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Be Reasonable

Monday, 13. June 2016 1:19

Worst. Advice. Ever. At least for an artist. Synonyms for reasonable are sensible, rational, judicious, practical, realistic, sound, evenhanded, equitable. None of those sound like any artist I ever heard of.

We are talking about artist behavior; people who are reasonable or any of those other words do not produce masterpieces. But reasonable can be applied to the work as well as the artist. Reasonable art is safe art, and safe art is boring, unlikely to engage an audience beyond the superficial.

So the task is to produce art that is unreasonable, either in subject matter, form, or treatment. People who create that sort of art, art that speaks to people, art that grabs the attention of the public and critic alike are cannot be reasonable. To produce that kind of work takes obsession that laughs in the face of evenhandedness or well-roundedness. To produce that kind of work takes a selfishness and dedication that borders on fanatical.

And that selfishness and dedication result in behavior that is the stuff of stories. There are many stories about what actors will do to prepare for roles, and there are stories about acting methodologies that are considered unreasonable by others in the business. Interestingly, these actors produce some of the best work out there.

It’s not just actors. Bob Fosse is notorious for bad behavior toward nearly everyone because of his single-minded approach to directing and choreography. Stories abound about writers who hide themselves away to write without being disturbed. Picasso and Dali certainly behaved in ways that many people would consider unreasonable. If you were to ask them why they behaved the way they did, they would answer simply that they were being themselves—and most of their beings was tied up in creating. The real artist’s life is not about balance; it’s about spending every waking minute on art.

So the question arises, does being creative give a person license to behave any way he/she wants? It’s the other way round: the creativity does not give rise to the lack of reasonable behavior, rather to exercise one’s creativity to the fullest—to write the great novel, or play, or poem, to paint a masterpiece, to produce an amazing film, to create a great photograph, to choreograph like no one ever has before, to compose a symphony, to act beyond human limits, to transcend in performance—requires such will, dedication, and single-mindedness that all the rest falls to the wayside. Normalcy is not an option because in order to be Tennessee Williams or Bob Fosse or Georgia O’Keefe or Weegee or Picasso or Beethoven or Baryshnikov or Olivier or requires every ounce of focus that a human being can muster. This leaves little room for traditional sensibility or rationality.

This is not to say that if your behavior is unreasonable or not very realistic you will be a great artist. There is no license. Rather, if you are a great artist, or even a good artist, your behavior will likely not be reasonable.

It’s because of the attention that the work requires. It’s because the personality that can spend four years painting the Sistine Chapel, paying attention to every tiny detail and every color and even the smallest bit of the composition spends so much time on the work that he has nothing left for a “normal” relationship or family or any of the thousands of other things that “normal” people deal with.

We are not Michelangelo. Most of us are not even close. However, if we are to do good work, if we are to create art that is important and that lasts, we may find that our art as well as our behavior—at least from the viewpoint of others—may have to be completely unreasonable.

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The Fear Factor

Sunday, 2. November 2014 22:41

We in the US have become quite adept at being afraid. Perhaps we always have been; remember the Red Scare from your history books? Today, however it seems more infectious and widespread. We are afraid of terrorists, of Ebola, of that woman in the burka, of being on an airplane with someone who has more than 2 ounces of gel or liquid, of being mugged, of brown kids at the border. And, sadly, we have politicians who feed those fears in order to gain the power of an elective office.

It is difficult to tell if this seeming rise in number of things we fear has contributed to our individual psychologies, but I rather suspect it has. It seems that many people hear only a portion of what is said, particularly if it is a complex statement, and the part that they hear invariably is the part that contains something to fear.

A case in point is the email I received just this past week: a former student is taking an acting class at an upper-level institution, and the instructor is in the Strasberg camp of method actors. The student was alarmed and concerned that what the instructor was asking of her and her classmates would be “damaging to their psyches.” She was seeking advice on how to proceed.

In all fairness, I had said in a class that she took with me that I thought that Strasberg’s methodology was flawed and could be dangerous, primarily because Strasberg insisted that all emotion come directly from the actor’s personal experience. Stanislavski, creator of method acting, endorsed this approach, but only after it was clear that the actor could not get the requisite emotion from the script. I would agree. I also recommend doing nothing using method techniques unless a trained coach is present—primarily because those new to method may not have sufficient judgment to make correct choices. This student (and others, I’m sure) heard only part of this. In her new class she wants, it seems, to avoid all those potential dangers not only for herself, but for everyone in the room.

That’s a lot to ask, and almost certainly guaranteed to inhibit learning. My response included these points:

  • Keep an open mind always.
  • Whatever one thinks about Strasberg’s methodology, it has significant value to offer. Strasberg trained some really good actors using his techniques, so it cannot be dismissed out of hand.
  • It is really doubtful that exposure to a couple of semesters using of this technique under the guidance of an experienced coach would be damaging to any person who did not have serious problems to begin with.
  • The evidence presented indicates that the instructor is knowledgeable and gets results. This is the guy you want running the class.
  • Give it an honest try. There is much to be learned from this technique and much to be learned about one’s self as well.
  • How the teacher impacts other students is not properly your concern, unless all students are impacted in a seriously negative fashion.
  • Sometimes exercises that make the actor uncomfortable are the most effective way for the actor to learn what he/she needs at the moment. Art is not always comfortable.
  • Any artist unwilling to risk or unwilling to allow him/herself to be vulnerable cannot expect much artistic success.

And the last point is really the point. Unfortunately, many now default to a fear response in any situation that is the least bit challenging, mentally wandering off into a series of worst-case scenarios. This may be the least useful reaction to any situation for an artist. And the medium doesn’t matter. The last post discusses this problem; I couldn’t follow my plan and was temporarily afraid to explore new areas—a typical fear response. It’s such a significant problem for artists that David Bayles and Ted Orland have written a book about it, Art & Fear.

Fear can be intimidating or even immobilizing. Artists who want to be successful must be fearless. As I look back over my responses to the former student, it seems that they would apply to any artist in any medium. We must stay open to possibilities and information regardless of the source. We must be willing to be uncomfortable. And, above all, we must be willing to risk, to become completely vulnerable; only then can we really create.

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Grading Creative Work

Sunday, 18. May 2014 18:40

Because I teach theatre in an academic environment, at least twice a year I am faced with the problem of grading creative work. Some would question the efficacy of grades in an arts course at all. This is why many prefer to teach workshops, or non-academic arts courses where grades don’t exist. The teacher, or leader, or facilitator does a critique of the work, sometimes involving others, sometimes not, and that is all. No grades are assigned. It is likely that there is no permanent record of the evaluation of the work done. In some of these workshop situations, there is no evaluation at all; rather the leader offers guidance and suggestions about where to take the work and what explorations the artist might make.

So why do grades? Well, the academic system requires it. We must evaluate and record our students’ accomplishments and failures. It turns out, that although they may say otherwise, students require it as well (see below).

Unfortunately, unless one has developed an immensely sophisticated method of grading, those letters or numbers reflect only what was done on a particular assignment on a particular day. And while that may correspond with reality, the likelihood is very rare. No matter how hard we try, most grading systems do not take into account growth and development; nor can they fully represent real quality of the process involved to produce the work. And sometimes, because of work not done, the final grade bears no relation at all to the student’s ability to create artistically.

My undergraduate acting professor developed a way to get around these problems and keep his administration happy. At the beginning of the course, he offered the class a choice between the traditional five-letter grading system and the B/F system. If one did the work and made an honest attempt, no matter how ill or how well, one would make a B. If one did not, one would fail; there were no A, C, or D grades. Unanimity was required for implementation of the B/F system, and my class chose it without hesitation. The pressure to “make a grade” was instantly removed. And the system did not prevent those who wanted to do A work from doing so; it did, however, force them to seek excellence for itself, and not for some end-of-term reward. It was a great system so far as I was concerned. There was never any doubt about the quality of work that we were actually doing because of the critiques and guidance, but none of us were worried about grades.

Because I had such appreciation for the freedom that the B/F system offered, for the first several years that I taught acting, I offered the same choice to my classes. All rejected it, sometimes by huge margins.

And perhaps they were right; perhaps the B/F system belongs to a different, more idealistic world. The fact of the matter is that once the artist is working, whatever art he/she makes will be evaluated, sometimes not too kindly. So not evaluating creative work seems, to me, a disservice to the student. The student needs to know what others, particularly those who have training and experience in the field, think of his/her work. This is not to suggest that the student necessarily modify his/her work to satisfy the public. Rather it is to prepare the student for the kind of reception his/her work might garner in the arts marketplace; that is necessary survival intelligence and information that many students need. Some of the students who walk into my acting class having been told for years that they are great, only to discover in the crucible of the college classroom that they have been misled. Some may not have the talent they thought they had; some believe that because they have talent, work is not necessary; some have an inflated perception of the talent they do have. Others, because of insecurity and other issues, consistently underestimate their skills.

So, for any of a number of reasons, students in the arts must be evaluated. And in academia, these evaluations must be distilled into letter grades. It is better that these students go ahead and learn that constant evaluation is part of the working artist’s life. That whether it is from a critic, a peer, or the public, everyone who sees their work will have an opinion, and in some cases, those opinions can turn into jobs or commissions or not.

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Learn to Sing!

Sunday, 22. December 2013 23:01

“I don’t sing” is a statement that I hear all the time from beginning actors. They state it as if it were an option when it’s really the equivalent of an architect saying, “I don’t do math,” or a photographer saying, “I don’t need to know lighting.” Singing is a basic skill of the acting trade just like articulation, stage movement, or the ability to used dialects and accents.

There are a number of reasons students say they don’t sing, but usually they resolve themselves to three: fear, the belief that to learn would be too difficult, and the notion that actors who do not sing are somehow more pure than those who do. This latter derives, of course, from the idea that the musical is an inferior form of theatre. The musical’s position in the theatre hierarchy aside, the fact is that many “straight” shows require that an actor sing. Even voice actors will often find themselves having to sing.

The perception of difficulty often goes unvoiced. Rather, some other excuse is put forward, such as “I can’t.”

Fear needs no explication, except to note that actors, particularly young, untrained ones have a fear of singing equal to or worse than most people’s fear of public speaking.

In any case, the only reasonable response is, “then learn.” Take voice lessons—every week, until you can sing or until the third voice instructor in a row dismisses you as completely hopeless. It may, indeed, be difficult, but certainly not impossible. You may not be able to sing the lead in a musical as the result of lessons, but you can improve vocally and that can only be a good thing.

Additionally, voice lessons not only improve the singing voice, they improve the speaking voice as well, so it’s a double win. And the actor gets to develop two basic skills for the price of one.

“I can’t sing,” when not an excuse, is a different matter. That’s about ability, albeit self-assessed, and for that the answer is the same: learn, and for all of the same reasons. And be aware that many working actors continue to take voice lessons even after they have improved their abilities so that they can, upon request, sing whatever song the role requires.

It’s the same with any art. We will sometimes refuse to learn certain skills or techniques that have the potential for improving our work in some way or another. We tell ourselves that that’s something we “don’t do” or “can’t do.” And we mean exactly the same thing that young actors do: it’s something we are afraid of or something that looks too difficult or something we mistakenly think will dilute the sincerity of our work. So, often in the pose of artistic snobbery, we limit ourselves.

There is no legitimate reason that we should not develop any and every tool we can. As we grow as artists, many of us find ourselves moving in directions that we did not anticipate and those skills we thought “ancillary” become not only useful but necessary.

So it may turn out that the skill that we didn’t want to learn is exactly the skill, perhaps in combination with others, that allows us to create our best work. Few of us end where we were aiming when we set out, and we may find that we’re really glad that we learned to sing somewhere along the way.

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Acting and Flow

Monday, 18. November 2013 0:56

Almost every acting coach I know teaches that to really do the work of acting properly, the actor must be in the moment. We watch young actors struggle first with the concept and then the practice. We watch them inch toward that goal, and if we are lucky we get to see flashes of it in the occasional performance. It is a difficult thing to do, since to do it, the actor has to undo years of training and practice in avoiding the present.

Actors are not the only artists who do their best work in the moment. A number of artists, when they are working, drift into the “eternal present,” which is normally called flow and which I have discussed before (here, here, and here). They begin work, and often without their knowledge, the world drifts away to be replaced by a moment-to-moment existence wherein the very best of creation happens. This is the way it usually happens to actors as well. They start a scene and get caught up in it and then they are creating in a way that they never have before.

During the last rehearsal of the week, I was privileged to witness an actor leap fully into the present moment and stay there, sustained for an entire scene—repeatedly.  That doesn’t sound like so much when you say it in words, but it was amazing to watch.

Run-through after run-through, the actor leapt into the present and stayed there until a stop was called. Anyone who has attended even two rehearsals can testify to the rarity of such an event.

The show that we are rehearsing is Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol by Tom Mula. For an actor it presents an unusual challenge, at least the way we are doing the show. This actor’s problem was to portray a character named Actor 2, who, in turn, portrays at least one other character, so he has to present at least two distinct characters to the audience, sometimes in the same speech. The transitions are nearly instantaneous and problematic to say the least, and adding depth to the second-level character is a further difficulty.

When this actor made the jump, those problems disappeared. He was alternately Marley and Actor 2 and Marley. Each distinct, with different postures, accents, attitudes. Although he stayed close to what had been rehearsed, he modified his blocking as necessary to achieve his objective in the scene. And he adapted his tone and approach to counter whatever the actor playing Scrooge invented as a response.

Suddenly we were not watching the actor that we knew; we were instead watching a persona named Actor 2 and a ghost named Marley alternate in the same body. The level of concentration, characterization, and intensity rivaled that of any seasoned professional at the top of his/her game. The whole room was completely silent. We (the stage manager, assistant stage manager, assistant director, and I) had seen that scene perhaps 10 to 12 times before, but we were all watching as though it were the first time. And we watched the first time—three times. Such is the power of the present moment. It was theatre as it is supposed to be. It was powerful enough that the stage manager cried, I discovered later.

The actor, since he was fully in the moment, remembered very little of what happened. As we talked after the rehearsal and he came back to himself, he began to remember more. My hope is that he will recall most of it over time, but that is not important. What is important is that he made the jump and discovered the value of flow and the immense boost to creativity that you can get only by working in the moment.

I could wish no more for any artist, be he/she sculptor, painter, photographer, dancer, writer.

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Artistic Benchmarks: What Are They Really Good For?

Sunday, 7. July 2013 23:01

Last week, I got into a discussion with the manager of a frame shop about nude photography. It soon became apparent that this man considered nude photography the holy grail of image-making. He may be right. Nude photography is definitely a photographic benchmark. The artistic nude is a difficult assignment, some would say the most difficult type of portrait to pull off. Others, particularly those who work in other photographic specializations, might differ. However, few would argue that while the nude might not be the benchmark, it is certainly one of the big ones.

In the world of theatre, for male actors there are a number of benchmark roles, the title characters in Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories for example. There may be others, but most actors are pretty sure that if they can master the complexity of a Shakespearean tragic hero, they have achieved a recognized level of competence. There may be other roles, but few are as challenging in as many different ways as these very well-known members of royalty.

If both photography and theatre have benchmark activities, I wondered about other arts as well. This week I was out with a couple and asked what they would consider to be the test of ability in their respective disciplines that would be challenging enough to be attempted by only a few and mastered by even fewer. (She is a painter and he is a light tenor; both are professionals.) Without hesitation, she answered, “Nudes,” then went on to say that many artists consider nudes to be “so difficult they won’t even attempt them.” He named a couple of pieces, and explained that for each vocal range and each subdivision within the range (and they are quite numerous) the benchmarks would be different.

A cousin of mine who is equally phenomenal on piano or organ, named several “milestone” pieces for each instrument, some of which were difficult and respected for different reasons.

That’s the thing about benchmarks. There is rarely only one within a discipline. There may be several, one or more for each branch within a discipline. But most artists within that branch would probably agree on the two or three or however many there might be. It’s always material that demands great respect.

Still, artists in all disciplines hunger to perform the difficult pieces, make images of difficult subject matter, attempt the techniques that are the most challenging around. Is it because artists are competitive, even though they may be competing against themselves? Are they driven by the need to join the handful of predecessors who have mastered the nearly-impossible? Why would they waste their time to perform that which is so demanding, rather than that which might bring them income? Why bother?

Luis Galindo, currently performing the title role in Macbeth speaks very eloquently to this issue in a recent article for KCET’s “Artbound.” He talks about the issues that come with preparing for such a role, about his doubts and fears. Ultimately, for him, the work comes to be about artistic growth: “. . . the press will opine, and our fans will cheer or not. Through all of this, one thing is certain: I will have grown in every way as an actor because of this opportunity. An opportunity to mine the caves of darkness for the good stuff.”

In preparing for a benchmark performance, or photograph, or painting, or song, we have to bring our best game, we have to confront our self-doubt, we have to dig deep; more importantly, we have to grow. Otherwise, we will never achieve. And even if we fail, we will have benefited from the exploration and development that preparation for such a project entails.

Once again, it’s all about process.

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Artistic Success: A Matter of Definition?

Sunday, 26. May 2013 23:47

It is very evident that the student’s comment that he wanted to “live an artistic life” engendered much discussion. The meaning of the phrase was, according to the student, to support himself by doing his art. One person with whom I discussed this suggested that the student’s was likely to produced art of diminished quality. Further discussion revealed that the idea was based on two suppositions. The first was that the student would cling to the notion of supporting himself through art without regard to the quality or level of work produced. And this, of course, is based on the other supposition: that certain types of art are superior to other types.

For many, the question of the superiority of one type of art over another was resolved by the postmodernists, who declared very loudly that there was no high or low art, or if there was, there was no difference between them. Of course, not everyone accepted this idea. We sometimes hear photography instructors criticize a student’s work as “too commercial,” which somehow makes it unworthy, or music instructors who are certain that if a piece is less than 100 years old, it cannot be possibly be considered art.

To be sure, some works of art are of higher quality than others. Some are more difficult, more complex, more sophisticated than others. Some exhibit a higher degree of craftsmanship than do their counterparts. In those ways they may be superior. But to say that one type or form of art is inherently superior to another is nothing but bias and snobbery. Certainly within every category of art are those qualitative differences that exist in almost every area of human endeavor.

The other consideration is whether the student in question is willing to reduce the quality of his work in order to make a living from his art.  Some would say that if the student were to be a soap opera actor rather than performing Shakespeare, he would have become an actor of diminished quality. If he had set out with the goal of becoming a Shakespearean actor, that might be the case; working on a soap opera would certainly represent a failure to achieve his goal. If, however, he had set out to be a professional actor, he would have succeeded admirably.

Likewise, if what you want to do is sing for a living, and you front a cover band, and that pays your bills, you are indeed singing for a living and thus succeeding in making a living from your art. Thomas Kinkade, according to most critics, failed at painting fine art masterpieces; however, Thomas Kinkade succeeded wildly at making a living from his art.  Whether the artist, in his/her attempt to earn a living from artistic work, succeeds or fails depends on how the artist defined his/her artistic goal in the first place.

Will this student be able to support himself doing art? We don’t know yet. Will he have to figure out exactly what success means to him? Of course he will. Will that demean his art? I think not. So far, it seems that he does not aspire to act Shakespeare or sing Wagner; he wants to sculpt and make music and perform; some might consider what he does lower forms of art. He doesn’t; it’s his art and he loves doing it. And, I suspect there is a market for it. He just has to find it.

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Having a Workable Objective is Not Enough

Monday, 15. April 2013 0:32

Most actors use a tool called “objectives.” This tool can also called “goals” or “intentions” or several other names. Basically they all mean the same thing: what the character wants. The rationale is that if the actor knows what the character wants and actively seeks to attain that goal, he/she will be consistent and believable. Regardless of the school of acting to which the actor adheres, the notion of objectives as motivators is basic. So imagine my surprise when a few nights I saw a new play acted by experienced professionals and the lead seemed to be less than expert in using objectives. The friend who was with me said that the actor had no objective. I was of a different opinion; I thought that the actor had different objectives for each of the two acts and that she did not sufficiently establish the priorities of the character in the first act so the end of the play had far less impact than it might have done.

These are significant problems. Multiple, inconsistent, or missing objectives cause confusion since audience members cannot properly discern motivation and may have to conclude that the character has some sort of personality disorder that, for some reason, is not referenced by the script. Objectives that fail to establish the priorities of the character fail to support the overall movement of the play’s plot and theme, to say nothing of the character arc.

Now the actors among you may be saying that it’s not the actor’s job to establish things, particularly thematic things. The actor’s job is to create a character and, in a realistic play, make that character believable and consistent. If an actor, however, fails to create a unified character or creates a character that is with odds with obvious intention of the script, that actor may want to consider the direction he/she is taking the character.

The problem with objectives is that there is no one “right” objective. Some objectives are more right than others, but there is no single correct one. This is an area of interpretation. The only requirement is that the actor select an objective that can motivate him/her from the beginning to the end of the play, with a number of sub-objectives in between. All valid objectives are, of course, based on the script.

So it is possible for the actor to arrive at an objective that will, in fact, motivate the actions of the character throughout the play, but still not be the best objective possible. The best objective possible is one that will motivate the character, but which will also support the plot and theme and prepare the way for the character-related action as well as take into account the director’s interpretation of the show. Arriving at a proper objective is a complicated business that some actors struggle with and other embrace.

So it would seem that responsibility for developing the best possible objective falls squarely on the actor; it does. However, any director, even one directing seasoned professionals, should notice any problems and correct the actor’s course. The director must insure that all the actors are creating unified characters and are on the same page as the director with regard to the show’s meaning, atmosphere, and action. Without such consideration, we are likely to witness a directionless and fragmented performance.

It is that same with any collaborative, interpretive art. Each member of the team must be sure that he/she is consistent in terms of his/her contribution to the project and that he/she is moving in exactly the same direction as all the other artists involved in the project. Anything less is inappropriate, insufficient, and likely to cause the project to be far less than it might have been.

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The Necessity of Fundamentals

Monday, 25. March 2013 1:31

While not a photographer himself, the chairman of the art department where I teach is adamant that the first courses in photography be done with analog cameras, black and white film and chemical darkroom processes. When I questioned him about this, he informed me that the departmental approach to photography would stay the same so long as he was chairman. This is an interesting position, given that a number of major universities have phased out their chemical darkrooms, and along with them, basic courses in analog photography.

And even though, for a number of reasons, I am not sure that I agree with his position, I understand the rationale. This is not a man who would insist that courses be taught this way because “it has always been that way.” Rather, it is because he believes that those analog/chemical courses teach skills that are necessary to a full understanding of the art and craft of photography. His department is in the business of teaching fundamentals.

This is exactly the same business that the drama department is in. It is our firm belief that solid fundamentals are necessary to success in theatre; the art chairman believes the same thing of visual and plastic arts. It is true of all arts. I don’t know a single choreographer, for example, who does not stress fundamentals; the same is true of musicians. The list is comprehensive.

We should build on solid basics in any art, and those basics should be broad. It is, in my opinion, impossible to be a good artist without some knowledge outside of our immediate specialties. Our department demands, for example, that drama students take courses not only in the areas that are of immediate interest to them, but in other areas as well. So technicians attend acting classes, and actors sit, sometimes uncomfortably, in technical theatre classes. Everybody builds and paints and sews and works on productions. Such broad exposure builds respect for those who work in other areas—an essential in a collaborative art, and very often the knowledge is put to good use. Occasionally, someone will discover an area with which he/she was formerly unfamiliar and decide that that is where they really ought to concentrate. Without exposure to the basics in all areas, these students would have no basis for such a decision.

Sadly, many artists do not see strong fundamentals as a necessity. They are not quite sure what an f-stop is. They only know one style of acting. They can’t remember all of the principles of design. Part of color theory is a little hazy. Getting exposure exactly right becomes a thing of chance.  They are convinced that there is no real need to learn stage directions. They can’t pick out a tune on a keyboard. The precise names of things elude them. Mastery of certain tools and techniques is beyond them. They are unconcerned with the very thing that holds them back: incomplete knowledge of basics. Unfortunately, without solid fundamentals, artists find it difficult to do really excellent work consistently, broaden their repertoires, or even communicate with other artists.

Strong fundamentals, like any solid base, give the artist a foundation to support his/her imaginative work without having to worry about the underpinnings. This then allows the artist the freedom to create and develop. Without strong basics, the artist is restricted and is likely to produce a very narrow range of work.

The same applies to any art. The more media types and styles and approaches we know, the better able we are to make the decisions necessary to create our art. The stronger our foundation, the higher the structure we can build on it. The more we know about the theory and history of our arts, the better able we are to put our own work in perspective. And such knowledge allows us to avoid wasting time doing work that has already been done, and allows us rather to build upon the work of those who have gone before. And such knowledge can give us freedom to move forward on our own. As a friend of mine said recently, “you can’t consciously break the rules unless you know what the rules are.

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Creative Shortcuts: There are None

Monday, 25. February 2013 1:11

Occasionally a student who wants to become an actor without putting in the work that is necessary will show up in one of my classes. Contrary to the Hollywood myth machine, acting is not easy. In addition to having to take risks—often in front of hundreds of people, actors are required make their characters complex, interesting, unique, and spontaneous using only themselves. It’s complicated, difficult work, and, as in any art, the artist has to have to have a number of skills, many of which can be gained only through certain experiences. Unfortunately, some fledgling actors decide that having those experiences will take too long, and it will be easier to rely on the shortcuts they have used before.

Those shortcuts include paraphrasing, generating emotions out of air, forcing words at other actors for no particular reason, relying on charm rather than skill, among others. The results, of course, are weak, stiff, and lame at worst and simplistic and shallow at best.  Regrettably, due to the avalanche of compliments from friends and family, many do not understand that their work is substandard.

Having had limited exposure to the world and having had success at lower levels of performance with very little effort, they think that artistry just “comes naturally.” Why then would learning and work be necessary? And so their reliance on shortcuts continues—until they attempt to work at a higher level and encounter rejection. And while this tendency to shortcut has no real relationship to the individual’s level of talent, it often seems the result of having enough raw talent to have had some prior success.

This attempt to shortcut is not exclusive to actors or limited to students. It occurs in almost every area of art and involves all sorts of artists. These are the guys who are in love with the idea of being an artist, not necessarily with making art. So the details of manipulating tools and equipment, the nuances of technique become less important than the style with which one carries it off. This is probably found more in acting and music because of the lure of movie stardom and the concert stage.  But there are visual and plastic artists who have as much fame and money as rock stars. So the appeal is certainly understandable.

For students and non-students alike, the sad news is that there are no shortcuts. Creativity just doesn’t work that way. In fact, if you Google “creative shortcut,” you find—nothing, except links to keyboard shortcuts in programs used for creative work.  Creativity is slow, and sometimes painful. And while it does not rely completely on having certain skills acquired by experiencing certain things, as well as a thorough knowledge of tools and technique in the area of interest, having those things certainly aids the creator in realizing his/her vision, and allows that artist to create work that is complex, interesting, and unique.

Without the tools, techniques, and the skills to use them, artists are only imaginers, without a means of properly expressing their vision. There are tools that allow the artist to speed work more efficiently, to work faster, but these are not really creative shortcuts; they are, rather, improved techniques and more sophisticated technology, both of which allow the artist not to shortcut the work, but to do the same work with less time and effort.

Because of the enormous demands made on our time and energy, we are always looking for ways to streamline our workflow, to make our creation more efficient without making it less effective. Sometimes we are tempted, like those mentioned above, to seek out shortcuts. Unfortunately, anything that qualifies as a real shortcut will undercut the quality of our work, so in attempting to save a little time or effort we will sabotage our own art. It’s just not worth it.

Category:Creativity, Theatre | Comment (0) | Autor:

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