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Get Out of Your Head

Monday, 16. May 2016 2:59

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Far Should the Interpretive Artist Go?

Sunday, 22. March 2015 23:49

In a discussion with a fellow director not long ago, the question of how far we can stretch in terms of interpretation of a playwright’s work came up. Of course, as we both freely admit, interpretive artists (directors, conductors, choreographers, actors, musicians, dancers) can’t not impose their own views on the material. The real question is how much can we impose.

It seems to me that there is a point at which the interpretive artist can impose a view that diverges from the playwright’s view to such an extent that it is no longer the work of the playwright, but rather the artist doing an original work that derived from or based on the script. At that point the artist is no longer an interpreting, but rather is creating an original, albeit derivative, work.

This position, of course, stems from my belief that the person interpreting the material owes a debt to the originator, that the production of a play or a piece of music is merely a (often asynchronous) collaboration with the playwright or composer. If the originator of the piece is not present to express his/her opinion of how the work should be interpreted, then the director or conductor is obligated to try as much as possible to create a true collaboration. Thus the research and reading and studying. Thus the necessity of dramaturgy to perhaps discover what the play or composition is really about and what the playwright intended.

And with collaboration comes the responsibility of the collaborator. In an earlier post, I described that responsibility this way: “each member of the team must be sure that he/she is consistent in terms of his/her contribution to the project and that he/she is moving in exactly the same direction as all the other artists in the project. Anything less is inappropriate, insufficient, and likely to cause the project to be far less than it might have been.” The playwright, like it or not, present or not, is a member of that creative team.

This is not meant to exclude all creative input from the director; there is still plenty of opportunity for that. Sometimes that opportunity is the interpretation or reinterpretation of a piece to make it more relevant to a modern audience. That is certainly legitimate, provided that it does not alter the meaning of the piece. My belief has always been that the goal of the director is to realize the intent of the playwright in so far as he/she is able to determine it, not to supplant that intent with his/her own.

Of course interpretation or reinterpretation is far easier when the playwright is dead; live ones have a tendency to have an opinion—that may, in fact, vary from that of the director. Recently there have been instances of at least one playwright forcing cancellation of his plays because of the director’s interpretation.

In another earlier post, I called playwrights and composers “the most vulnerable of all artists” because they must rely on others “to understand the nature of their art and pass it along to the audience.” This puts them in the position not only of being misunderstood, but of having their work “modified, and perhaps distorted.” I believe it must be up to the interpreter to insure that such distortion does not occur.

And that, to my mind, describes how far an interpretive artist should go: only as far as he/she can without modification or distortion of the originator’s meaning and intent.

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“It Always Comes Together”

Sunday, 9. March 2014 22:15

That’s what a musician who has played every musical that I have directed for the past several years said that to me recently after a particularly brutal first-night-with-the-band rehearsal. It was in response to the look on my face as I was about to give notes. And, in all fairness, it (the play or the musical) does come together more often than not. But it doesn’t always, and it is decidedly not an assured outcome.

There are two reasons that someone would feel assurances such as his may be necessary: the first is that the week before opening (or before first previews if that is part of the production plan)—when all the pieces get put together—is particularly chaotic. Costumes are added. Makeup is applied. Rehearsal props are replaced with show props that don’t feel quite the same in the actors’ hands. In musicals, the band comes in and is louder and plays music that is far more complex than the rehearsal pianist played. Light cues happen, sometimes not quite correctly, then get refined. Sound cues happen and are modified. Microphones are added and adjusted on the fly. And during all this, the director wants the actors to not only adjust to all the new things, but to turn out better and better performances that are more energetic, funnier, sadder, more nuanced than the ones before. And that same director seems not satisfied with anything that happens on the stage and is not hesitant about informing the entire company. So it seems as if it may not happen at all.

The second reason that it seems that “it always comes together” is because, more often than not, it does. And it seems to be a bit of a miracle. It’s one of the things that movies and live theatre have in common. In fact, someone at this year’s Oscar™ ceremony said as much. From the outside—and sometimes from the inside as well—it certainly seems miraculous.

But it is not really a miracle, and that it will, in fact, come together cannot be taken for granted. Stage productions and movies, and probably all performances come together because the production staff never stops working and refining and tweaking and polishing and because they don’t let the performers ever stop doing exactly the same thing. They know that if they falter or let up, the performance will never reach its potential.

The problem of performance production is that all of the component pieces and the people who represent them have to fit together much like a gigantic multi-personalitied jigsaw puzzle. If they don’t fit, the production will suffer. And if the production suffers, then all the work, while not exactly wasted, will not fulfill the artistic vision of the production team. So sometimes the pieces have to be hammered into place, modified, replaced, shaved and reset, or sanded slick. People have to be persuaded, cajoled, convinced, coerced or manipulated into doing what is necessary to make the show happen.

But occasionally even the best of production teams, even those with great experience cannot bring the pieces together. And when that happens, even if the production does not fail, the play or musical or movie or concert is not what it could have been.

It’s really no different than the production of any artifact, except that it is a group effort—in some cases, a very large group—instead of the work of an individual artist. And we all know that no artist is immune to the occasional failure. And when that happens, those of us in performance do exactly what any painter, novelist, photographer, or sculptor would do in a similar circumstance: scrap what must be scrapped, salvage what is salvageable, and move on to the next project, because we know that there are no assurances that “it will always come together.”

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Trash It!

Sunday, 8. December 2013 23:27

There are times in the life of a project when things are not going the way we would like. Every working artist experiences these times. The question is what to do about them. Do we forge ahead? Do we modify our approach? Do we change our technique?

The answer probably depends on the nature of the project and the exact difficulty. Sometimes all it takes to get things moving again is rewriting a sentence or changing a brush. Other times it may mean concentrating a little harder, thinking further ahead of ourselves, doing some more research, editing more severely. In extreme cases, what some consider unthinkable may be the best choice: trashing what we have and starting over. This option is unthinkable only because it requires that we admit that what we have is not good enough and probably cannot be made good enough following the current path. And that’s a form of failure, and most of us don’t want to admit failure as a possibility, even when making that admission, trashing our present effort, and starting over might well be the most efficient way do our best work and complete the project.

Starting over does not mean that we must deal with a different topic, or even have a different approach. It is simply the admission that we need a fresh canvas, metaphorical or literal, on which to bring the project to life.

Michael G. Moye told me once that he knew that he was writing well if he threw away 10 pages for each page he kept. He was not exaggerating; he meant it quite literally. At that time he wrote longhand on legal pads. His approach was a form of severe editing-as-you-go. He would write a page, look at it, and if it was not to his liking, throw it away and begin again. He is a consummate craftsman.

Since most of us don’t have Moye’s discipline, we have difficulty deciding when to crumple the paper and start over and when to just strike out a portion and re-work what’s left. Probably the earlier we make that decision, the more efficient our workflow will become. Instead, most of us put that decision off as long as possible, clinging to the hope that we will be able to make what we have done so far work. Putting it off can have serious implications

For example, I once heard a director, at the end of final dress tell her actors to take a short break and come back because they were going to re-block the first act—of Scapino! For those of you who don’t speak theatre, she was going to change the movement pattern for the first act of one of the most physical shows in the canon on the night before the show opened.  For that director, the prospect of putting what she had seen in rehearsal in front of an audience was more onerous than the pain and effort of re-blocking an entire act. She had waited until the very last possible moment to start over; the result was a very unhappy company going into an opening with a complete lack of confidence.

It takes a long time and a lot of “almosts” before an artwork is actualized. We must be willing to admit that not every attempt is going to make it all the way to the finished piece and that we have to be ready to trash what we have and begin afresh if the situation demands it. Sometimes that is the most efficient and effective way to realize a project.

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Stuck? Adopt a New Model

Monday, 7. October 2013 0:30

Among the many recent articles about John Boehner was one saying that Speaker Boehner’s problem was that he was using an old model that really didn’t work anymore.  This, of course, caused me to think about all those we shake our heads over because they too are using outdated models: the teachers who don’t understand why the techniques they used 10 years ago don’t work anymore, or the business man who is perplexed because his 20-year-old methodology doesn’t attract customers the way they used to.

And this, in turn, got me thinking about artists who are doing exactly the same thing: relying on old models when what we need are new ones—if we really want to succeed. This is not a suggestion to chase the most recent fad, but to evaluate and embrace what is new, fresh, exhibits potential, and will allow us to better speak to our audience.

Artists who depend on ticket sales do this. A friend who is a stage director was just this week lamenting the fact that there are number of good shows that can no longer be successfully produced—except as period pieces—because the plot hinges on a device that is no longer recognizable to the audience or because the subject matter no longer speaks to us. This same idea is also reflected in the gross structure of plays: nobody writes five-act plays anymore because audiences reject them—for a variety of reasons, and those that exist usually have to be modified to appeal to today’s theatre-goer. So theatre people who want to keep producing are forced to let go of the old and find new models.

Some artists don’t want to give up the old, so they attempt to combine it with and the new. For example, contemporary productions of Shakespeare are often set in a time and place different from those suggested in the script. Or they are given a twist to make them more appealing to today’s audience. The same thing happens with the holiday classic, The Nutcracker. And the same is true of visual arts: a photographer may use an obsolete technique to comment on an aspect of modern society, or a painter may use an antiquated methodology as part of his/her statement.

Several artists, Hazel Dooney and Marie Kazala among them, tell us to sidestep the old model for distributing art work; they advocate selling directly using every electronic and social networking means available. Although slow to learn, the music industry and now perhaps, even the movie industry are realizing that the only way to cling to old models is through the courts, and that perhaps a more productive approach would be to adopt new models for the distribution of the art they represent.

And it’s not just about distribution. Sometimes embracing the new leads to better work. A friend who is a painter recently attended a workshop where she learned not only some new techniques, but also learned of a brand new medium—a new kind of paint that allowed her to do things on paper and canvas that she had never been able to do before. Since she embraced the new material and the model that went with it, the quality of her work has soared.

Some, of course, will argue that the old ways are better. Perhaps, but if they cannot help us connect with our audience, no matter what kind of art we make, then we really are making art only for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with that unless we want to share our artistic vision with others.

This is hardly a new idea. Each successive artistic movement has been a reaction to what that generation of artists thought was lacking in the previous generation, or was about the development of new ways of presenting what the artist envisioned. Each generation has adopted new models. And now it’s our turn. The world has, in the words of Roland Deschain, “moved on,” and we would do well to move along with it.

 

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

Art is Not Just a Matter of Preference

Sunday, 15. September 2013 23:44

When I was an undergraduate, I had an English professor who said that the accomplished student of literature should be able to read a poem and separate the quality of the work and whether or not it was personally appealing. The implications, of course, were that not all poetry is created equal and that liking something has nothing to do with whether it is good or not.

This has not been a popular position in the postmodern world, where all work is pretty much equal. And although postmodernism is, according to some, dead, it left a legacy. Daniel C. Dennett has said, “Postmodernism, the school of ‘thought’ that proclaimed ‘There are no truths, only interpretations’ has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for ‘conversations’ in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.”

And as elevated as the egalitarianism of postmodernism sounds, most of us who work in the arts know that it simply isn’t true. There is good acting and bad acting, good directing and not-so-good directing, good writing and bad writing. There are, in fact, qualitative differences in the performing arts. And other arts are no different. Given that, the problem is articulating what constitutes good art and less good art, and that, in turn, requires that we be able to distinguish art from non-art.

Although many have attempted this, novelist Leo Tolstoy is one of the few who not only distinguished art from non-art, but articulated the conditions which determine the qualitative levels of art. Tolstoy collected his views in a book called What is Art? It is not an easy read. Fortunately, Maria Popova has summarized and presented Tolstoy’s ideas in a recent posting to Brain Pickings. Essentially, Tolstoy said that art is a union between the artist and viewer or receiver of the art that allows the receiver to feel and experience the feelings and experiences that the artist put into the work. Additionally, this union works not only in one era, but across time and cultures. He says that what distinguishes real art is the presence of this infectiousness.

He goes on to say that the stronger the infection, the better the art, and that the degree of quality is dependent on three conditions:

  1. The individuality of the feeling being transmitted. (More is better.)
  2. The clarity of the expression. (Clearer is better.)
  3. And the sincerity of the artist. (Sincere is better.) This is the most important condition.

Sincerity in Tolstoy’s view is what gives art it’s power and is the source of its infectiousness: “The chief peculiarity of this feeling is that the receiver of a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that he feels as if the work were his own and not someone else’s — as if what it expresses were just what he had long been wishing to express. A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist.”

Whether or not we fully agree with Tolstoy, or even understand him, most of us instinctively know that all art is not created equal. There is excellent work and there is crap, and there are all sorts of levels in between. Most of us know that. It’s time that we quit pretending that it’s all about individual expression and acknowledge that Tolstoy has a point. Art is not just a matter of preference.

Category:Aesthetics, Quality | Comments (1) | Autor:

When You Steal…

Monday, 2. September 2013 0:25

Artists steal. It’s well documented. It’s a topic that has come up a couple of times before (here and here). But it occurs to me that some may not know exactly how to steal—artistically speaking, so here are some guidelines.

  1. Only steal things that are useful. One of the side effects of meeting new artists, or new people in general is that you are introduced to ideas, approaches, and working methods different from your own. That can be both invigorating and confusing. More importantly, it can cause you to re-evaluate your own approaches and methods. Some people adopt every new thing they find, only to discover later that it is not useful to them. Just because it’s new and appealing and available doesn’t make it necessarily worth taking.
  2. Don’t be afraid to cherry pick. Just as important as re-evaluating your own methods is the necessity for evaluating those new ideas before you appropriate them. Over the last couple of years, for example, I have had the opportunity to observe several other stage directors working. In a number of cases, I observed techniques and approaches that I could never embrace. But occasionally, I encountered an idea that is so good I wonder why I had not thought of it myself. (There’ a whole blog in that question.) Choose carefully what to steal.
  3. Take care in implementation. Once you have found something worth stealing, you have to figure out how to implement it. Do you just apply it wholesale? If you get a new procedure, what do you do with your old procedures–throw them out, rearrange, modify? And if you do any of those things, what does that do to your rhythm and flow? Because, no matter now good an idea may be, if adopting it throws you off your game, it’s not practical to adopt it. You may also discover surprises as you implement new procedures. Consider all the consequences before you adopt new processes.
  4. Adapt what you take. Unless you are completely dissatisfied with your present procedures and approaches, adapt the new ideas. That way you can build a better method, approach, procedure for yourself. An example: the other evening, I walked into a rehearsal and saw the stage manager taking notes on an iPad using a full-sized portable keyboard. What a great idea! But before I ordered one, I had to ask myself if I would really carry around a full-size keyboard, even if it was super-thin and super lightweight. No. Too cumbersome for me. But the idea was too good to let go—adaptation was required; it turns out that several manufacturers make iPad cases with built-in keyboards. They aren’t full-sized, but, according to their users, they are far superior to typing on a touch screen. This would be a far better solution for me, since I have no problem carrying around an iPad.
  5. Keep your good stuff. Some will completely throw out what they are doing and how they are doing it when they discover something new. This sometimes happens, for instance, when actors discover Sanford Meisner; they completely discard their former training and replace it with the Meisner technique. Other actors add Meisner’s ideas onto the base they have already built, then add features from multiple philosophies to create their own unique approaches. If something is working for you, don’t throw it away. Add to it.
  6. Remember where you’re going. When evaluating a new approach, consider your own goals and procedures. Are yours the same as the person’s you are stealing from? Will these new ideas allow you to achieve your own goals more easily? Or will they require that you modify your goals? And if they do, is modifying your goals something that you really want to do? Again, don’t throw out what you have just to accommodate untried appropriated ideas. Go back to step 4.

Stealing, you see, is not just a matter of seeing and taking. It requires a significant amount of evaluation and caution as well as care in implementation. When judiciously applied, it can, however, be one of the most useful skills that an artist can possess.

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New Beginnings

Sunday, 25. August 2013 23:19

If you have an academic day job, as I have, you know that it is the beginning of the new school year.  It’s the time for meetings and planning and looking ahead. People have ideas about how to do it differently this time. They are certain that this year will be better and that more and better education will occur. Almost all of my academic colleagues are of the same mind. And even if you have a twelve-month gig, as I do, it’s still very like the New Year. Everyone has new resolutions, new approaches, new techniques that they are anxious to try. And the good news is that we also get a new year at the same time everyone else does, because—at least in most places—the New Year brings a new semester, and we get, yet again, to start over.

But academics are not quite as lucky as artists. As artists we get to have a new beginning every time we start a new project. Never mind that there are three projects in limbo and two others in progress, every new one offers a brand new beginning, so every time we have an idea that we decide to pursue, we have the opportunity to make it better than we ever have, adding new ideas and experiences to this newest piece of our work.

Actors get a fresh start with every new role. Each new production is a new beginning, even if they have played the role before. There are new things to learn, new approaches to the character, new techniques for communicating the new insights to the audience, and again, new life experiences and new ideas to bring to the stage or screen this time around.

As it is with actors, so it is with directors and choreographers: a new show means a new approach, a reevaluation of old ideas, a fresh canvas, a new opportunity. A new production means a new beginning, even if it’s an old problem, a work that has been done before repeatedly. And if it’s a new piece, that’s even better. Even if you’re working with the same actors or dancers or singers that you collaborated with on the last project, there is new opportunity that can only happen with new material. And that new material provides an even more exciting chance to try out new ideas, new methodologies.

So it is for painters, photographers, sculptors, print makers. Artists are fortunate. Unless they are remarkably imaginative, most non-artists are confined to one renewal a year—on January 1; academics often get two. Artists get to have a new opportunity every time a new project comes up, which, thankfully, is quite often. Even if it’s the same subject matter, or the same series, or the same technique, or the same philosophy, each new work presents the occasion to do something new, something different, something that will advance our art.

There are many advantages to being an artist, not the least of which is the structure of the work. Many jobs require continuing attention to an ongoing never-changing stream of data or sales or development or whatever. Art, on the other hand, while equally never-ending, divides itself conveniently into projects. And in that is salvation. As artists we are not confined to the treadmill of continuous mind- and soul-numbing repetitive work. Rather, we originate, develop, and complete a project, then move on to the next one. And each interval between provides a respite, and each new project provides a renewal, a freshness, a new beginning.

We are indeed fortunate to be in almost constant renewal. What other profession presents that possibility? So let’s take a moment to appreciate the structure of our work. Here’s to new beginnings.

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Stepping Into the Unknown

Monday, 24. June 2013 0:37

A recent Brain Pickings article by Maria Popova quotes a number of writers, including Rainer Maria Rilke, John Keats, Debbie Millman, and Anaïs Nin who encourage their readers to embrace the unknown, with Nin proclaiming “the vital importance of allowing for not-knowing in order to truly know the world in its fullest dimension, of using the unknown as a gateway to deeper presence and greater awareness.”

Whether stepping into the unknown is enriching or not, for many artists it is a necessary part of creativity. It’s an area we don’t much discuss. We often think about artists as working from an idea, from a preconception, of from a plan. And certainly some artists do that, but others don’t. Others just take the materials that they have and start fitting the pieces together, start playing, start improvising, and art happens. This is not to say that these artists are working blindly. Rather they are using their materials according to their training and aesthetic to make pieces that satisfy in some way; then they show them to the world, believing that someone will grasp some part of what is going on.

For example, Juri Koll had an opportunity to watch Herb Alpert (musician, painter, sculptor) work. Writing for Huffington Post Arts & Culture, Koll said “The beauty in watching him do it was the fact of allowing things to play out as the materials, surfaces and motions dictate. Nothing preconceived. ‘When I paint or sculpt,’ he [Alpert] says, ‘I don’t have anything in mind. I don’t have a goal in mind other than form. I’m looking for that form that touches me and when I find it I stop.’”

Alpert summarizes his approach on his web site: “Painting and sculpture is very much like music, in the sense that I’m looking for composition, I’m looking for harmony, I’m looking for transpositions. I want the canvas to swing.” His sculptures swing as well;” The Los Angeles Times says they are “like visual jazz.”

Many artists adopt a methodology similar to Alpert’s, although perhaps not so consciously. For some there is planning, and a preconceived notion. For instance, dancers work out the demands of the choreographer. But the choreographers work from a score—the product of a completely different discipline, which provides almost no guidance. Actors work at the suggestions of the director. And the directors work from a script, the equivalent to the choreographer’s score, but the interpretation of that script is unknown territory.

Even the actor, who we normally think of as doing directed work, has to face the unknown. He/she is given the words to say and perhaps some direction as to how to say them, but the real work of the actor, creating a complete human being in front of a camera or on the stage is really a step into the void. The script and the director provide hints, but the movement from self to character requires moving into uncharted space, into areas that are not only unknown but frightening.

No less frightening is sitting down at a computer to fill a blank page with words or create imagery, or leaning over a canvas, beginning a sculpture. And each shift in materials, subject matter, or methodology represents a step into the new and unfamiliar. But we all have to do it. If we are to be really creative and really make art, we must not “grasp for the security of our comfort zones, the affirmation of our areas of expertise, the assurance of our familiar patterns.” We must take a deep breath and step into the unknown.

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Stop Agonizing Over Artistic Choices

Sunday, 9. September 2012 22:49

While many of us worry, belabor, and delay in making choices, Malcolm Gladwell in Blink, encourages us to trust “rapid cognition,” the ability to make judgments about people and situations in two seconds. It is what most of us call instinct or intuition. Gladwell does not care for the word intuition, because he considers intuition an emotional response. Instead, he makes the case that what we are doing when we meet someone for the first time, or respond to an item for sale is taking in information and making rational decisions very, very quickly.

Gladwell may well be right. Many artistic choices are made very rapidly. I constantly tell actors that although they often are given a full minute or more to do an audition, most directors have made up their minds in the first fifteen seconds. Occasionally, an actor will do something later in an audition that will arouse the interest of the auditor, but those occasions are rare. What most directors will have decided in that short amount of time is whether they think they will want to use this person in the current production. They may well make the final decision during callbacks, but the initial cut is made very quickly.

Whether casting a show or selecting a piece of art, once the initial decision or set of decisions is made, most of us waste a good deal of time doing one of three things: (1) pretending that we have not decided anything at all and going through our conscious decision-making processes to arrive at the same conclusion we have already made, (2) trying to justify the decision by finding “acceptable” reasons, or (3) trying to articulate to ourselves why we have made the decision we have made. It only complicates matters when we have to articulate the reasons for our decisions to others.

For example, casting a show is a very complicated business that involves not only how good a particular actor seems to be—considering all the things that cause an actor to be “good,” but how that actor will fit with other actors auditioning for the same show to create the best possible ensemble for the best possible show, given the current circumstances. If the director can trust his/her initial decisions, rather than engaging in any of the three activities mentioned, life is far less difficult.

Because I work in educational theatre, I have to give actors critiques on their auditions. In advising an actor what he/she could have done to have improved his/her chances of getting a role in this production—and, by extension, improve chances for getting a role in the next production, I am sometimes forced to address those things that I considered when making casting decisions.  It is a difficult thing because so much of that decision-making is out of consciousness. I find that I almost have to relive the audition to slow everything down and discover what I was thinking so I can then verbalize it.

Some decisions do not seem to come so quickly: some set designers fret over where to put the chair; some costumers or fashion designers can’t decide whether the outfit needs a belt or not; some painters have difficulty picking the right shade of blue for the piece on the easel.  Just recently, for instance, I was having difficulty in deciding which photographic image to include in an upcoming show. I could see merits in both and was switching back and forth, unable to come to a conclusion. Deciding to discuss it with a friend, I realized, once I started verbalizing the reasons for my thinking, that there were a number considerations involved in the choice and that my initial choice had taken those into account and been the correct one all along. Had I trusted my original choice, I could have saved a great deal of time and angst.

Gladwell says that he wants people to take rapid cognition seriously and that doing so would change our lives. Perhaps it would. Some of us already do this—some of the time. But other times we get lost in self-doubt and second-guessing our processes.   Perhaps we could do better work and even be more productive if we stopped agonizing over every artistic choice and allowed ourselves to trust in our own quick decision-making abilities.

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

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