Tag archive for » arts education «

What about the Un-Obsessed?

Monday, 14. November 2016 1:30

There have been a lot of posts about artists and obsession and the integral connection between the two.  But what of those who are not really obsessed in a single direction? They are not driven to engage in a specific art, i.e. to paint or act or write, but they are driven to make art or some kind. These are those who recognize that they “can’t not art.” What are they to do and how are they to do it? Or how about those who decide that multiple personal revenue streams make sense (as a number of contemporary financial advisors suggest).

We are not set up for polymaths.

Some of those who “can’t not art” have a vague notion of what art they want to work in. They may want to do two-dimensional art or they may want to work in music or they may want to do theatre. What they don’t know is which specific area or specialization of the overall field they want to work in.

We are not set up for undecides.

By we, I mean arts training programs.

Collegiate systems and, to a lesser degree, private training programs are all set up to train students in a single area. With few exceptions these programs expect students to come in with a specialization in mind so they can be slotted into the exact program that trains the student in that specialty. In a few programs there is concern that students be exposed to all specialties within an art, but, for the most part, programs are supporting a very specific type vocational training or area of concentration.  The only concession to a truly educated student population is the forced core curriculum. But even that does not foster a real well-rounded education, and there certainly is no exposure to all the sub-disciplines within an art.

This approach coupled with mandated hour requirements for a degree restricts students’ exploration. For public institutions, the state legislature determines that only n credit hours and not more can be counted toward a degree, and those hours and their relation to the degree plan are subject to local, state, and federal scrutiny for financial aid purposes. So the student is not allowed to explore a multiplicity of areas.

How is the student supposed to find the right path when the system requires that he/she establish an educational path to a career when he/she is eighteen years old? And how many eighteen-year-old know what they really want to do for a career, particularly when the choices are restricted?

So the polymaths and undecideds are just screwed…

Unless they can find a program that requires that they learn all areas of an art. In such programs students can experience a number of sub-disciplines and then make a far more intelligent decisions about which of those sub-disciplines is the best fit for them. Some even choose multiple areas to generate multiple revenue streams. There are a number of actors, for example, who support themselves when they are not in a show by doing technical theatre or management work.

But such programs are in the minority.

So the polymaths and the undecideds have to do it themselves. They can take courses outside their degree plans or online or in non-credit programs to obtain background. But the best way to learn is to actually work in the field; the explorer can get an internship (paid is better) and find out if a particular area fits. A young person I know who “can’t not art” is going to do exactly that. She told me that she was going to take the time to “dip [her] toes into several ponds” before she made a final decision. A wise approach, I think.

 

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A Question of Ethics

Monday, 31. October 2016 0:48

The question of ethics is not one that comes up very often in arts education except as regards plagiarism. However, there is the occasional consideration. A friend of mine who teaches visual and plastic arts sent me this problem recently. Although the case he presents here is hypothetical, I think he may have encountered a similar real-life situation:

A student in some one of the arts comes to his/her instructor with a project idea that is not only contrary to the instructor’s beliefs but would probably be offensive to a majority of society (hate speech, fringe group propaganda, pornography, advocating violence for some reason, advocating cultural or racial paranoia,). Which is the appropriate path for the instructor?

  1. A. Help the student incorporate the message into his/her art because art is about communication and the teacher’s job is to guide the student in achieving the student’s goal.
  2. Let the student know that what he/she is doing is inappropriate and a probable detriment to society, and counsel the student that art should be for the betterment of society.
  3. Considering the greater good for the community, discourage the student from completing the project, at least with its present direction.
  4. Some combination of A, B, and C
  5. Some other answer

Anyone thinking about the problem for more than a moment will realize that the choices are not all that simple. For example, if one were to choose 1, would the instructor then be an accessory to the production of questionable art, to the production of hate speech, porn, advocating violence or paranoia? Without instruction, the piece would probably be less effective and thus damage society less. Or is the instructor completely without responsibility in this situation?

In considering answer 2, one must ask oneself whether art really should be for the betterment of society. While that is the goal of a lot of art, I don’t know that it should be the goal of all art. Actually, I would be very hesitant to assign any one single goal to art. People make art for all sorts of reasons; some of them are political, and some, decidedly, are not.

The problem with 3 is that to advocate for the greater good, one would must know what the greater good is. And who is to say that the instructor’s view of the greater good is accurate? To the best of my knowledge, teaching in the arts does not entail any special insight into the needs of society, whether those needs be sociological, cultural, or political.

While not mutually exclusive, 1-3 are designed to be not easy to combine so 4 is difficult at best and adds unneeded complexity at worst.

My answer (5) combines 1 with a part of 2. The instructor’s job is, I believe, not to censor the student, but rather is to guide the student in developing the skills with to achieve his/her goal. However, that guidance must be more comprehensive than just advice on technique and methodology. Part of that guidance must be advising the student when he/she is doing something that is in bad taste and that might be a detriment to society. The student should understand what the impact of his/her work is likely to be and understand what reactions the work might receive.

What was your answer?

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The Self-Taught Artist

Monday, 15. December 2014 0:05

Recently I was considering the term “self-taught artist.” Several things about the use of the term arouse my curiosity: why would anyone other than an academic care who taught an artist? Many academics have a thing about where people went to school, but it seems to me hardly anyone else cares—if the art is any good, that is. And the truth is every teacher and mentor has students who succeed and those who do not, so while knowing the teacher might tell us something, it certainly cannot predict the quality of the art a particular person produces.

Another question I have is whether the term is pejorative or complimentary. Is it better to have gone to art school or is it better to have learned on one’s own? Or does it matter? More importantly, why would an artist want to label him/herself anyway?

Evidently some see the label “self-taught” as a matter of pride. Not long ago a former student, now a scenic painter said, “Everything I know, I taught myself.” It was said proudly rather than complaining. It should have been a complaint; this person has attended two different schools and is currently trying to get into a third, curious behavior for someone who is learning only from himself.

And the statement is untrue. And while there is little doubt that much of what this person can do is the result of experimentation, that experimentation is based on a foundation acquired in educational theatre shops. There he learned the basics of color mixing and the fundamentals of basic painting techniques; along the way, he learned more about the materials and how they work.

In that sense, most of us are “self-taught.” We take what we learn from mentors and teachers and make it our own, modifying, adapting, and experimenting once we have the fundamentals in hand. This is, I’m sure, part of why no two artists who train with the same people in the same place develop the same way. There is influence, to be certain, but our skills develop according to our native talent, how much time and effort we are willing to put in, and our personal aesthetics and artistic vision.

The term “self-taught” applies more accurately to those artists who, for whatever reason, have not trained in a formal school situation. It is a short cut for saying “I did not attend a school to learn what I know.” But, my bet would be that most of them have had instruction of some kind. They may have attended workshops and seminars; they may have read extensively; they may have studied the work of others; they may have done some sort of informal apprenticeship or have been in a casual mentored situation. But it is highly likely that some sort of information and perhaps guidance came from outside themselves.

The difference then between a self-taught artist and any other is simply the formality of the situation in which the artist trained. The term (or indication of an arts degree) says nothing about the nature of the art the person is likely to produce, nor does it say anything about the artist’s skill level or sophistication in handling tools, materials, or ideas.

Regardless of how we obtained our basic skills and artistic approach, it is more than likely that we took that as a starting point and went on to improve those skills and build on what we already knew. Artists are not simply the products of their training; they are visionaries who develop over time and whose work usually gets better the more they mature and the further they move from that source of initial education.

Wonder why we even have the label?

 

Category:Aesthetics, Originality | Comments (4) | Autor:

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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Talent is Not Enough

Sunday, 9. February 2014 23:34

In talking with a former student about a paying gig she had just booked, I mentioned her talent, among other things. She replied, “Talent is nothing if you weren’t taught how to access it and use it.” She’s right, of course, but I had never thought about it in exactly those terms.

Those who teach in the arts beyond the secondary level are aware that talent by itself is not enough. This often comes as a surprise to our students, who have been told since they were able to perform in whatever art they excel how talented they were and how that would insure success as they grew to adulthood. They were misinformed, although probably with the best intentions.

Parents, with few exceptions, have no frame of reference for talent. They know only that their progeny excel at some art or the other and that praise is being heaped on their child by teachers and friends, and so, because they are proud, they join the party. The problem comes when the child develops the expectation of success based on the responses they have garnered in the past. At the very least, they need to memorize that disclaimer that comes on all investment portfolios: “past performance does not guarantee future results.” It doesn’t.

So the children go to high school and join a small pool of other talented peers and form their own clique, the members of which get all the leads in the plays, win all the art prizes, and continue to impress parents and friends. All are encouraged to continue developing their art.

Then they get to college, where they are in class with 25 others who are equally talented, and they begin to realize that they may not be all that special after all. This notion comes home with a vengeance when they realize that they and the other 25 members of their class are really the underclass, that there are three more years of equally talented and more experienced artists ahead of them, and on top of that are the smaller percentage of those who are graduate students. It should be obvious that no matter how much talent each individual has, the rewards are fewer than the number of people in the room, so, if they are to excel, they will have to learn to access and use the talent they have and then go beyond that.

Still, it takes some counseling and convincing to persuade these students that talent is not enough. Not only must they learn how to use their talents, they must combine that with a willingness to work. Stephen King was exactly right when he said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” King is not the only person who has voiced this opinion. One can read similar quotations by people as diverse as Andrew Carnegie, Irving Stone, Aleister Crowley, Lou Holtz, Émile Zola, and Kurt Vonnegut.

And sometimes even talent and hard work are not enough. Success, however, you define it, is elusive, and for some seems to remain just out of reach. And although there are no guarantees, there is no question that we have a far better chance with talent and hard work than with either alone. And there is no question that the art we produce will be better than if we tried to rely on talent alone.

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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.

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

Artist Statements Revisited

Sunday, 2. June 2013 23:55

A friend of mine teaches an art course called “Professional Practices.” One of the topics covered in the course is how to write a good artist statement. Now I have not been friendly toward such statements in the past, finding them an occasion for pretension and grandiosity, often devolving into meaningless “art-speak.” Additionally, they can be superfluous—if the art is doing its job properly. But a recent conversation with this man has caused me to reevaluate my thinking. He suggested that there exist practical reasons for an artist statement.

One thing he pointed out was that artist statements are useful in preparing to talk about your art. The week before, he had himself, while serving on a committee interviewing people for the chairmanship of his department, been asked about his art (which was not present). Had he not previously developed an artist statement, he might well have been thought inept by his future boss.

Interestingly, at a party that same night, I was asked the same question. It was a simple question from one artist to another (again our work was not present), but my lack of preparation caused me to be less articulate than I might have been.

Still, there are many really awful statements out there. How to avoid creating one of those? Here is my friend’s advice:

  • Explain what your art is about, or, alternatively, what you are about as an artist.
  • Make it short, but not terse. A single page is a good goal.
  • Be direct.
  • Be honest.
  • Be yourself.
  • Avoid art-speak.
  • Tailor your statement to the situation. Is it for a show, for a web page, for your own use, or to prepare you to talk about what you do either in a formal or informal situation? Each use demands a slightly different approach and focus.
  • Remember, this is a dynamic document. It should change when your work does. It is simply a statement of where you are artistically at a single moment in time, not a manifesto.

The artist statement, carefully thought out, can not only be used to explain you and your art to others, but can be used to explain you and your art to yourself. And many of us can benefit from such an exercise. This, to me seems to be the real value of such a statement. The act of writing forces you to verbalize what you are about as an artist. That, in turn, forces you to think about your art in ways that must be expressed in words. Many of us have not done this, or have not done it honestly, simply because it is difficult and unnecessary—or so we thought. As I—among others—have been fond of saying, if words could express it, there would be no need for the art; one could simply write an essay.

Remember that an artist statement may not necessarily apply to all art you do.  For example, the goals and approaches for my photography are far different from the aims and methodology for my theatre work. So if you do several kinds of art, you may discover that they may not be aligned and so will require a separate statement for each.

If you approach the artist statement using the guidelines above, it is not a simple task. It requires thought and self-examination. To my surprise, I am finding the process very useful. The necessity of putting my artistic intentions into words has served to concentrate my focus and clarify my creative goals in a way that I have never before experienced. I have no idea whether anyone except me will ever see the statement. That is not important; what is important is that the process of writing has honed my objectives as an artist and served to focus my creativity. I find myself thinking about my work differently—for the better. You may too.

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Forget Plan B

Sunday, 19. May 2013 23:52

Because I wanted to know, I went back to the student who wanted to live an artistic life and asked what the phrase “live an artistic life” meant to him.  After a bit of thought, he said that it meant that he wanted to support himself by doing his art.

A colleague to whom I related this brief story said, “That’s a rather romantic view, don’t you think? He should learn to swing a hammer.” She went on to say that the most talented person she knows has difficulty supporting himself with his art (He is an actor.) and has had to pick up a hammer from time to time in order to eat. Her suggestion was that, due to its “romantic” nature, the goal is somehow less achievable. Perhaps it would be better if the student were to have a “practical” backup plan.

This is an idea that I hear often. Parents often want their children in the arts to have a “Plan B,” something to “fall back on.” Of course, with today’s employment situation, training in any discipline carries no guarantee of employment, so the arts are probably as stable as anything else and can be excellent training for a number of fields.

But because the above-mentioned actor, who is very talented, is so intent upon practicing his art, he has picked up hammers, and screw-guns, and pipeline wrenches, and bar towels, and any number of other tools that would allow him to have live-on money when acting opportunity was not available. He will do almost anything in order to continue pursuing his art.

Wanting to live by artistic means may be a romantic goal, but it is, nonetheless, a goal, and often a very powerful one.  The actor mentioned above once said that his life was about acting and for him there could be no Plan B. I have also heard other acting coaches tell students that if they ever considered another occupation after they discovered acting, then they should go do that because it will be kinder to them than acting, and the fact that they considered something else indicates that they do not have the single-mindedness that is required to succeed in the theatre.

So too may the student. In subsequent conversations, he has indicated that while supporting himself with his art is his goal, he is willing to do whatever is necessary to continue to do his art. His art is important to him; it is, I think, what gives his life meaning. For him, just as with the actor, art is not simply a choice; it is a necessity. So it is with many of us to a greater or lesser extent.

If this is who you are, it ceases to be a question of whether you can support yourself by doing art, but rather how you can support yourself in order to do art. You may be one of the ones who is fortunate enough to figure out how to make the kind of art you want to do pay for itself and your food, but whether you will actually do art is never a question.

And if you want to succeed in any phase of art, no matter how you define it or describe it, you don’t want a Plan B; it will only be a distraction. Debbie Millman advises much the same thing in her essay and speech, quoted on “Brain Pickings,” which deals with the idea of choosing between that which is realistic and feasible and that which seems unattainable:  “Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time.” Forget Plan B.

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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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