Tag archive for » dance «

Do Better Work by Staying in the Moment

Sunday, 16. December 2012 23:47

Yoga instructors encourage their students to stay in the present moment during their practice. Actors work constantly to stay in the moment; most know that without the ability to live in the “eternal present,” their work will suffer. Dancers deal with the ongoing present in much the same way. Other artists sometimes experience “being in the moment” when they get into “flow.” The rest of the world simply disappears while the artist’s entire being is engaged in creation.

The post, “Art as Salvation–Creating ‘in Flow’” explored the characteristics of flow provided by the originator of the term, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, but they bear repeating:

  1. intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. merging of action and awareness
  3. a loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. a distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  6. experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

It is easy to see the benefits of such a practice, whether it is on a yoga mat or on a stage or at an easel or at a computer. You will be more creative; the work will be easier; and you are more likely to produce good work. That should be enough, but there are other benefits as well. If you are living in the present, the past and the future cease to exist. While this is a necessity for actors, it is not the standard state of being for most of us. But just think of being free from anxiety and worry, two conditions that are not only crippling to creativity, but also interfere with simply living.

It works quite logically: if you are existing fully in the present moment, you have no awareness of either the future or the past. Without referencing the past, there can be no worry; you cannot be concerned over what happened yesterday if you are fully concentrating on today. Likewise, your anxiety about what is going to happen tomorrow disappears if you are so involved in now that you do not really register the future.

Of course, there are times when we need to reference both the past and the future, but there is no advantage to dwelling in either place, and much benefit in returning to the present as soon as possible. When we are not distracted by what we think will happen or what has happened, we get to enjoy where we are and what we are doing much more fully. Because we are not distracted by mental static, we become those who are fully and completely engaged in the conversation, the sale, the intimate moment, the creation of art.

Many who create drift into flow naturally—when they are creating—and so for a time live in the present. But it never occurs to them to employ it the rest of the time. It stays contextualized as part of the creative process—and it is a very important part, but it could be very useful to be able to generalize this skill to life. The good news is that this ability can be learned. Once learned, it can then be applied to any situation, not just creativity. Mostly it takes identifying the factors required to stay in the present moment and then putting them into practice. And then, as with any skill, practice, and practice, and practice. Constant “flow” is not the goal, but rather existing in fully in the moment.

And that can be both beneficial and exhilarating. Yoga instructors often advise their students to “take yoga off the mat.” A variant of this advice for artists would be “take the first element of flow out of the studio.” (Some of the other elements may follow, but that’s just a bonus). Your world and your work will be better.

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Arts and Money, Another Perspective

Monday, 2. July 2012 1:26

Several weeks ago Lightsey Darst wrote a three-part essay called “The Poorest Art: Dance and Money,” which details just how poorly supported dance is in the US, and explores some of what that means. Anyone who has worked in the performing arts knows how hard dancers work and how short their professional lives can be—much like a professional athlete without the perks and the money.

Then just recently, I heard that a regional art center near me was closing its doors because they could no longer afford the rent. Shortly after hearing this rumor, I received an email from the curator explaining that the board of directors had “made a decision to move forward with a new vision” and that they were “right-sizing” the organization. While I recognized this as spin, I was very happy to see that they decided continue to bring art to the community, albeit in a very different format.

These events seemed to bring into focus the sad state of arts support in parts of the US. But then the same month, I participated in a group show that set a record for sales. Then I was reminded there were other records being set by arts auction houses in the past year, and, although I have discussed the high-end art/money interconnection before, more pieces are selling than just the works of recognized “masters.” Jocelyn Noveck, an AP writer, has reported that in some places ballet has hit a high point in pop culture and shows are selling out.

So which is it? Are the arts in terrible shape, completely unsupported by the public or are arts seeing a resurgence, with a great deal of financial support? The answer is, of course, both. Sometimes, you can see both phenomena in the same place, like New York professional theatre. AP writer, Mark Kennedy reports that “God is having a tough month on Broadway – ‘Godspell’ is closing, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is on life support and now comes word that ‘Sister Act’ is going to theatrical heaven. [sic]” Yet, at the same time, Book of the Mormon is still selling 102.63% capacity  in the same environment (although I’ve never been quite sure how they do that).

It just depends on where you look. Not having statistics, it is difficult to determine if the overall financial support for the arts is up or down, or just moving around. An article by Lucas Kavner in The Huffington Post reports that the “fourth edition of ‘Arts & Economic Properity’ reveals that the [arts] industry generated $135.2 billion of economic activity,” which causes Robert L. Lynch, CEO of Americans for the Arts, to conclude that “the arts remain ‘open for business.’ People are clearly still going to arts events.”

It seems that at the same time that contemporary society devalues one art or one company or one gallery or one artist, it embraces another. And while I sympathize with the dancers in Darst’s articles, I have the same sympathy for any artist who feels devalued because society is moving in a direction different from where he/she stands, or popular culture is interested in something else at this particular moment in time. No matter what the ideal might be, the fact is that the arts in the US in the twenty-first century exist in a market economy, subject to the same fluctuations and forces as any market economy. We need to remember that it’s not personal; it’s just the way the market is moving at this particular moment in time. We are just caught in whatever trend is occurring this decade or year or month. And in the long run that may be a good thing, not necessarily for the individual, but for art in general. That arts organization near me may thrive in its newly “right-sized” form and have far more impact that it would have done in its earlier incarnation.

Most of us did not get into the arts for money, and while money is certainly desirable, some of us will stay in the arts whether or not we are paid well. We have to.

And artists are, for the most part, supportive of each other, and I certainly would not change that. We must continue that support each other. Like the artist I mentioned two weeks ago, if we cannot sell our own art, then let’s sell somebody’s—let’s just be sure that somebody’s art gets sold.

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Great Art Requires Great Craft

Monday, 26. March 2012 0:04

It should be self-evident, but somehow it isn’t. If you want to be great artist, or even a good one, you must master the use of your tools. You must develop the humble craft side of your art as well as lofty artistic side. It’s the part that no one wants to do. Hardly anyone wants to spend hours drawing body parts, or painting still lifes, or learning the intricacies of photo processing software, or doing acting or dance exercises, or singing scales. But it’s necessary.

Often beginning actors want to perform significant plays before they learn to analyze character, visual artists want to paint collectable images before they learn to draw, dancers want to dance Giselle before they can successfully execute a pirouette, photographers want to win a national photography award before they master all the controls on their digital cameras. The fact is that doing all those exercises that build craft is simply unappealing—it’s work, and sometimes unpleasant work.

But regardless of the appeal or lack of it, mastering craft is necessary; it is the base upon which art is built. When you examine the work of acknowledged masters, regardless of the medium in which they excel, one of the things that literally jumps at you is the obvious mastery of the medium. This has nothing to do with the ideas or emotions they manage to incorporate into their work, and everything to do with having put in the time and effort to learn what the medium can and cannot do, and how best to manipulate it in order to say what they need to say.

The impetus for the rush to bypass craft seems to be the desire for instant celebrity. Because there are some very young, relatively inexperienced people who are successful in some arts, less-experienced artists have come to believe that there are shortcuts that will make them famous faster.

It does seem, however, that this instant fame occurs less frequently in arts that require significant investment on the part of their audiences, e.g. reading a novel or contemplating serious visual and plastic art or watching live theatre. I want to read novels by writers who not only have something to say, but know how to tell a story and how to make a metaphor. If I am going to pay $120 for a theatre seat, I want someone with the acting chops of a Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Willie Loman, not someone who has been catapulted to pop fame because of an outstanding profile and someone else’s skilled direction and editing.

And to obtain those chops in acting or any other the art, you have to build up a set of skills. You have to know how to handle your medium. And, unfortunately, development of skill requires time—time to make mistakes, time to let your voice and body mature, time to experiment with various aspects and various approaches, time to practice. That’s the way artists learn. Because it’s not just what’s in the imagination, it’s what you do with that imagination and how you present it to the world that matters.

Yes, mastering a craft can be tedious. It can seem endless, and it can seem difficult, but it is necessary. If you are to make the art of which you are capable, if you are to make something of worth, you must not only be creative, but you must have a means for presenting those ideas and feelings to the world. To try to do so with a skill level less than mastery is to do a disservice to yourself and your art.

 

 

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Narrative. It’s Not Necessary

Monday, 16. January 2012 0:03

The other day a colleague was talking about movies that he liked and those that left him cold. It very quickly became apparent that what made a movie “good” to him was story. He is a fan of plot-driven film and those that are lacking in that department do not interest him at all. Needless to say, he is not fond of Bergman or Fellini.

The conversation caused me to wonder about the place of narrative, particularly in the visual arts, although the issue comes up with other arts as well; another friend once remarked that the ballet was a “terrible way to tell a story.” That may well be true, but I guess I never thought that narrative was the sole purpose of the ballet or the only reason for appreciating it.

And that, I think, is the question. Is art simply a story-telling device or does it do other things and communicate in other ways? The phrasing of the question suggests that of course it is not just a story-telling device, but many artists think otherwise. There are numerous art professors who start a critique with “What is the story here?” demanding, of course, that there be one. Painter Hilary Harkness has said, “I think the core of painting is story.”

We have become so used to this idea that it seems natural. We expect there to be a narrative. Perhaps this is an extension of our repeated viewing of photojournalism, where the goal is definitely to tell a story. Whatever the reason, many have come to expect each piece of art to convey a narrative, and when it isn’t there, we are either disappointed, confused, or we pretend there is one.  For example, Judith Barter of The Art Institute of Chicago said of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic, “You believe there’s a narrative there, but there isn’t. I mean, you can’t read the story; you can’t complete the action, so that makes it both a successful painting but a difficult picture to talk about.”

Some are less circumspect in the way they view the connection between visual and narrative. Garry Winogrand said, “Photos have no narrative content. They only describe light on surface.”  And Mat Gleason with his usual soft touch has opined “Narratives are illusions, constructed in hindsight, often by the blindfolded.”

As harsh as Gleason’s statement is, it may be true. If an artwork is narrative, that narrative should be able to be expressed easily in words. But, unlike Harkness, some artists do not think that stories, at least stories that can be told in words, form the basis for art. They go even further. Edward Hopper has famously said, “If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” Photographer Lewis Hine has said much the same thing about photography: “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.”

Some critics recognize the validity of lack of narrative. For instance, Barbara Smith has called Brigitte Carnochan’s photography “visual haiku.” The notions of “narrative” or “story” do not come into play at any point. It occurs to me that you could describe the work of a number of artists similarly. Some create lyrics, some epics; some are making sonnets, all without words or narrative intent.

Just because we are used to thinking that all art is narrative does not mean that that is the only way to think, regardless of how natural it seems. There is a place for lyric painting, for photographic haiku, for cinematic meditation, for dance that is evocative rather than narrative. We would have far richer aesthetic lives if we stop trying to force art into a predetermined mindset of what it is “supposed to do” and accept and learn to appreciate what the artifact itself presents. We might even learn to expand our thinking and appreciation.

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We Can Do Better: The Need for a Fresh Approach

Monday, 26. December 2011 0:29

Well, the Ovation Channel was at it again. Evidently their “Battle of the Nutcrackers” is an annual event; those who watched have had the opportunity to see five different versions of the seasonal ballet again this year and vote on their favorite.

Although I have written about this television event before, it is still a very interesting thing to watch five different interpretations of the same basic story, told to (mostly) the same music.  What struck me this year, however, was the effort that the director/choreographers put into making their work fresh and new.

We all know of recurrent productions, be they plays, musical performances, or ballets that simply repeat every year what has been done by that particular producing organization before. It’s much like they know there is a market for the seasonal production, but somehow they can’t put their hearts into it—after all, they’ve done it and done it and done it before. We also know of directors and choreographers who, instead of doing what is required to bring a new vision to the stage, will attempt to reproduce other productions or movies of the work they are staging.

Not so with those who produced these world-class versions of the famous ballet. Productions ranged from the traditional to the surreal to a complete restructuring of the story and the characters.  Each is remarkable in its own way, and each fresh and new in some way. And each seems to be aimed at a different audience. It does not seem to matter that the directors have done the show before; this time it’s different and new and important that it be that.

Certainly, I do not want to tackle the question of which one was the best. That, after all, is the point of the “competition,” with the audience favorite having been aired in prime time on Christmas Eve. But some departures are worthy of note. One is British director/choreographer Matthew Bourne’s version. To say that Bourne has reimagined the Nutcracker is a gross understatement. His version retains the plot and a few of the characters, but the rest is completely new and different. Of course, Bourne has the habit of reimagining almost all of the traditional pieces that he directs. And there are other innovators: Mikhail Chemiakinâ’s surrealistic approach is  a “darker and more adult retelling” of the familiar story, produced at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. And then there is the version by Patrice Bart, set during the Russian Revolution, which, again, is a significant reimagining of an old story.

The point, of course, is that each of these artists works to make his work his own.  Moreover, these director/choreographers do not rely on what has gone before, or the interpretations of others. These works, although retaining identifiable parts of the traditional story, are fresh departures, new ways of telling that story, and aimed at a particular audience. These artists are following Ezra Pound’s injunction, “Make it new.” We would do well to do likewise. And although I have written on this topic before, it is a topic that deserves to be discussed repeatedly for those interested in art and creativity.

Regardless of the medium in which we work, we could learn a lot from these experts in staging ballet. We might step out of our comfort zone, let our imaginations run, and follow where they lead. We might consider our audience, or rather, a different audience or segment of audience.  We might find that stepping into the scary world of the unknown is just what our art needs. If all we do is repeat our past successes (or someone else’s), we cease to be artists and become artifact- or performance-producing mechanics. We can do better.

 

Category:Audience, Creativity, Originality | Comments (3) | Autor:

Making Art is Not for the Timid

Sunday, 31. July 2011 23:59

Susan Holland, writing on Empty Easel advises artists to make paintings with “for sure” statements, not “sort of” paintings. By that she means paintings that “make a clear, unambiguous statement.”  What she says about painting applies to all arts, whether it is photography, acting, directing, dance, sculpture, or writing.

“But I love ambiguity,” you say. I do too. But the ambiguity that we love is in the material, not in the presentation of the material. So ideally we would present subject matter that is ambiguous rather than presenting subject matter in an ambiguous, wishy-washy manner. In the latter case, we would be, in the words of Holland, presenting work that “just doesn’t ‘pop.’” It may be “benign,” but it won’t “really say anything.” This is certainly not a situation we want to be in as artists.

If you are painting, or photographing, or directing, or acting, or writing a situation that is ambiguous, say so, and say so with conviction; hit the audience in the face with the ambiguity. Do not piddle around with it; that will only make it confusing for your audience. In fact, the ambiguity of the situation may be lost because of your inability to present it in a clear and robust manner.

In terms of presentation, the opposite of clear is not ambiguous, but timid. This is seen in almost every art, but it is particularly evident in acting. Many beginning actors do not understand the necessity of making firm choices, so their work tends to be tentative, lacking conviction, and not very interesting to watch. Once an actor makes a choice about his character and that character’s motivations and characteristics, his/her work immediately becomes more interesting, more watchable. Acting is not an art for the timid; actually, no art is an art for the timid if it is to be interesting, thought-provoking, or beautiful.

In my own work, whether it be stage work or photography, the work that really delivers, and thus the work that appeals most is work that is clear and clean—work that makes not only an unambiguous statement, but a strong statement. The impact of the work is stronger; the work is more interesting to the viewer; the meaning of the work is more available to the audience. It’s better work.

And if you look at the work of respected artists, you will find that in every case the work makes a definite statement, a strong statement. You may disagree with what a particular artist is saying, but there is no question that he/she is saying something definitive. The subject matter may be ambiguous, but it is presented clearly, boldly, even provocatively.

The question then is how do you do that? How do you move your work from “sort of” to definite, strong, meaningful? My first suggestion is the one that I give actors: make a choice. Don’t let your work wander around and sort of suggest something; make a choice and stick with it. You may have to change it if it doesn’t work, but making a choice will give you direction and lead you to do stronger, clearer, cleaner work.

Holland suggests that you look at your work with a critical eye and edit. Both of these things are necessary, but you have to be able to be able to separate yourself from your work in order to see it critically. In Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self, Don Hahn says that you have to “become completely detached, so that you can criticize and edit your own work.”

Additionally, Holland offers a list of concrete suggestions that an artist could use to make his/her paintings better. With a little imagination, you could modify her list to apply to almost any art.

So as you create, make strong choices, separate yourself and be critical of your own work, edit. Make strong definitive statements. You may be a shy person; many artists are, but you cannot let that carry over to your work. Making art—of any kind—is not for the timid.

Category:Audience, Communication, Presentation | Comments (2) | Autor:

The Downside of Arts Competition

Monday, 27. June 2011 0:20

This could be considered a clarification of the last post, or perhaps a continuation of some of the thoughts that were presented there. As I stated in that post, one of my objections to highly publicized awards is that they turn their arts into contests, which I think is contrary to the whole idea of art.

There are many definitions of art, but in none of them do you find the idea of competition. Of course there is some, but one would hope that when an artist sets out to create a piece, he/she does not do so with the idea of besting another artist, but with the idea of creating a piece that says what he/she wants to say and of doing so to the best of his/her ability.

Some arts have a built-in competition, for example, the audition process for actors and dancers. This is supposed to ensure that the best person for the part gets the role. (Although we find that in many situations, the audition is replaced by negotiation.) Once the process of putting performers in roles is done, competition is set aside in favor of creating the vision of the producer/director, in other words, creating the best possible performance.

Of course there is the question of arts contests. There are, for example, numerous photography contests, many of which offer prize money. Such contests seem to create competitiveness where none exists naturally; how do you compare an abstract photograph to a conflict photograph? In the world of commercial photography, competition certainly exists, and it may be well to know who is the best wedding photographer or the best advertising photographer. But in the world of fine art photography, this sort of competition makes no sense. With whom is Miru Kim competing?

Even the art contest that gives the largest cash award in the world claims to be about more than the competition. That contest is ArtPrize, and it tries to be more than just a contest among artists: “Part arts festival, part social experiment–this international contest …. is designed for you to take it into your own hands and make it what you want it to be. The outcomes of ArtPrize are infinite… ArtPrize is a platform for creation.

The emphasis on competition that one finds in arts contests also exists in some arts education. Texas, for example, has a one-act play competition among “similarly-sized” high schools to discover who has, in any given year, created the best play. The University Interscholastic League, which sponsors the contest, says that “it continues to be a major factor motivating increasing numbers of schools to offer theatre arts as an academic subject.” This, of course, suggests that Texas secondary schools are academically motivated by competitive triumphs. Texas theatre students learn that what is important is beating the other companies.

Compare the North Carolina Theatre Conference’s High School Play Festival which provides “an opportunity for students at NCTC member schools to showcase their work, learn from others, make new theatre friends and celebrate their achievements. Schools present 45 minute shows to adjudicators, who provide knowledgeable and encouraging feedback.” North Carolina theatre students learn to do good work.

Secondary school systems are not the only organizations that foster the competition in the arts. This competitive aspect was one (but only one) of the problems with Bravo TV’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.” This aspect so colored the shows that it led some to say that the series became more of a design competition than a show about art.

These lessons should not be lost on us.  Art is not football. The social aspect of the internet has facilitated a lot of sharing of art. There seems to be little in the way of competition, even among the pieces that are for sale. Art is offered for comment and evaluation, for possible purchase, not to challenge another artist. This is as it should be.

 

Category:Education, Photography, Theatre | Comments (1) | Autor:

The Medium is Not the Message…But It’s a Big Chunk of the Experience

Monday, 23. May 2011 1:37

In his book Beauty, Roger Scruton maintains that meaning in a piece of art is “bound up with, inseparable from” the medium through which that meaning is presented. This means, of course, that the art cannot be reproduced in another medium and have the same meaning.

Although I have already discussed the difficulties I have with art reproduction here and here, two relatively new forms of art have been on my mind recently. These forms really seem to make the case for Scruton’s ideas even stronger.

The first is the lenticular image. For those who do not know, a lenticular is a fairly obscure medium (in which I work from time to time). Lenticulars can be based on photographs or other media; multiple images are interlaced and fused to a lenticular lens to create the illusion of movement or three-dimensionality as the viewer approaches the work. While the lenticular is not new technology, it is a relatively new art form. Many people have never seen one that was not an advertising piece.

The problem with lenticulars is that there is no way to reproduce the image electronically, so they cannot, for example, be viewed on the web. A simulation can be made with an animated gif file, but it is only a simulation and cannot reproduce the experience of walking past an image in a gallery that appears to move or to come out of the frame.

Interestingly, the animated gif is the vehicle for the second form. It is the cinemagraph, and its foremost practitioners are a team, Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg. You can see these images, which have been hailed by The Atlantic, Huffington Post and many others, on Beck’s From Me To You Tumblr. These images are essentially still photographs with movement added in isolated segments.

Despite the artistry involved with cinemagraphs and the stories they tell, they also have a problem. Cinemagraphs require an electronic device capable of displaying animated gifs. They can never hang in galleries unless those galleries are appropriately equipped.

These are just two instances where the art work seems completely inseparable from the medium; there are many.  For example, there are images etched in metal. A photograph of the etched image can be made, but that is a weak representation of the real thing. The same can be said for images printed on glass, another medium that cannot be adequately reproduced.

And there are others: physical collage only works if you can really see the texture of the items being collaged. Paint buildup is an integral part of many paintings that simply does not show up or certainly has less impact in a photograph of the painting. Sculpture defies reproduction in any kind of meaningful way except perhaps as a series of images or a video, which still falls far short of adequate reproduction. The same is true of dance or any other live performance art.

Actually, the same is true for all works of art. We can photograph them, we can describe them, but we cannot fully express the experience of them without reference to the media in which they were originally created.

Scruton, it seems, is correct: the content of a work of art is not really translatable to another medium; the medium is an essential part of the experience of the art work. And with these newer forms that union seems even stronger.

One can only wonder what the future holds.

Category:Aesthetics, Communication, Photography | Comments (2) | Autor:

Life Getting in the Way of Your Art? Use It!

Monday, 2. May 2011 0:06

This was the week to read the journals of the students in the acting class I am teaching. They are asked to write every day of the semester something related to acting. The task is intentionally broad and has a number of purposes: to get them into the habit of thinking about their art every day, to provide them with the opportunity to verbalize ideas about acting and theatre, to provide a safe vehicle through which they can communicate thoughts they might not otherwise express. (Nobody except the writer and me reads the journals).

Going through the journals is always an interesting exercise. One of the things that I find is that there is direct correlation between the quality of work that the students do in class and the complexity and frequency of the thoughts that they put into the journal. Another thing that I find is that there are, particularly among those who are not yet fully committed to any of the arts, a number of statements that run something like, “I didn’t get a chance to think about acting today because [fill in excuse here].”

It is fairly well documented that successful artists are thinking about art, if not all the time, certainly every day. They may not be thinking about their artistic specialty, but sometime during the day, ideas about art, or their practice, or art business, or some aspect of art will have play in their minds. Some, like Minor White, try to make this a habit; he said, “I am always mentally photographing everything as practice.” Others just recognize it as habitual. Many have no choice; they can’t not think about art.

Reading journals this week set me to wondering how many of us who consider ourselves practicing artists make the same justifications for not at least thinking about art or our art practices on a daily basis. As these acting students will attest, it’s hard to keep your art on your mind every day; there are other things to do. And for us who are no longer formal students it is no different; there are a thousand other things that demand our attention: families, bills, chores, day jobs, and the list goes on and on. For some it is not situations that divert them from art, but mental or physical states: exhaustion, frustration, depression, anxiety, love, physical pain or disability. The distractors are manifold.

We can’t presume that those who are “successful” in the art world are living lives without all of those same distractors. All practicing artists have physical bodies and lives that are not perfect. Regardless of our situation, and we have to deal with it and keep making our art. Susan Holland makes this point very clearly in her blog “When Life Gives you Lemons…Paint!” on Empty Easel. Holland says that when life “kills the motivation to create,” the artist should “paint about it.”

The advice holds for any artist, of course. When life gets too painful or too distracting or simply in the way, incorporate it into your acting, or your directing, or your photography, or your novel, or your poetry, or your dance, or your music, or your choreography, or your sculpture. Use it. That’s what all those artists you admire have done. Think how disordered their lives are/were. Theirs, like ours, are/were messy and imperfect, but they have managed to create art anyway, sometimes even masterpieces.

If they can do it, we can do it too. If we are to call ourselves artists, we must.

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Truth in Art: a Necessity

Sunday, 30. January 2011 23:54

Recently I advised a group of actors that they needed to be honest in their characterizations and portrayals, which was essentially asking them to be truthful. That, on the surface of it, seems a rather strange request to make of actors, whose business it is to portray persons other than themselves. Yet we all have seen performances that were not truthful, that were not honest, that were not very good.

It had never occurred to me to generalize this idea to other arts until I ran across this quote by Stephen King in the Afterword to Full Dark, No Stars: “But when it comes to fiction, the writer’s only responsibility is to look for the truth inside his own heart. It won’t always be the reader’s truth, or the critic’s truth—as long as he or she doesn’t truckle, or hold out his or her hat to Fashion—all is well. For writers who knowingly lie, for those who substitute unbelievable human behavior for the way people really act, I have nothing but contempt.”

Not long after that, I was reading a short article about novelist, Julian Barnes. “He said about literature: ‘It’s the best way of telling the truth; it’s a process of producing grand, beautiful, well-ordered lies that tell more truth than any assemblage of facts.’ And he said that a great book ‘is a book that describes the world in a way that has not been done before; and that is recognized by those who read it as telling new truths — about society or the way in which emotional lives are led, or both.’”

So I thought about it. It seemed to me that, of course, the artist had to be truthful, had to be honest or otherwise produce art that was somehow fraudulent. Interesting theory, but was it valid? In the verbal arts, that was far more easily seen than in visual arts or arts that are considered more abstract, further removed from words. Did that exempt those arts from this requirement of truth? My instinct was that it did not. I found that others agreed.

In Darren Aronofsky’s recent movie, The Black Swan, choreographer Thomas Leroy comments to dancer Nina Sayers as they watch alternate Lily’s dancing, “Watch the way she moves—sensual—she’s not faking it.” The movie comes to be about, among other things, Nina’s search for that truth in herself that will enable her to dance the role of Odile without faking it. In ballet, at least Aronofsky’s version of ballet, truth is evidently important.

And then I found a CBS News article that quotes renowned street photographer Joel Meyerowitz talking about Vivian Maier: “She’s ruthlessly honest about what she sees. And I think she should be taken seriously.”

In his essay, “Art, Mere Things, and Truth Requirements” Michael Brady takes a more general approach as he discusses the necessity for truth in visual arts. While I have problems with some of Brady’s conclusions, he makes the point that visual art does indeed have a truth component, does, in fact, requires a truth component. With this I agree.

Not just writers of fiction and ballet dancers and street photographers, but all artists worthy of the name, must tell the truth as they see it. Whether it is some variant of verbal art, performance art, three-dimensional art, or visual art, it should be imbued with the artist’s truth. Although some approaches to art may make this honesty difficult to see, it still needs to be there. Part of what makes art worth our time is the artist’s truth that it displays and the connection that we, the audience, have with that truth. It’s a necessity.

Category:Aesthetics, Audience, Creativity, Photography, Theatre | Comment (0) | Autor:

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