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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 Hardest Thing About Failure

Sunday, 29. May 2016 23:20

We all know that failure is a necessary part of the creative process. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens. It doesn’t matter whether the project is a play or poem or short story or novel that we are writing, a photograph or oil painting or watercolor or digital image or sculpture or musical composition or directing some sort of stage performance. Whatever the project, if we, as artists, take genuine risks, it is likely that we will fail at some time or the other. And then we have to deal with it.

I use the term genuine risk advisedly. There are artists I know who take pretend risks, i.e. they do something just a little edgier than their norm; these artists hardly ever fail, but then they hardly ever grow either. Safe is a comfortable place to be, but if there is no possibility of real failure, then there is no real risk, and no potential for real growth.

That real risk sometimes results in a real failure. And we are not talking about the oh-this-is-hard-I’m-going-to-stop-and-throw-up-my-hands sort of failure; we are talking about I-have-beaten-my-head-on-a rock-for-the-last-three-years-trying-to-make-this-project-work-and-it’s-just-not-happening-and-now-it’s-crashing-and-burning failure. When it happens, and it will, we have to deal with it, and that is a hard thing.

The hardest thing in dealing with failure is admitting it. It feels terrible; we take it personally. So often we refuse to admit it, and we continue to try things and spend time and resources beating our heads on that same rock that we have become so familiar with. But at some point we have to actually admit that we have actually failed, and there is no point in trying to dress it up with euphemisms. We didn’t just “not succeed;” we freakin’ failed. And the sooner we recognize it and address it, the better.

Once we have overcome everything in us that struggles against failure and admitted our situation, we can get on with the wrap-up and then move on to a new, hopefully more successful project. That wrap-up includes two important components: salvaging what we can and learning what we can.

Even though the project may be a failure, there may well be pieces that are salvageable, pieces that can form the basis for new projects or simply be stored and used at some other time as a portion on some other project. Just because the main project is a failure doesn’t mean that all of the effort was wasted. We must examine what we have and what might be of use at another time. (There was an earlier post about this method of recovery.)

The second thing we can do is learn from the failure. If mistakes were made, we should try to discover them so we won’t repeat them. But there are many other things we can learn from failure. It would be well to take a little time to analyze why the project did not succeed to better insure success the next time. It would not be well to take this as an opportunity to impugn our self-worth (For an excellent discussion of this problem, see the May 23, 2016 edition of Brain Pickings.)

To be sure, if we continue to create and grow, we will have other failures. The key is what we do with them. If we admit them when they occur, salvage what we can, and learn from them, the ultimate result will be success.

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Get Out of Your Head

Monday, 16. May 2016 2:59

Actors and directors are taught to analyze characters and plays, then to analyze how the character fits into the play. Photographers are taught to analyze the shooting situation in order to come up with the right combination of lens, shutter speed, aperture, and composition then to master the complexities of post-production whether that be the technicalities of mixing chemicals and using them at the right temperatures or understanding the myriad of controls in Photoshop. Other arts require similar combinations analytical and technical. No wonder artists have a tendency to spend so much time in their heads.

This is all well and good, some would say, because when a person is in his/her head, he/she is in the moment which is right where the artist is supposed to be. Except that’s not quite true. When an actor is analyzing a script or consciously constructing a character, he/she may be now but certainly not here; he/she is in the world of the play, which may well be a universe away. The photographer may be in even worse shape with regard to the here and now: he/she may be analyzing light conditions for tomorrow or even next week in some other location, so he/she is neither here nor now.

The problem can be compounded in that once an artist gets into his/her head, he/she may not voluntarily come out. The analysis function may take over. The results are likely to be processes that are technically correct and not very inspired. And there are other dangers.

The first danger is over-thinking whatever is being created—the analysis never stops and so performance/artifact becomes over-intellectualized and not very interesting. In the worst cases, overthinking can lead the artist not only to a cerebral process, but to confusion as well. It is far too easy to become lost in the labyrinth of conscious metaphors, thought-out connections, intellectual allusions and meaning.

The second phase of overthinking is second-guessing. Was path A the right choice, or should we have taken path B? We have no way to know, and we begin to worry about it. And then we begin to wonder about other choices we have made, and that leads to worry which leads directly to second-guessing every decision we have made during the entire creative process. Doubt reigns; creative progress is stopped.

And a third danger is that in the head of an artist is where the Monitor lives. You know, that voice that keeps telling us that we are not good enough, that our work is somehow lacking, not up to the mark, and certainly not excellent. This is the voice that keeps suggesting that we just might be frauds and because of that will be caught out and called out which will then lead to public or at least semi-public humiliation and why don’t we just quit now and save ourselves all the embarrassment. When we spend too much time in our heads, the voice speaks louder and louder; after all, we are living in his/her domain.

The fact is that art does not depend solely on logical choices. Rather it depends on instinctive, intuitive choices. These are choices that we make with our whole being, not just the rational mind. Not only do such choices have to seem correct intellectually, but they must feel right as well.

So, yes, we must do the analysis and the calculation and make the proper technical choices. But then we need to trust that those choices are the correct ones, set our logic aside, and allow ourselves to operate in flow. We need to stop thinking about our art and just do it. We need to get out of our own heads.

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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 Path to Passion

Monday, 21. March 2016 0:13

“Acting is my passion!!” is a statement those of us who teach theatre have heard more times than we care to think about. And for one in a hundred, it’s true. For most, it’s what one is says when one is studying drama and has not yet discovered his/her true passion, or maybe even his/her real direction.

For most theatre (and other arts) students there are tens if not hundreds of choices. Everything interests them, so with such an overabundance of choice, it becomes easier to settle on one that seems comfortable and desirable and expected than it is to explore all of the possibilities to discover one’s actual passion. So they profess that acting is their passion and their life.

All one has to do is watch, and the actions of these will tell you whether they want to really be actors or not. People who are passionate about acting will behave like they are passionate about acting. They want to learn all they can about the craft. They want to do actual acting. If they’re not doing it, they’re talking about it or reading about it, or watching it or thinking about it, all of which, for an artist, is part of doing.

Just like writers in the anecdotes who would write on any scrap of paper they could find, those who are passionate about acting, who must act, will find a way. They may not become professional actors, but they might. They might find that some other path provides a better opportunity for income, so the passion gets relegated to the status of hobby or side-job; others go the other way: they take side-jobs so they can afford to be a professional at the work that is their passion.

“People are known by their actions, not their words.”   It’s a sentiment that gets attributed to lots of people in lots of time and places. It’s also true. If a student indicates by actions that he/she doesn’t want what he/she says is wanted, then that student is not being truthful or he/she cannot connect want and behavior.

If a student who has declared acting to be his/her life spends more time on computer games, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she wants to be a professional computer gamer, but rather that he/she doesn’t want to be an actor. What such a student really wants is impossible to determine; it may be some other area of drama or completely outside the theatrical universe.

The larger problem comes when the artist-to-be doesn’t know where or how to look elsewhere. Some of us, teachers or not, have encountered this same problem before we found the path that led to the passion that has brought us to where we are today. So now we owe it to these young artists (whether they are students or not) to guide them away from that which obviously is not their passion and encourage them to discover what really kindles their imaginations, what, once discovered, they can’t not do.

And we must remind them that there really are no restrictions on which paths to explore. I know a number or people who, had they felt really free to explore without limits when they were young, would have ended up with far different artistic lives.

Almost everyone advises us to follow our passion. Sound advice, I think, but you can’t follow it if you can’t find it.

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Artistic Ineptitude

Sunday, 6. March 2016 23:42

One expects ineptitude from students: actors who don’t yet have the experience to make good artistic choices; sculptors who are lacking a firm grip on the concept of the piece, painters who are just beginning to work out their technique, musicians whose technical skills are not fully developed. That’s perfectly fine. Although they would probably resent the label, these are artists-in-the-making. Their skills are not fully developed and their knowledge and experience are limited. Thus ineptitude.

People who are professionals, however, are a different story; one expects—well—professionalism. Some professional artists are able to jump from art to art and exhibit capability in several areas. Others, however, cannot make this sort of jump gracefully. James Franco, for example, an actor of some repute, evidently thinks he can excel at any art. Unfortunately, he has not found the same success in several fields that he has found in acting. This is evidenced by the title of Charlotte Runcie’s review of Franco’s poetry: “James Franco’s poems: hard to forgive.” In reviewing some of Franco’s attempts in areas other than acting, Runcie quotes New York Times critic Roberta Smith, who called him “embarrassingly clueless about art.

Occasionally, the ineptitude is in the artist’s primary field. Some of the most egregious examples of photographic ineptitude to be found on the web are displayed on a site called youarenotaphotographer.com, created by two people calling themselves Ginger and Mary Anne.

One doesn’t have to look far to find artistic ineptitude. For instance, I had the misfortune once to act as consultant to one of the inept. I found the experience more than a little frustrating. He refused to listen to most of what I had to say, picking up just the bits that supported what he had already decided. The notion of actually learning anything that would have improved the production was completely foreign to him.

The resulting event was, at least by my standards, a complete bust. It was disorganized, badly produced, and exhibited a complete lack of understanding of the audience. It was boring not only to me but everyone in our party, some of whom were young and relatively inexperienced. The sad part was that it didn’t have to be. Had the “producer” listened to any of the several advisors who were available, he could have learned a little about producing and directing. He was not interested. He was certain—without any sort of training—that he was qualified to produce, direct, choreograph, design lights and sound as well as curate visual art. Alas, his lack of training showed.

The problem is not the lack of available of expertise, but the refusal to access that expertise—for one of two reasons: (2) the person who is inept is lacking the self-knowledge to understand that he/she needs the help of a trained professional and/or (2) simple hubris.

Let me be clear, I am all for anyone attempting to do anything. I am a firm believer in the human ability to learn and create in any number of fields, with or without formal training. However, to attempt to work in a field armed only with intuition and with no attempt to learn is foolish. Then to do really sub-standard work and have the temerity charge money for it requires egoism that borders on narcissism. The antidote? Learn who you are. Learn where your excellence lies. Do that. Learn other stuff. Become excellent at that. Do that too. Disavow ineptitude.

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We Have to Invest

Monday, 8. February 2016 0:56

Two stories: (1) the drama department in which I work negotiated four inexpensive workshops for acting students which cover areas not covered in depth in any of the courses we offer. The offerings were based on a poll of students. Six weeks after the workshops were posted, only two or three students had signed up for each. In exhorting the students to sign up, I asked why the lack of response when they had said earlier that they were interested. The answers varied from non-answers to “I don’t have time.” One person with a Starbucks cup sitting on her desk told me that she didn’t have the money to spare.

(2) During the same time frame, a lighting designer I know complained to me over drinks about a favor he had tried to do for some friends. The friends, who are arts promoters, had wanted to combine performance art with one of their art shows and asked if he could give them some help with the lighting for the performances. Although he has virtually no respect for performance art, he said yes, and worked up a very inexpensive system, only to find out that what they really wanted was for him to provide the lighting equipment and set-up for no charge, as well as run the controls. Like most lighting designers, he owns no equipment and certainly was not interested in a five-plus-hour gig for no pay. The friends were determined to have something, so after much back and forth, he convinced them that the best they could get for a small amount of money was a DJ package which he thought would suffice for their needs. As he worked with them to set up their newly acquired package, he discovered that what they really wanted for their $500 was a professional-level lighting system designed to provide exactly the effects they had imagined operated by an unpaid technician.

The lighting designer suggested ways to enhance the function of the inexpensive system and suggested that they play with it for a while. My strong suggestion to the students was that they reconsider their priorities since it was their future careers that these workshops were designed to help.

My takeaway from both of these stories is that there are a number of people, both students and non-students working in the arts world who are reluctant or even unwilling to invest in their art. Teachers in the arts see this attitude all the time: talented music students who will not invest time to practice; painting students who will not invest the money required to purchase good brushes; dance students to refuse to invest in proper footwear. It happens outside of school as well: photographers who can’t seem to save the money to pay for good lenses; musicians who go out to perform with junk sound systems; singers who won’t allocate the time and money to continue voice training to maintain and improve their voices. Yet all of these people expect to succeed in their chosen art, perhaps by magic or luck.

Since magic and luck are in short supply, most serious artists attempt to leverage every opportunity that could reasonably contribute to their success or allow them to better their art. They understand that art is not easy, and succeeding in the art world is less easy. And most know that in order to develop their art, in order to succeed, they have to invest, usually both time and money. And that too is not easy because time and money are also in short supply. But if we are serious about our art and sufficiently determined to improve and succeed, we will find the time and the money. We must, because in order to grow as artists we have to invest in ourselves.

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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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Edit Hard

Monday, 28. December 2015 1:04

Some people will tell you that art is hard. It is. While there is no question that art is more interesting and engaging than thousands of other jobs, it’s not easy. There are difficulties in every art: sculpture, photography, painting, writing, dance, acting, directing, choreography. Not only do all arts have predictable associated difficulties, but individual artists bring their own individual issues to the work. Yes, art is hard.

Among all of the difficulties associated with any given art, perhaps one of the hardest is editing. Some believe that editing is simply a matter of correcting a few obvious things and polishing a little. Such people, I would suggest, are either amazingly good or an amazingly bad artists. Or perhaps they are simply unaware that editing one’s work stringently will invariably make that work better.

Most of us create in flow or some other altered state, so often our art needs fine-tuning. Editing is the procedure by which we refine our previously rough work. It is not simply correcting a few obvious things and polishing; it is an exacting and difficult process.

The difficulty stems from the fact that we must look at our work with what amounts to new eyes. These “new eyes” give us the necessary objectivity and discipline to do the job. The task is to see and correct all flaws, lapses, inconsistencies, and omissions. We must complete all ideas that are incomplete and fill in any holes we might find. At the same time we need to cut away the irrelevant and unnecessary. Even digressions, perfectly acceptable in most art, must be made somehow relevant or removed.

While completing, filling-in, and modifying are sometimes tough, it’s the cutting-away that is the most difficult and causes the most concern. When we create, our minds make jumps and connections, which, while valid, may not be relevant to the current project. Such elements must be either brought into relevance or excised. Often, the latter is the correct solution, but it’s not easy, particularly when the portion to be removed is good work. Our inner editor, however, is telling us that because of a lack of relevance that good work needs to be on the cutting room floor.

But, as much as we dislike our own work—the case for many never-satisfied artists—it is still part of us and somehow deserves our protection. This means that our objectivity and discipline can never waver. We must cut out every scrap that does not contribute to the piece in question. We must look at every line, shape, action, stoke, step, movement, paragraph, and syllable to determine whether it contributes to the work or does not. If it does not, it has to go.

This does not mean, however, that those excised elements—particularly the good ones—have to be assigned to the trash; they just can’t be used in this project. Perhaps the excised portions can be stored—in a notebook or digital file or the back of the studio or a storage area or somewhere else. Perhaps they can be used elsewhere: perhaps they can add dimension to another project, or perhaps they can form the basis for an entirely new project. What they cannot be is part of the current work.

And that may cause us some angst and perhaps even some tears, but it has to be. We must edit hard. Only that way can our work be the best it can be.

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