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The Case for Craft

Monday, 4. May 2015 0:44

Every day it seems that there is at least one article in my news feed about creativity; some days there is more than one. And since we in the US are an entrepreneurial society, I find my email full of announcements for this or that seminar or webinar or workshop in creativity—for a small fee. (There’s probably a future post in this.)

Let me be clear: I am certainly not opposed to creativity. I have blogged about it many times and probably will again. But what I’m not seeing in all this talk about creativity is any discussion of craft. In fact, there seem to be very few discussions about craft and the mastery of craft at all. The message is almost that creativity and self-expression are all there is to making art. This, as many of us know, is not the case. If the prospective artist does not have a mastery of the medium, then all the creativity and self-expression in the world are essentially useless.

This is an issue in a number of arts, but is more pronounced in some. For example, there are a number of photographers who use only “canned” effects to achieve their final images. These are likely the same photographers who neglect to learn all of the dials and settings on their cameras. After all, both cameras and software are very smart and can do most of the work so the photographer actually needs to learn very little. However, while images created that way might be technically quite good (exposure, shutter speed, color), they may be very much lacking. Julian Calverley in an interview about professional photographers shooting with iPhones, notes “Just because you own a nice camera, doesn’t mean you can take a great shot. Composition, lighting and understanding a subject are things that will always remain.” Calverley also notes that the photographer needs an eye for a good shot and lots of skills to make that shot possible. Craft.

In another field, actors who achieve some measure of success early on often rely on whatever skills they may have developed or show an extraordinary devotion to one particular school of acting. The result is that their acting quickly goes stale because they are essentially one-trick ponies who demonstrate little inclination to develop their craft in different directions, or sometimes even to try to improve at all. If you talk to seasoned actors, men and women who make their living on the stage or in front of a camera, you will hear them discuss their “tool kit.” If you explore the metaphor further, you discover that those actors have gathered techniques from a variety of schools and sources and use ideas from the entire spectrum of available theory, including personal invention. Moreover, you will find that those actors continue to train, experiment, and hone their craft.

In an earlier post, I posited that great art requires great craft. The gist of that argument was that mastery of craft underlies all great—or even good—art. This is really obvious in arts such as music and ballet, where it is simply understood from the outset that the artist must master his/her instrument before anything approaching art can occur. Artists in other fields where a wrong note or a missed step are not so apparent should take heed. The necessity for mastery of craft is no less necessary—if that artist wants to excel.

We must learn not only to use our tools but to master our craft in every sense of the word, then work to maintain that mastery. Only then can we give full expression to our creativity and perhaps make lasting, meaningful art.

Category:Creativity, Photography, Theatre | Comments (3) | Autor:

Professionals Practice

Sunday, 21. July 2013 22:09

Being a professional anything requires having reached a certain level of proficiency and having the ability to maintain that proficiency. In order to do that, professionals in all areas have to keep their skills honed. All professionals understand that to stay at the top of their game, to grow, requires constant information-gathering and continuous practice. It is no different for arts professionals.

First, I must clarify what I mean by “professional.” (It’s a topic that has come up before.) Some define a professional artist as one who makes most of his/her income as an artist. I am rather inclined to think that professionalism is about involvement, attitude, approach, and standards. One of the marks of the professional, at least in my mind, is that he/she works at his/her art every day. This is most often expressed as “practicing your craft” or sometimes “practicing your art.” It doesn’t matter where your income comes from; it doesn’t matter that you have a day job; it matters that you make art and that you work at it every day—not play at it, not piddle with it—work at it.

Actors talk about practicing their craft, as do singers—and they do it daily. In fact, every practicing professional performer I know practices daily. World class trumpeter Louis Armstrong said, “Even If I have two three days off, you still have to blow that horn. You have to keep up those chops… I have to warm up every day for at least an hour.” Many, even though they may teach classes themselves, take lessons—it’s another form of practice. And what holds true for performers holds true for other artists as well.

But there is some latitude in what constitutes “practicing your art.” I do not necessarily believe that if you are a photographer, for example, you must take a picture every day. But you must work at seeing every day, and on those days that you do not actually pick up a camera, you can work at a computer, or at tray in the darkroom, or mat an image, or frame a picture.

Some might argue that these last two activities don’t constitute “practicing your art.” Having matted and framed a good number of images, I have found that you can learn something almost every time you go through the process. Those tasks provide a unique opportunity to look at your work in a context very different from the norm. This allows you to see things that you might not ordinarily see, and thus learn and improve your art—which is, after all, one of the goals of practice. Some arts involve many different tasks and processes, and performing those can certainly qualify as “practicing your art” and can contribute to artistic proficiency and growth.

Some will claim not to have enough subject matter or materials to keep them working every day. These artists might consider classes, or exercises. There are painting-a-day challenges; there are photograph-a-day challenges. Both of these keep artists in practice, and occasionally produce some very good work. And they are indeed challenging. (Ask anyone who’s attempted one.)

There are other approaches as well. Renowned poet Wallace Stevens had a day job, but he managed to work at his art every day. “Stevens generally preferred to walk to work alone because he wanted the solitude to compose poetry.

We won’t all get to Carnegie Hall, but we all know the way. The problem is many of us are not sure that we want to work that hard or that unceasingly. But that’s what it takes to maintain our skills and to grow. And that’s what it means to be a professional artist.

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