Own Your Art

Sunday, 14. January 2024 23:18 | Author:

There are a number of artists who are very much interested in keeping themselves out of their art. Instead of investing themselves, they develop a craft outside themselves to produce their product. That, of course, is one way to make art. Whether one makes the best art one can make, or even authentic art by that method is another question completely.

If one examines the work of acknowledged masters across all arts, one finds that most superior art is created by those who put themselves into their work. Consider the work of Tennessee Williams, Edward Hopper, Ansel Adams, Tony Kushner, Ernest Hemingway, Michelangelo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bob Fosse. Close examination of the work of these artists reveals that they created work from their own psyches, and that work is far superior to the work of artists who put less of themselves into their work. Moreover, because they invested so much of themselves into their work, they did not have to work at developing a style; rather, it came naturally because it was integral to the artist. The work of these and other-such individuals is immediately recognizable because of that integral style.

Not that we want to copy these masters, but we would do well to emulate their approach to creation. We would do better to create from our souls and own that creation rather than trying to make art that will appeal to the masses or generate a following. As the person on Threads who goes by the handle illitica1 says:

Too worried about
What will attract the masses
What will sell
Instead of opening the heart
Releasing the soul
The gift of creativity
Pen to paper
Stop trying to make it perfect
Let it be
What it is
Raw & uncut

Two likes. Shit that’s fine. If you doing what you love, everything will work out in time.
Just do.
Stop comparing. Hype yourself up.

If we aren’t already, we need to stop hiding who we are and pretending our art is not a part of us, or rather that we are not a part of our art. We need to first accept who we are, then acknowledge that who we are informs our art. We have things to say; we need to say them and not worry about the likes or retweets or follows or any of that other stuff. If what we make resonates with others, they will let us and others know. And soon there will be a tribe supporting our work. And if not, we still will have had the joy of creating—and knowing that our work is authentic and comes from deep inside. Our work will matter, if not to anyone else, to us.

Some theorists advise that we create according to what we know. Rather we should create from who we are, and be willing to own what we create. Our relationship to our work will be easier and our work will be the better for it.

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We Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel

Sunday, 31. December 2023 22:45 | Author:

At this time of year, there is a virtual frenzy of New Year’s resolutions. Evidently, many of us think that we have behaviors that need correcting or improving or modifying, and January 1 presents a very convenient time to begin these new activities. Indeed, some seem to want to completely reinvent themselves. And perhaps new behaviors are a good idea, never mind the fact that 53% of New Year’s resolutions last three months or less. So this seasonal shift in attitudes and behaviors may not be the best way to really change things for the better.

And although New Year’s resolutions might be useful for other areas our lives (Statistically, the vast majority relate to health or finances.), such resolutions with regard to our art practices are not necessarily a good idea. The time of year might catch us in the midst of projects in various stages of completion, and changing approaches and procedures mid-project is never a good idea. Thus it is likely that the work will suffer or that the resolutions will last an even shorter time than three months.

It is, however, an excellent idea to review our working procedures from time to time. We may well find areas of our practice that will benefit from periodic appraisal. But when do we want to do that, if not at the end of one year and the beginning of another? Perhaps when we wrap up a project is a better time for self-evaluation. This approach allows us to consider one project at a time and evaluate the procedures and approaches that we utilized for that particular project, determining what worked well and what was less than satisfactory. Areas that need improvement can then be isolated and improvements considered before we begin a new project. For example, I know a stage director who, after the run of every show, holds a post mortem which involves the whole company. This allows everyone to examine what was done and how it was done, noting what improvements are called for by the next project. It is a procedure that seems to work very well for his situation.

By timing our evaluations and “resolutions” to the interval between projects, we are more likely to actually implement new ideas and changes in processes. If, of course, we find that these ideas are not productive, we can always revert to our former practices to get the job done. Or we can stop and try to find even newer ways to approach the creative problem.

Additionally, we might find that our new ideas for creative projects are not sweeping changes that will completely alter the way we approach the creative process the way some more general resolutions are designed to change our approach to health in a thorough and far-reaching fashion. Rather they are small changes, perhaps in the order in which we do the work, or what tools we select to perform certain tasks, or how much time we allow ourselves to do the work. But small changes can be very important in the long run and should not be ignored.

All of this presumes that we have a fairly solid process for creating; many of us have worked on our process for years and are mostly comfortable with it. That does not mean that no changes are called for, but it does mean that it does not need a complete overhaul—certainly not once a year and not in the way that more general New Year’s resolutions are designed to literally change a person’s life.

In other words, as regards our artistic process, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel once a year.

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When Inspiration Strkes

Sunday, 17. December 2023 19:56 | Author:

The problem with inspiration is that it’s unpredictable. That’s why most working artists don’t depend on it. Rather, they show up at the easel or computer or studio at a predetermined time and do the work. Ideas lead to other ideas and the artifact gets produced. Then the artist moves on to the next project. It’s not as romantic as it is in the movies, but it’s more reliable—if the goal is to produce art.

But occasionally inspiration does strike. Most of us are so wrapped up in our daily routines that we often don’t know what to do with that. And one never knows what shape the inspiration will take or how long it will last. It may be an image or a plot line or a a melody line or a character description or a situation/resolution or just a situation with no resolution. It may not be about the content at all; rather, it might be about the shape of the finished artifact. And inspiration is often fleeting, having arrived in a dream or when the artist is in an altered state or in the middle of a conversation, and it is likely to disappear just as quickly and dramatically as it arrived. So what are we to do?

Do make notes immediately. Since the idea or vision or whatever it is is likely to evaporate instantaneously, it is a good idea to stop and make notes as soon as possible. These notes need to be as thorough as possible in the time allotted, even if it means stopping a conversation to write something down. And they need to be legible; often notes made in such a rush are illegible once they become cold, so care should be taken to be sure they are readable. Again, they should be as complete as possible, given the situation—just a single word or a phrase is not likely to give memory the kick it will need later to remember exactly what the inspiration was.

Don’t interrupt your current creative routine. Such a move can result in losing both the current flow and thus the current project as well as the new idea presented by the sudden inspiration. It’s better to continue on with the current project until completion, then turn to the new idea, which is why complete notes are so important.

Do revisit notes of the inspiration as soon as practical so that additional notes and embellishments can be added. This is an important step in that the idea may appear differently once the conversation or sleep or whatever is over and the idea has cooled a bit. It is also a necessary step in that the cooling of the initial idea will require that details be added and gaps be filled so that the idea can be developed.

Don’t let the idea languish too long. It was important enough to break into your consciousness unbidden, so it is important enough to develop. Work it into your creative routine as soon as you can without displacing other ideas and projects.

Do develop the idea. It may turn out to be some of your best work—or some of your least good—but it deserves to be realized.

And finally, don’t think that because of this idea, particularly if it successful, you can depend on inspiration for the bulk of your art-making.  The best you can do is to develop a creative work routine so that you invite inspiration to strike. It may or may not, but your production of art can continue.

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Arete as an Artistic Philosophy

Sunday, 3. December 2023 22:37 | Author:

Some artists are perfectionists—or try to be. Unfortunately, perfection is unattainable, and attempting to reach it will cause the artist to be non-productive. Additionally, attempting perfection in art just makes the artist more frustrated in a business that is filled with frustration to begin with.

From a productivity point of view it would be far better to take a “good enough” attitude toward making art. To produce art that is “good enough,” the artist must know the audience really well to know what they will and will not accept. “Good enough” is a practical goal when productivity is key to the artist’s success. Does this approach prevent artists from doing their best work? Not necessarily, but  it does ensure artists’ success in that their audience is always satisfied with the work presented, and will keep coming back for more.

There is, however, a third alternative, and that is to approach one’s work with a sense of arete. Arete is a Greek philosophy and is referred to by Plato, Homer, and Aristotle. Essentially, it means the pursuit of excellence or living up to one’s full potential. A person practicing arete uses “all of their faculties” to reach their highest effectiveness. This philosophy has a good deal to offer the artist. It avoids the frustration that results from attempting perfection, and it circumvents the mediocrity that can be associated with the “good enough” approach. It assures that the artist’s work is as good as it can be at any given time with the resources available at that time.

Does this mean that an artist’s work will all be of the same level? Probably not. As an artist moves through time they gain experience, this adds to the artist’s capabilities and will likely result in better work as time goes by. The artist may gain additional resources as time goes by and they acquire new skills and additional knowledge. Again, the artist’s work may benefit and become better as the artist matures.

Does this mean that the artist’s early work is without merit? Far from it. The youthful artist is likely to bring a sense of newness and discovery to the work that the more mature artist lacks. The early work will be different, but neither better nor worse, merely different.

No matter what the age of the artist or where they are on their artistic journey, they will have something new and different to offer the work. And they will always know that whatever they have produced, they will have done their best possible work. It’s just that the meaning of “best possible” varies over time. However, there will never be the sense that they “phoned it in” because in practicing arete, they will know that they produced the best work they possibly could, given where they were in their artistic journey, and that can be a great satisfaction, even if the work fails to gain an audience.

The downside to arete is that in practice—making every piece the very best it can be— it can be intense. This is particularly true for the ultra-talented among us, who are used to being able to dash off a piece with no discernable effort. It seems to me, however, that the intensity is worth it, because “good enough” is not good enough—unless it’s the very best we can possibly do. Those of us who have not, might want to consider the arete approach; it will make a difference in our art.

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Art is in the Details

Sunday, 19. November 2023 22:29 | Author:

How many times have we, upon watching a movie for the second or third time, discovered something that we missed the first time we watched it—usually a detail that is more than an Easter egg, rather a detail that subtly shifts a meaning or adds to a character’s development or contributes to the plot? If it’s a well-made movie, the odds are that this happens quite a lot. There is a lot to a movie—too much to absorb at one sitting. The production team, chiefly the director, has spent months constructing the world of the film and the details are a contributory part of that world, whether we notice them the first time through or not. In fact, much time in the making of the film was spent ensuring that important details were included.

This quest for detail extends to nuance in the dialogue and performance. Perhaps the most extreme example of this was Stanley Kubrick, who is reputed to have done 30 or more takes for every scene. This sort of effort is not about achieving “perfection,” but about being sure that all the pieces, even the smallest ones, work together to build the universe in which the action takes place.

This sort of dedication to detail does not belong exclusively to film directors. Stage directors have been known to spend entire rehearsals on five minutes of finished production or to spend hours on line readings and motivation. They too are creating a world that must be complete with details and nuance.

Not limited to the performing arts, the use of detail to make a complete art work can be found in other arts as well. In photography, for example, there are photographers who spend hours in front of the computer, adjusting detail, color, lighting, and shade when they could have just taken the picture, processed it quickly and moved on. These photographers are following the example of Ansel Adams who spent hours in his darkroom doing exactly the same thing because he believed, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.

The same approach holds true for landscape painters who spend a great deal of time reproducing lighting effects or the bend of grass, or the portrait painters who concern themselves with more than the eyes and mouths of their subjects, but with details of clothing and background. Choreographers often spend a great deal of time fixing the details of dance moves, so there are not only the dance steps, but other movement as well as the attitude of the dancers. Composers worry not only about the main themes in a piece of music, but the tiniest leitmotifs and riffs as well.

Almost all real artists spend enormous time and effort on the details of a piece, because they know that the details make the whole work of art what it is, and that no piece of the whole is too small for consideration. Moreover, it does not matter whether the work of art is ephemeral or permanent. So, regardless of the art, the wise artist would do well to pay close attention to all the details, not just the overall story or subject matter because the details are what really makes the work of art come alive for the audience, what makes it a whole work of art.

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Finding Where You Fit In

Sunday, 5. November 2023 22:01 | Author:

One of the problems that face theatre majors is which branch of theatre to specialize in. Many theatre majors enjoy and are good at more than one area. Of course, there are those who know exactly what they want to do, but others have to figure out whether they would rather concentrate on acting, directing, design, costumes, props, construction, lighting, sound, or front-of-house operations. What usually happens is that individuals choose a main area of concentration, but continue to work in other areas as well—at least for a while. The question then becomes how to decide which to make the primary area and which to make secondary.

Musical instrumentalists very often avoid such a decision by not limiting themselves to a single instrument. Often they will play a range of instruments, often one as well as another. For example, some musicians play several wind instruments or a range of reed instruments or a variety of stringed instruments. Many, many musicians play piano as well as their other principal instrument. A great number of vocalists play one or more instruments as well. Additionally, some musicians also compose or conduct or arrange or all of these as well as play several instruments.

The same thing happens in film studies. Individuals discover that they are writer/directors or producer/directors or director/actors or director/cinematographers or some other combination of tasks rather than concentrating on a single function in the movie industry. Again, they may consider one area primary and others secondary or they may be equally involved in multiple areas or it may vary from project to project.

This also happens in other areas of art. It turns out that people who are artistically talented often are talented in a number of areas. Of course, as in theatre, there are some who are solely interested in a single art, and work to practice only that. However, the number of artists who are talented and proficient in multiple arts is rather extensive. Here’s a quick list: writer/musician, film director/still photographer, comedian/painter, singer-songwriter/photographer, singer/actor, singer/dancer, dancer/choreographer, musician/producer, painter/photographer, actor/director, actor/musician, designer/musician, gourmet chef/glass artisan. Some of these people are famous; some are not so well known. And certainly there are others, but these are the ones that quickly jump to mind.

Unfortunately, there are no rules to finding one’s place in the arts or about deciding which art(s) to practice. If only one art interests you, then practice that art. If you are talented in more than one area, you may well decide that practicing a single art will result in a better income than trying to do multiple things at once, so you concentrate on one art and let the others become hobbies or occasional interests. Of course you can do the opposite: hone your skills in all the areas that interest you, so that you can work in any one when the opportunity presents itself.  Remember that the practice of multiple arts can be either simultaneous or sequential. There is nothing that tells you that you must do it one way rather than another.

Whether you are single- or multi-talented, the real key is to find out where you fit, which approach to the arts fits you best. You may discover that one approach is far more appealing than any of the others, or you may find that your approach to the problem evolves as you practice and grow as an artist. So take some time and evaluate the paths that are available to you; as you work your way through the possibilities, answers will come. And remember, you can always change your mind.

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The Need to Create

Sunday, 8. October 2023 20:48 | Author:

The thing that drives all artists is the need to create. Note that this is not the urge to create or the inclination to create or the want to create, but the need to create. No one seems to know where it comes from, and there is disagreement as to whether everyone has it or just some specific people. Some think it is instinctive, that we are simply born with it. There is no question, however, that some have a stronger need to create than others, and the need seems to express itself in those who have it differently for each individual. Additionally, this need can vary in strength from time to time in an individual’s life. For example, some need to create daily, often extending the work day so they can continue to make whatever it is that they make. Others are less driven and experience the need to create more occasionally. The need can be dormant in some artists for lengthy periods, then express itself forcefully when least expected.

This, of course, can cause some problems for the artist in that they may be busily attending to their everyday life when the need to create expresses itself. That artist may either have to ignore the need or rearrange their life to accommodate it. This can be somewhat off-putting, but is preferable to ignoring the need which can lead to significant mental issues, not the least of which are frustration and depression. If this sounds somewhat irrational, it is. There is really no explanation for the degree of importance the necessity of making something has when the need to create asserts itself. It can throw the artist’s life completely off-balance.

Sometimes artists acknowledge the need to create but when it comes to the actual process of creation, experience “writer’s block”—regardless of whether the artist is an actual writer or some other kind of artist. Writer’s block is, of course, a conflict between the need to create and the inability to produce an artifact. Some say that the answer to writer’s block, whether actual or potential, is having a daily ritual or developing a set of habits intended to ward off writer’s block and thus free the artist to indulge the need to create. Morning Pages are one such ritual that many swear by. There are, of course, others which include the scheduling of time every day or every week to create. Some artists find that they need a special place to really do their best creative work; others combine it with another activity, such as walking or running.

The wise artist will honor the need when it arises. It doesn’t really matter whether the person is a professional artist or someone who creates as a hobby. It doesn’t matter whether one is a full-time artist or a part-time one or whether the art one produces is magnificent or mundane. Neither does it matter whether the artist is prolific or produces relatively few works. What is important is that the need be satisfied. Sometimes that means hardship in that materials are not readily at hand to create the work necessary. There are many stories of visual artists whose need was so great that they painted the rooms in which they lived or of literary artists who were so driven to write that they penned ideas onto matchbooks or toilet paper. Hopefully, we can find some way to allow enough time and obtain minimal materials to allow us to produce in order to satisfy the need when it strikes.

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The Problem with Habitual Behaviors

Sunday, 24. September 2023 21:50 | Author:

One of the truisms about humans is that we—most of us, anyway—are creatures of habit. The other thing about habits is that they can govern large chunks of our time, or are just perhaps the way some little things get done. Sometimes these habits are purposeful; other times, they sort of sneak up on us.

Purposeful habits occur when we make conscious behavioral decisions about how we spend our time. For example, an artist may decide that they will work only on art in the mornings from 9:00am until 1:00 pm, five days a week, and use the rest of their time for other things. After following this pattern for a while, it becomes ingrained, habitual. It’s something that the artist does without thinking about it. And so, without thinking, the artist works on art at least four hours a day, 20 hours a week, every week without fail. Occasionally the artist may work longer, but never less. Probably this is a good habit, particularly when compared to the artist who works on art whenever the mood strikes, regardless of the time of day. The artist with the habit is likely to be far more productive.

As noted, habits may govern little things as well. Perhaps our artist begins each work session with morning pages. This, according to many, is also a good practice to have, and therefore a good habit to cultivate. It is likely that such an artist will have an off-day, or at least an off-session should they one day neglect to do their morning pages.

And so it goes. Artists develop all sorts of behaviors consciously, behaviors that often turn into habits. All sorts of things become habits whether the artist intends it or not. For example, the first thing the artist does in the morning is have a cup of coffee. It’s a small thing with very few consequences, unless that the artist feels that they need that cup of coffee, and without it, the day isn’t right.

And, of course, there are habits that are considered bad, often associated with the intake of substances that are not healthy. Having a habit is quite different from occasional use. If the artist again needs to intake a substance at the end of each work session, there is likely a problem that will have to be dealt with sooner or later. Also worth mentioning in this category are procrastination and scrolling social media, both of which can become unhealthy habits.

Occasionally, we are forced to change our habits, which is very disconcerting, to say the least. This happened to a number of artists during the pandemic, when a number of us had to completely alter the way that we worked. This was more than unsettling for many of us; it was the equivalent of having our worlds turned upside down. Some of us adapted quickly; others took more time. Before it was over, most of us had replaced our old habits with new behaviors that were well on their way to becoming our new habits.

Then about the time those habits really took hold, the pandemic was over and the world tried to go back to the way things were before. And here we were stuck with pandemic-era habits that really had no place in the post-pandemic world. And a number of us are still trying to make the transition back to a face-to-face world and possibly return to our old habits, even though considerable time has passed.

There are probably many lessons to be learned from this series of events. The ones that seem important to me are that we need to periodically evaluate our habits to determine whether they are indeed helpful or just the way we have come to do things. If we find them lacking, then we certainly should make an effort to change them to behaviors that are more positive. It’s not something that we can’t do. We know that because when it was forced on us, we, all of us, modified our habits to accommodate the situation. So now what we might consider is exercising more control over our daily behaviors—particularly those that we gained unconsciously and especially those that have impact on our art.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0)

The Benefits of Reading Fiction

Sunday, 10. September 2023 22:51 | Author:

A lot of my time is spent reading (and for purposes of this post, I am including listening to audio books as “reading” since the mental functions are much the same). Fiction, non-fiction, news, politics, various theoretical things make up most of the material I consume, but I find that my favorite material is fiction, usually novels, but sometimes short story collections. The other day I began to wonder what it was about fiction that drew me so strongly. The quick answer was escape. When I enter the fictional world of a book, I completely disappear from the real world and its stresses. Then, of course, there is the pleasure of reading fiction; it just makes the day better.

I began to wonder if there were other benefits to be derived from reading fiction, so I did a bit of research. I found that there are a number of benefits to reading fiction. Here they are in no particular order, beginning with the two I have already mentioned:

And this list is not exhaustive; there are other benefits. These, however, are the primary ones. What is obvious is that there are a great number of benefits to reading fiction, so, perhaps, if you are not currently a regular fiction reader, you might consider it.

 

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Then We Decided to Try to Monetize Our Art

Sunday, 27. August 2023 22:21 | Author:

We got into the arts for various reasons: we were good at it; we enjoyed it; we had something to say and our art gave us a means for expression; it gave a place to feel safe; and so on. There are probably as many reasons as there are artists. However, very few, if any, of us got into the arts to make money. And so we dipped our toes in and began to experience the joys and frustrations of the art world. We took classes; we read; we practiced; we experimented; we tried various aspects of our art; we tried other arts; we finally found our artistic homes. Still the idea of money never entered the picture. So we entered some shows; we auditioned for more professional work; we experimented with styles; we took more courses; we studied more on our own; we talked to other artists; we began to try to balance work with art, sometimes neglecting the rest of our lives.

Then we decided to try to monetize our art. Things suddenly changed. We didn’t audition unless the pay was sufficient; we didn’t enter shows that did not have some sort of significant award; we began to set up online stores; we investigated how to promote our art on social media; we discovered that sales and promotion were work—and time-consuming. So perhaps we compromised. Now our whole world was our work—but we were still trying to balance. This time it was the business of art and the creation of art.

Some of us began teaching as a way to be paid for our art. We got to talk about aspects of our art most of the day and at the same time got to make art one way or another. And we got a check at the end of the month. Some of us found that our entire lives were spent on our art—teaching and practicing took all the time there was. And for some of us that was okay.

Then some of us began to try to develop an audience for our work. Some of us began to tailor our work to what we perceived to be the wants of our audience. We started worrying about our “type” and wondering if we could somehow change it. Perhaps we compromised. We started trying to find our niche. We began to worry about what shows would play to our audience. We became concerned what music the audience expected of us. Naturally, some of us began to create for the market.

Then one day we woke up and realized that we were no longer in the business of making art; rather, we were in the business of producing commodities. No longer did we make art; now we created product, the whole purpose of which was to satisfy the needs of the marketplace. And some of us were okay with that; we still got to be creative and we got to make things, and that was enough—for some more than enough.

Others of decided that the commercial aspect of monetizing our art was strangling us; we still had all the frustration of making art, but little of the joy we had experienced early on. So the problem became what to do about it. Some dropped out of the commercial world and found other ways to make a living, while still enjoying making art. Some found ways to modify the creation/marketing balance, and thus created a better situation. Still others found ways to make the marketing aspects of the job creative and enjoyable, and achieved the best of all possible worlds.

Unfortunately, one solution does not fit all; each artist is different and must find their own way. And each will. The pull that art has on us is too great to ignore. We always have and always will find ways to live and continue to produce art.

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