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.”

Without fantasy, art is exactly like life—with all the irrelevancies, distractions, mundane details that do not contribute to the message or the appeal of the piece. It becomes the same boring stuff that we live through every day rather than the instructive, insightful, beautiful thing that it is.

Without fantasy we would be left with only non-fiction, and reproductive visual art, exclusively naturalistic performing art (if performance can really be naturalistic). The art world would be very barren indeed. When we stop and think about it, it seems that imagination and fantasy are actually the foundations of art, certainly what allow it to grow and flower.

Regardless what detractors may say, fantasy in varying degrees greatly enriches our lives through art. In fact, without fantasy, we have no art. Period. Given that, fantasy may be something we want to reconsider and embrace.

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It has to Resonate

Monday, 11. January 2016 0:59

Sometimes a particular movie or book or painting or sculpture or live stage production will speak to us. There is no immediate explanation of why this happens, but it does. I used to say that in some way those pieces allowed a glimpse of some sort of universal truth. I have since learned that the same pieces that speak to me leave others cold, so perhaps the truth is not so universal after all.

This has nothing to do with whether the piece of art in question is considered “great art” or not. In some cases it is a masterwork and in others it is a “cult” work, and in others it is some obscure piece that no one has heard of. I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, but I rather suspect it is.

And it does not have to be the whole piece; sometimes it’s just a single scene or even a single line. In the case of visual piece, it could be a small detail or a juxtaposition of visual ideas. There is no way to predict what element might reach out and grab my (or anyone else’s) psyche. But it happens; some works of art resonate and some do not. And that’s really the only thing to call it: resonation.

Nobody seems to know exactly why or how it happens. In speaking of the cult status of the movie Nomads, Lesley-Anne Down says that it was not a “popular movie” but one that appealed to those with “strange minds” who were not interested in the predictable. The implication is, of course, that certain pieces appeal to those with certain mind-sets. Perhaps that is true.

Even though there is no real predictability in terms of what will resonate, the work of particular painters, writers, sculptors, photographers, choreographers touch me repeatedly and the work or others do not. Again, I suspect this is true for others. Whatever the reason, it seems fairly consistent.

And if whatever “truth” an artist presents resonates with a small group of like-minded people, there may be a “cult following,” as in the case of Nomads. If there is a larger group, the work becomes “popular.” If there is an even larger group, it can become a “classic.”

And beyond classic are those artists who become immortal by speaking to multiple generations across space and time. These artists have presented something in their work that continues to communicate, to resonate, long after they have passed from the scene.

What that something is that continues to resonate with such a far-removed audience is the stuff of academic monographs and seminar discussions. The fact is that nobody quite knows. All we know is that Shakespeare and Van Gough and Praxiteles and Beethoven and Walker Evans continue to move and inspire us today. When asked, all we can say is, “the work resonates with us.”

What we do know is that resonance is not something that can be planned. Marketers spend millions attempting to do that and still fail. The best that we can do is put as much truth as we can—perhaps that same sort of truth we recognize in works that resonate with us—into our own work and hope that our truth will resonate with others who encounter our art.

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It Took an External Nudge

Sunday, 1. November 2015 23:36

Many of us have multiple to-do lists. Mine consist of day-job lists, theatre lists, photography lists, household chores lists, shopping lists, and others. Needless to say, many of the tasks fail to get done in a timely manner and continue to occupy a place on the list—sometimes for weeks or months. Periodic reviews always result in the same “Oh yeah, that.” And “I need to get to that.” And they continue to occupy a place on the list while newer, more pressing matters get take precedence.

Then something happens and that item soars to the top of the list. Recently I had such an incident. One item on my list was “finish web site.” The project was a complete makeover of my photography site, which, as the to-do item indicated, had not been finished. The major changes were complete and what was left was tedious and time-consuming and not very interesting. So it got put off.

Then early last week I got a text from a friend telling me that she had shown some of my work to a person who came with an impressive set of credentials and who had indicated sufficient interest that she was planning to look at the website later and that she might get in touch with me. Photography inquires had been slow, so this lifted my spirits considerably. Then I remembered that item on my photography list. Quickly I grabbed the nearest device, my iPhone, to check the site—I wasn’t sure exactly where I was in the process of updating. The first thing I saw on the opening page of the mobile version of the site was an error that I had not known was there.

As soon as I could, I sat down at my desktop and began to find and fix first errors and then obvious unfinished work. In just a few hours, I had the site looking pretty good. The errors that had shocked me were repaired in all versions of the site. A couple of galleries had been activated, and some images had been resized. It no longer looked broken or incomplete.

But it wasn’t finished. As I had worked to fix things, I discovered other things that I wanted to tweak—and I will, but at a less urgent pace. The item is still on the list, but it’s priority has shifted because I became aware of what I should have known already—that the web site is all some people know of my work, and, more importantly, I never know who might be looking at it at any time, so it needs to look as good as possible—all the time.

The larger lesson is that an artist should not have to wait for an external nudge to do what needs doing. We teach and are taught that we must learn to create without external validation, that we must be able to evaluate the quality of our own work without waiting for outside praise or criticism. The same thing applies to putting our work out there. Another friend of mine holds that art demands an audience. Given that, we must motivate ourselves to let our potential audience see our best work presented in the best possible way. And we must keep current; we must make it a practice to nudge ourselves.

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Sometimes You Fail

Monday, 19. October 2015 1:12

Failure is, in fact, part of creative life, and it actually does happen. Sometimes it blindsides you, and sometimes you see it coming at you like a locomotive. If the latter, you take what measures you can to avert what you think is sure to be a disaster, but sometimes those measures fail as well.

And you know all the maxims about creative activity and failure (see previous writings here, here and here) and you are prepared and you know it’s not the end of the world or anything like that; it’s just part of the creative cycle: sometimes you miss the target. It happens. But maxims are cold comfort when it’s a real failure in the real world, not just something you say, hoping it will never happen or some abstract thing in a blog essay on creativity.

And sometimes, it happens in public. It’s commissioned work with a deadline; it’s a scheduled performance; it’s an advertised opening. If you see it coming, you spend some time planning how to lower expectations in the eyes of those who will surely see the completed project, even while you are still trying to turn the impending train wreck into a near-miss. And you discover very quickly that while private failure is never a pleasant thing, failure in any kind of public situation is deeply humbling experience.

And ironically, some of those times you fail in a public forum, nobody knows. The client, the audience, the patrons look at your work and judge it fine. It’s baffling, and surprising. And it’s not, at least in the eyes of your audience, the catastrophe you thought it was; on the contrary, they like it. Some even like it a lot. And then there come those moments of confusion before it dawns on you that not everybody’s taste is your taste; not everybody’s standards are your standards. (And thank the universe for that.)

But still, it takes a little getting used to. Hopefully, you recognize that the real danger here is not that of failing, or risking, or any of those things with which creatives must come to terms. The danger here is far more insidious. It is the danger of adopting your audience’s taste and standards. And there is that temptation. You have moments when you think, “Well, if they can’t tell the difference, why am I ripping my metaphorical hair out to make this piece the best it can be?”

If you’re lucky and thinking properly, those thoughts last only a moment. Then you realize that the risks you are taking and the standards that you impose upon yourself and the demands that your work meet those standards are the reason that the audience really likes what, in your opinion, is less than mediocre. Once you get past that hurdle, you can restore some balance to your artistic world.

And once that balance is restored, you can accept your failure and move on. This is not to suggest that you welcome failure, just that you are grounded and mature enough to recognize that it’s part of the package. Any genuine risk carries with it the potential for failure; otherwise, it isn’t really a risk. And if you aren’t really risking, you aren’t really creating.

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