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Edit Hard

Monday, 28. December 2015 1:04

Some people will tell you that art is hard. It is. While there is no question that art is more interesting and engaging than thousands of other jobs, it’s not easy. There are difficulties in every art: sculpture, photography, painting, writing, dance, acting, directing, choreography. Not only do all arts have predictable associated difficulties, but individual artists bring their own individual issues to the work. Yes, art is hard.

Among all of the difficulties associated with any given art, perhaps one of the hardest is editing. Some believe that editing is simply a matter of correcting a few obvious things and polishing a little. Such people, I would suggest, are either amazingly good or an amazingly bad artists. Or perhaps they are simply unaware that editing one’s work stringently will invariably make that work better.

Most of us create in flow or some other altered state, so often our art needs fine-tuning. Editing is the procedure by which we refine our previously rough work. It is not simply correcting a few obvious things and polishing; it is an exacting and difficult process.

The difficulty stems from the fact that we must look at our work with what amounts to new eyes. These “new eyes” give us the necessary objectivity and discipline to do the job. The task is to see and correct all flaws, lapses, inconsistencies, and omissions. We must complete all ideas that are incomplete and fill in any holes we might find. At the same time we need to cut away the irrelevant and unnecessary. Even digressions, perfectly acceptable in most art, must be made somehow relevant or removed.

While completing, filling-in, and modifying are sometimes tough, it’s the cutting-away that is the most difficult and causes the most concern. When we create, our minds make jumps and connections, which, while valid, may not be relevant to the current project. Such elements must be either brought into relevance or excised. Often, the latter is the correct solution, but it’s not easy, particularly when the portion to be removed is good work. Our inner editor, however, is telling us that because of a lack of relevance that good work needs to be on the cutting room floor.

But, as much as we dislike our own work—the case for many never-satisfied artists—it is still part of us and somehow deserves our protection. This means that our objectivity and discipline can never waver. We must cut out every scrap that does not contribute to the piece in question. We must look at every line, shape, action, stoke, step, movement, paragraph, and syllable to determine whether it contributes to the work or does not. If it does not, it has to go.

This does not mean, however, that those excised elements—particularly the good ones—have to be assigned to the trash; they just can’t be used in this project. Perhaps the excised portions can be stored—in a notebook or digital file or the back of the studio or a storage area or somewhere else. Perhaps they can be used elsewhere: perhaps they can add dimension to another project, or perhaps they can form the basis for an entirely new project. What they cannot be is part of the current work.

And that may cause us some angst and perhaps even some tears, but it has to be. We must edit hard. Only that way can our work be the best it can be.

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Seeing with New Eyes

Monday, 29. June 2015 0:04

One of the most difficult things that artists have to do is to look at their work with new eyes every time they review what they’ve done. While we might get away without doing this in the creation phase, it’s an absolute must in the editing phase of making our art. If we don’t bring new eyes to our work, we miss things, we wander off in nonproductive directions, only to wonder later how we missed this or that or the other thing. The explanation is simple; we didn’t see it.

Although I have tried to train myself to look with fresh eyes, I recently failed to see what was right in front of me. Another photographer for whom I have a great deal of respect offered a critique of one of my latest photography projects. He said that he thought the work looked “forced” (although he was not quite satisfied with that word). He is of the opinion that no matter how much time and preparation goes into the making of a photograph, the result should look effortless, an idea that I agree with and have written about. He went on to say that all of my work that he had seen up until this point had had that quality of effortlessness, but this project did not.

And he was right. I had had so much trouble with the project that I wrote about it, but thought that I had resolved it. And even though I thought that I had found the right new forms for this undertaking, I had known that something was not quite right with a number of the finished pieces. I had no idea, however, what that something was. He told me—at least what he thought. The conversation caused me to go back to my other work and examine it in a new light—never a bad idea. Once I had done that, it was easy to see what he was talking about with regard to this project.

Although I hardly ever think of apparent effortlessness as a separate component, I do think that is a quality of good art. I therefore try to make it a part of all my work. In this instance, I failed to do that. So then I had to deal with the why of that. And the why was that the project had been so difficult, had required the development of completely new structures, that I was ready to sign off on it before it was really done. Otherwise, I would not have had that uneasy feeling that something was not quite right.

The feeling was correct; something wasn’t quite right, but I was so ready to close the file on the project that I missed it. In this case, I needed someone outside myself to see with new eyes. Once he had done this and told me what he saw, it was glaringly obvious. The project is not finished.

All of this could have been avoided had I not gotten so wrapped up in the difficulty of the project that I forgot to look with new eyes. And that cannot be. If one is to produce really good art, one must approach the work at every session with fresh eyes.

It’s why we put things away before we put things away before we edit them—to give ourselves time to forget a little so it’s easier to look with fresh eyes in the editing process. And it’s certainly not true just for photography. No matter what medium we work in, we must approach our work daily with new eyes—if for no other reason than to insure that our vision is being properly realized. If it’s not, we need to stop and fix it. It’s not easy; it sometimes requires great effort. The results, however, are worth it.

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The Efficacy of Editing

Monday, 10. October 2011 0:16

Quite a lot has been written about nurturing, or unleashing, or developing individual creativity, depending on whom you read. Not much has been written about editing the output of that creativity. If you research editing (for art works) you will find very little. There are a few tips for writers out there, but for the others of us, there is virtually nothing. Almost everyone who writes about the creative process mentions editing, but no one discusses the topic in full. I, myself, have mentioned editing several times, suggesting most recently that editing will allow you to make your work definite, strong, and meaningful.

Editing is just as much a part of art as the inspirational or inventive part. For example, Walter Murch, editor of The Godfather, Part II and Apocalypse Now has said that film editing “could just as easily be called ‘film construction.’” Stories abound about Murch and other film editors who have, by changing the pace and timing and juxtaposition of shots, actually “created” the most interesting and moving parts of the films. And what is true of film is true of other arts as well. Playwrights edit their already “finished” work, modifying and rewriting until opening night and sometimes after it. If you are familiar with Project Runway, then you certainly are aware of the judges repeatedly advising designers to edit their work. These fashion professionals seem to believe that runaway creativity may be just as bad no creativity.

Editing shapes the raw material of creativity. And self-editing is far more difficult than editing the work or others. It is relatively easy to look at a piece by someone else and see things that, if changed, would make the piece better. That’s why publishers employ editors, to take the task away from the far-more-subjective authors. However, looking at your own work and finding those same things to change is far more difficult. I suppose this is because you are so close to the work and perhaps have an emotional investment in it. The other reason is that a lot of us try to edit as we go, which does not allow us to be far enough removed from the creation of the piece to be as objective as we need to be to edit effectively.

Ernest Hemingway suggested that we “write drunk; edit sober.” Whether you write or photograph or paint or sculpt drunk or just in the flow, it is likely that what you produce will be in need of editing. And good editing requires that you be sober and objective.

For me, really effective editing requires a time lapse. I have to have enough time to let go of the work and come back to it with fresh eyes. How long that is depends on the work and how much creative investment I have in it, but some time lapse is required. Whatever time lapse works for you, or whatever other method you develop for yourself, the key is to come to the work with fresh eyes. Only then can you summon the objectivity needed to really examine, modify, and improve your work.

Of course, when you learn to edit as part of the total creative process, you find that there will always be something to change. There is always a tweak that can be made to improve the piece. So along with editing, you have to develop a sense of when to stop. That is, you have to be able to determine when the process can be suspended and the artifact released.

While it is part of the process, editing not just one more phase of creativity; it is a separate function entirely—not completely divorced from creation, but not the same either. It is the refining of creative output. And for really good work it is an absolute requirement.

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The Most Beautiful Part of the Picture is the Frame

Monday, 13. June 2011 0:00

G. K. Chesterton said, “Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.” Frame has a number of meanings, but they all carry with them the idea of limitation.

First, of course, is the literal meaning of frame. Look at frameless images of paintings on the internet or in books and then examine the same paintings framed and hanging in a museum.  Aside from the difference of being in the presence of the real thing, you will find that the framed image actually looks different from the unframed one.

The impact of framing can be seen in something as simple as deciding what mat board and frame to put around a print. The mat and the frame so modify the image that many fine art photographers and print-makers demand only white mats and the simplest frames surround their images. For the same reason, many contemporary painters show their work sans frame.

The second meaning has to do with what is included within the boundaries of an image. Photographer Gary Winogrand said, “Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put 4 edges around some facts, you change those facts.John Sexton also talked about edges: “And then as I frequently do, some times I’ll peek out from underneath the focusing cloth and just look around the edges of the frame that I’m not seeing, see if there’s something that should be adjusted in terms of changing the camera position.

This notion applies not only to still photography. Martin Scorsese has said, “Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” And that is the essence of the matter for all arts. What is incorporated and what is left out determine what the art work is and what the art work is about. So framing is really editing: deciding what is to be included and what is to be excluded. It is a problem with which every artist is familiar, and perhaps one of the more difficult things to do in any art.

And third there is the idea of frame meaning the framework or the structure of the piece. Organizing the information of the artwork into a structure alters the facts of the art work. Again, as Winogrand commented, “putting four edges around a collection of information or facts transforms it.”

We can see this in nearly every art. The “wrapping,” the form of the piece transforms and controls the content of the piece. The ideas contained in some of Shakespeare’s sonnets is also are also found in some of his plays, but how different the experiences of reading a sonnet and watching a play are.

This is true even within a genre; one can find many different poets who tackle the same subjects, yet organize their poetry into different formats, which, in turn, modifies the meaning, creating unique experiences for their readers. Compare any of the first-person novels of Kazuo Ishiguro and the first-person novel The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen. Yes, there is a difference in material, but, more importantly, there is a great difference in the framing of the novels in question. Consequently, the novels impact the reader in very different ways.

Even a thing as simple as deciding where to put the act breaks in a play can significantly change the experience, if not the meaning of the play. Ask any producer who has tried to squeeze a three-act play into two acts with a single intermission.

So the issue of frames becomes not only how a piece of art is framed and the nature of that frame, but what the artist puts in and what he/she leaves out of the piece. And it also includes how that material is arranged and formatted. It’s an area of art that is discussed very little, but one that should be.

 

Category:Creativity, Photography, Theatre | Comments (2) | Autor:

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