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Art Impacts

Monday, 18. June 2018 2:00

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are aware that Anthony Bourdain passed away a little over a week ago. I was a fan—not an “I’ve seen everything he ever did” fan, not an “I want to copy his tattoos” fan, but a fan nonetheless. If the press is any indication, so was a large part of the world. The articles about him are legion. Indeed, a simple Google search on his name yields nearly 47 million references. This is not another of those. As big a fan as I was, one of the things that has struck me this week is the extent of Bourdain’s influence.

Those writing about him are not just foodies, but are also humanitarians, politicians, artists, bloggers, novelists, musicians, actors, musicians. The list goes on and on. Those writing about him are not people who have merely heard of him; they all seem to know something about him—something he said, something he did, some attitude he possessed. It seems that Anthony Bourdain touched people in all walks of life, which is pretty remarkable for a chef, even a celebrity chef.

Bourdain was a poet of food who was outspoken on any number of issues. He seemed to genuinely love not only food and its preparation, but all of the people associated with the restaurant industry. That he was a poet is evident in virtually everything the man said and did—at least in public. That he thought deeply about humankind and human culture is also readily apparent. He was a poet who went about speaking the truth as he knew it. And he had an audience, an audience that was huge and diverse and appreciative, and he touched them. Thus all the memorial tributes.

It’s the sheer size of his audience that I find significant. Even given that Bourdain was famous, a world traveler with his own television show, the response to his death has been overwhelming. The number of people that he really touched is amazing. Bourdain might have said the same thing, given his state of mind at the time of his passing.

And that is something that we as artists need to remind ourselves of. We may not have our own television shows, but our audiences are larger than we can ever know, thus our influence reaches further than we can possibly imagine. Even on our worst days, if we are putting our work into the world, we are influencing people. In speaking the truth as we know it—using whatever media we favor—we are having an impact. And there is no way to know who, what, or when that influence will strike.

We all have experienced that one moment when the work of an artist spoke to us, or impressed us, or inspired us, and that moment changed our lives in ways that matter. And it was likely that that artist never knew that his/her work had such a profound impact on someone. So it is with our own work. We make it; we put it out into the universe. It impacts.

For that reason it is important that we keep producing our art. It is important that we are putting truth into our acting, directing, painting, sculpture, choreography, writing, photography, music, thus putting ourselves as well as our art out into the world—because we cannot predict or even anticipate when our work will speak to, impress, or inspire someone. We cannot even guess when our truth might change someone’s life. All we can do is produce.

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A Question of Actor Ethics

Sunday, 20. May 2018 22:40

In my “Development of Cinema” course we discuss some questions of actor ethics. Such discussions usually revolve around the question of whether African-Americans who worked in the Blaxploitation movies of the 1970s did an ethical thing since most of those moves dealt in racial stereotypes; whether Stepin Fetchit’s choice to portray a stereotype in the 1930s and 40s was an ethical choice; whether actors, because they are role models for many young people, are obligated to consider how they might influence youth with a role choice. It’s all academic, all classroom discussion, which, as usual, has very little to do with real life.

A real-life situation occurred a few weeks ago in New Orleans. A Louisiana utility company held hearings to gauge support construction of a gas-based power plant. Professional actors were hired to wear shirts that advocated this position, and sometimes to speak with a prepared script and to vocally opposed “any conversation about renewable energy alternatives.” This was not a stage, not a sound stage, but a political “town hall” meeting. The actors were hired to influence public opinion both during the meeting and in video clips which would inevitably appear on television. That actors were hired was confirmed by the energy company, but the blame was put onto the PR firm.

While news outlets are questioning the ethics of hiring actors to falsify public opinion, a practice called “astroturfing,” I am more concerned with the ethics of the actors who took those jobs. Some of my students argue that portraying a character, however bad a role model that character might be, is an actor’s job and that most audience members can distinguish between reality and movie fiction.

In this situation there was no movie fiction; there was only the pretense of real life.

This is not the same question as should an artist take commissions that are contrary to that artist’s personal belief or do work that supports this or that viewpoint. We have no way to know what the opinions of the hired actors it this instance were. The questions is rather: should actors use their skills to “actively mislead the public and corrupt the democratic process?”

The actor’s job certainly is to portray characters not him/herself. Mightn’t the performances given at the public meeting in New Orleans constitute performance art? Does dramatic art really require a fictional framework? Does appearing in a public hearing as a grassroots activist constitute legitimate acting work?

Starving artists might do anything for a dollar. Is it more legitimate to portray a “citizen” at a hearing than to sell plasma at a blood bank? If the question is survival, is there an ethical line that one might not cross, or is survival all, and one does whatever one can to continue?

You are observing that this post has devolved into questions. It has—because the ethics of acting, the ethics of any art are, to my knowledge, not taught in any school of any art, at least in the US. (I have no knowledge of arts education in other countries.) And there is a larger question: is the question of ethics in art even a valid question?  Artist are supposed to explore, to challenge, to question. Should an artist’s ethics even be a topic of discussion?

Your thoughts?

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The Significance of Juxtaposition

Monday, 7. May 2018 0:39

A piece of mine that was just in a juried show was displayed in the center of a panel with two works on either side. To the left of my piece was a smaller piece, a watercolor, that was sold. Now, this particular show did not use the discrete quarter- or eighth-inch dots indicating that a piece was sold; rather they used red dots one inch in diameter. There was no question about whether the piece sold or not. What was apparent, however, was that that red dot influenced not only the piece to which it was “attached,” but the rest of the panel as well. It said, “Someone has paid hard cash for this piece, but not for the rest of these pieces.” It also said, “This piece is sold. Won’t someone buy one of these others?” It made viewers look at the other pieces on the panel differently.

Viewers were almost compelled to compare the pieces on the panel in ways that they normally would not. There was no question that the sold piece was good, but its status caused the viewers to examine each of the other pieces on the panel to determine whether they were actually of lesser quality, or whether the purchase was strictly a matter of individual taste. The red dot seemed particularly to invite comparison to the piece beside it. The pieces were not only different thematically, they were different media. No one would have ever thought to compare the two, except for that “sold” sticker.

In another part of the show, there were two pieces on an endcap. One was a framed oil painting approximately 24”x30,” and on a pedestal probably a foot away from the endcap wall was a sculpture about a foot high which was exceptional. I paused to look at the sculpture several times before I ever realized that the painting was there. Not only was it there, but it was excellent, and, incidentally, by the same artist who had done the sculpture. What was interesting was that the juxtaposition of the two pieces gave almost all of the focus to the sculpture. Had the painting been located anywhere else in the room, it would have been a stand-out. As it was, it was consistently upstaged by the piece of sculpture.

As usual, after I got home, I went through the catalogue of the show, and, as usual, found pieces that I don’t remember seeing in the exhibition hall. Now I wonder if I saw them, but they were located beside other pieces that took focus, either because of placement or quality or perhaps because of a red dot placed on an adjacent piece.

In a juried show, the artist has very little, if any, say over where or how his/her pieces are displayed. Likewise, the artist has no control over which pieces sell and which ones don’t; indeed, a piece may attract no buyers in one show, but sell immediately in another. The takeaway can only be that how work is displayed and what the adjacent pieces are is in no way a reflection on the artist. Similarly, whether a piece sells may also be a function of placement and juxtaposition and not a reflection on the artist.

Several years ago, I wrote a post called “Context Matters.” Now I find that that idea may now need to be expanded and refined to say “not only does context matter, so does juxtaposition.”

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Words Matter

Sunday, 8. April 2018 23:53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’re All Commercial Artists

Monday, 12. February 2018 2:31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Science Offers the Proof

Sunday, 8. January 2017 23:38

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

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

But it’s not just abstract art.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Artists Should Really Be Asking

Monday, 25. July 2016 0:16

In the Afterword to the audiobook version of his novel, NOS4A2, Joe Hill, who describes himself as “a guy who prizes the imagination above all other personality traits,” says that he thinks that:

Everybody actually lives in two worlds. There’s the world of stuff, of coffee in the morning and bad jobs and bad hair and work and physics and chemistry. And that’s what we think of as life. That’s the world you live in. But I actually think that people spend as much time spends as much time in the world of thought. And in the world of thought emotions are as powerful and as real as gravity. And imagination is as powerful as physical law. And that world also really and truly exists. You could even make a philosophical argument that that world exists for us more than the real world.

Hill goes on to discuss how “a good reader can make a good book that much better.” He singles out Kate Mulgrew and Wolfram Kandinsky, of whom Hill says, “That was a voice that spoke to the deepest parts of my imagination.”

We in the arts are used to concerning ourselves with imagination, but usually only from the creation sided of things. We use our imaginations to create worlds that do not exist in physical reality. We use our imaginations to fantasize over what might be. We use our imaginations to foresee what shapes our artifacts might take.

What we don’t do is concern ourselves so much with our audience’s imaginations. Note the last quote from Hill. What made certain audio books come alive for him was that the voice that read them “spoke to the deepest parts of his imagination.” Suddenly, we have two imaginations working on the same piece, in this case an audiobook. We have, if you will, one imagination (that of the author) engaging the imagination of (in this case) the listener through the medium of the reader.

As a long-time listener to audiobooks, I can confirm Hill’s assertion that “a good reader can make a good book that much better.” Until I heard Hill’s comments, it did not occur to me to question why some readers make the book really come to life and others just get through it, why anything Frank Mueller read was golden. And now I know. Mueller and the other readers that I really appreciate are the ones who have spoken to my imagination, not just my ears.

And then it occurred to me that that is exactly what we, as artists, should be doing: speaking not just to our audience members’ ears and eyes, but rather speaking to our audience members’ imaginations, engaging those imaginations. Too often we use our own imaginations to create art that does not engage the imagination of the viewers. We create and throw it out there, and the audience acknowledges it, but doesn’t take it home. There are a number of reasons for this, but one certainly is that we failed to engage the audience member’s imagination.

It is only by engaging our audience’s imaginations that we can actually communicate with them, create something that has real meaning for them, make something that really impacts their lives. Otherwise, what we create may appear to them pretty or interesting or even intellectually stimulating. But it will not impact them in the emotional, visceral way that many of us want our art to communicate. So the question we should be asking ourselves is not “how can I communicate my vision to my audience?” but rather “how can I make my vision engage my audience’s imagination?” The answer can only lead to making our art more than it is.

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Creative Entrepreneurship: the Implications

Monday, 2. May 2016 0:12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A New Paradigm: the Creative Entrepreneur

Monday, 18. April 2016 1:40

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

Deresiewicz  details the previous paradigms for art:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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