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The Illusion of Simplicity

Monday, 8. September 2014 0:47

This post started with the thesis that good art is complex, which often means has many layers or many interactive parts. Some who agree with this position will talk about how much they enjoy discovering the intricacies of a piece, which increases their appreciation of the work.

Then two things happened: (1) during a conversation with an actor about the difficulties of producing the musical, The Fantasticks, the actor said, “But it has to look simple.” I said, “Yes it does.” What I thought was, “It always should; it should look effortless.” (2) At a juried art show reception that same week, I found myself looking at a stunning black-and-white land/seascape of the Galveston estuary. Another photographer was telling me, “He [the photographer who made the image on the wall] has been moving toward minimalism for a couple of years now.” Minimalism had not figured into my theory concerning complexity as a necessary characteristic of quality art. These incidents taken together caused me to rethink the whole idea, resulting in a new question: If complexity is one of the marks of quality art, then how does one explain Minimalism and similar sorts of work?

The answer came with the realization that the word complexity can have two applications in reference to art. (1) It can be apparent complexity, as in a work with many facets and/or layers and parts that interact on many different levels. This is the sort of complexity you might find in the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, Salvador Dali, or Jackson Pollock. (2) Complex can also be used to describe the process by which art is produced. American filmmakers, for example expend great effort to hide the artifice by which their work is created, opting instead—at least in most cases—for a story that is easily digested by the audience, allowing that audience to concentrate on the characters and the plot without having to be concerned with how difficult it was to create that seamless narrative.

And this second meaning of complex applies to some things we have already mentioned. We will work very hard to make not only The Fantasticks but any play, no matter how complex, look effortless, for much the same reason as the filmmakers. This is true of nearly any performing art; all seek to hide the difficulty of the task by employing the highest levels of expertise. Both performers and those behind the scenes do what they do with an apparent ease that belies the unending planning, training, preparation, and rehearsal.

Even though we think of them differently, visual and plastic arts are much the same. The photographer who made the piece mentioned above did not do so by simply setting up his camera in the grasslands and snapping the picture. If you are familiar with photography, you realize that this image was the result of a great deal of planning, better-than-competent execution, skilled post-processing, and expert printing, all so the result would be precise, clean, and minimal.

Whether it is a Buddhist raked rock garden or Donald Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum, the creation of such apparently simple things requires enormous imagination, planning, and expertise. But, just as in Hollywood films, the artifice is hidden.

So it turns out that good minimalist art, or any art that appears effortless or visually simple may not be simple at all; nor was it produced easily. The complexity and the effort are just hidden. If you’ve ever tried to this kind of work, you already know: simplicity is an illusion.

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Best of…

Monday, 13. January 2014 0:30

With the beginning of the year come the inevitable superlative lists of the year past which include lots of things, including the arts. You can find lists of the highest paid musicians, the highest paid visual artists, the most paid for an art work, the best movies, the best songs (in all categories), the best photographs, the best new whatever or whomever. Americans, at least, seem obsessed with “best-of’s.” There are even best of best of lists.

And, of course, most of these lists will evaporate just like New Year’s resolutions and mean about as much. Some will have impact, e.g. when a list of best movies is tied to this or that award, it means more money for the investors and perhaps a larger paycheck for the star on his/her next project. And some will even provide the winner with a plaque or trophy to display.

The impulse to look back and evaluate a past block of time is understandable. What is troubling about at least some of the lists that have been recently published, however, is the “small print,” or more accurately, the invisible print. Some organizations are up-front about what the rules and criteria are. The Academy Awards, for example, have page after page on rules and eligibility. The Golden Globe Awards do not seem as transparent, given the controversy over Scarlett Johansson’s ineligibility this year for her performance in Spike Jonze’s Her.

Many lists come with no apparent rules at all, but it doesn’t take long to discover the bias of the compiler. For instance, many “best photographs of the year” lists have crossed my newsreader screen in the last week and a half. Although some are travel images, most of them are really “best photojournalism of 2013” lists. The notable exception is Rangefinder Magazine, where the editors compiled several lists, and often organized those lists into categories.

There is certainly nothing wrong with photojournalism; it has produced some of the most memorable images ever made. What is wrong, at least in my mind, is to suggest, even by implication, that photojournalism comprises the totality of excellent photography created within a 12-month span.

Aside from the need to summarize the past, I suspect that the impulse to incorporate art works into lists are bragging rights—the ability to be able to claim that the compiler was the first to recognize the worth of a work that becomes iconic at some future date. But some of the most iconic works of art didn’t receive the prizes they were up for. Case in point: Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? did not win the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The lack of the award did not prevent the play from being one of the best of the twentieth century.

It is certainly a good feeling to appear on a list of winners, whether it is the list of those accepted to a juried show, or the list of those who won an award of some sort or a list of the best whatevers of whatever year.  But it’s not why we do what we do. It is doubtful that Scarlett Johansson took the role in her, thinking she might get a Golden Globe, just as it’s a stretch to believe that Albee sat down to write Virginia Woolf with a Pulitzer in mind. We make our art to say what we have to say in the best way we know how to say it using the best tools we have. Sometimes we make it onto a list; mostly we don’t. That’s just fine.

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

The Necessity of Fundamentals

Monday, 25. March 2013 1:31

While not a photographer himself, the chairman of the art department where I teach is adamant that the first courses in photography be done with analog cameras, black and white film and chemical darkroom processes. When I questioned him about this, he informed me that the departmental approach to photography would stay the same so long as he was chairman. This is an interesting position, given that a number of major universities have phased out their chemical darkrooms, and along with them, basic courses in analog photography.

And even though, for a number of reasons, I am not sure that I agree with his position, I understand the rationale. This is not a man who would insist that courses be taught this way because “it has always been that way.” Rather, it is because he believes that those analog/chemical courses teach skills that are necessary to a full understanding of the art and craft of photography. His department is in the business of teaching fundamentals.

This is exactly the same business that the drama department is in. It is our firm belief that solid fundamentals are necessary to success in theatre; the art chairman believes the same thing of visual and plastic arts. It is true of all arts. I don’t know a single choreographer, for example, who does not stress fundamentals; the same is true of musicians. The list is comprehensive.

We should build on solid basics in any art, and those basics should be broad. It is, in my opinion, impossible to be a good artist without some knowledge outside of our immediate specialties. Our department demands, for example, that drama students take courses not only in the areas that are of immediate interest to them, but in other areas as well. So technicians attend acting classes, and actors sit, sometimes uncomfortably, in technical theatre classes. Everybody builds and paints and sews and works on productions. Such broad exposure builds respect for those who work in other areas—an essential in a collaborative art, and very often the knowledge is put to good use. Occasionally, someone will discover an area with which he/she was formerly unfamiliar and decide that that is where they really ought to concentrate. Without exposure to the basics in all areas, these students would have no basis for such a decision.

Sadly, many artists do not see strong fundamentals as a necessity. They are not quite sure what an f-stop is. They only know one style of acting. They can’t remember all of the principles of design. Part of color theory is a little hazy. Getting exposure exactly right becomes a thing of chance.  They are convinced that there is no real need to learn stage directions. They can’t pick out a tune on a keyboard. The precise names of things elude them. Mastery of certain tools and techniques is beyond them. They are unconcerned with the very thing that holds them back: incomplete knowledge of basics. Unfortunately, without solid fundamentals, artists find it difficult to do really excellent work consistently, broaden their repertoires, or even communicate with other artists.

Strong fundamentals, like any solid base, give the artist a foundation to support his/her imaginative work without having to worry about the underpinnings. This then allows the artist the freedom to create and develop. Without strong basics, the artist is restricted and is likely to produce a very narrow range of work.

The same applies to any art. The more media types and styles and approaches we know, the better able we are to make the decisions necessary to create our art. The stronger our foundation, the higher the structure we can build on it. The more we know about the theory and history of our arts, the better able we are to put our own work in perspective. And such knowledge allows us to avoid wasting time doing work that has already been done, and allows us rather to build upon the work of those who have gone before. And such knowledge can give us freedom to move forward on our own. As a friend of mine said recently, “you can’t consciously break the rules unless you know what the rules are.

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Respect Your Audience

Sunday, 17. March 2013 23:25

A reader commenting on last week’s post cited the negative side of making the work match the movie in the artist’s head, and, in at least one case, re-working a published project once the technology became available. What is key here is the idea of re-working, re-doing, or modifying. When I wrote the original post, I was not thinking of work that had already been made public, but rather a work that existed nowhere except in the artist’s imagination. When the artifact already exists in the world, and the artist capitalizes on new technology or decides to modify that artifact for whatever reason, we have a completely different situation.

George Lucas decided that not only was he would use new technology to modify the original Star Wars trilogy in 1997, he would do so with a great deal of publicity and major re-release. If Lucas had done what other director/producers have done, he would have issued a “director’s cut” or “ultimate edition” on DVD when he found the technology, such as he did in 2004. This would have caused much less backlash. This is also the traditional way to make such changes in the cutting or modification of a movie.

Stephen King used a quieter approach when he rewrote parts of The Gunslinger, the first novel in The Dark Tower series. He modified the work, and the new edition was published—fairly quietly and with a full explanation from the author. Those who chose could pick up a copy of the rewritten work; those who were not interested could reread the copies they already had in their possession.

Lucas’ error, at least in my opinion, was concentrating on how he, the artist, felt about what had been and should have been created and ignoring the relationship between the audience and the artifact. Such a relationship develops, sometimes quite rapidly, and exists quite apart from any relationship the artist has with the artifact.

This is a lesson I learned not long ago. A collector of my work is also a person that I have to see fairly frequently in connection with my day job. One of my images hangs in his office, so I see it every time I visit. And every time I see it, I wince because I matted it “incorrectly.” Yes, it’s a detail; but to me, an important detail—something that was a “make it work” decision that doesn’t quite work anymore— for me. Finally I told him that I was thinking about re-matting it for him. He quickly informed me that I might see things that he didn’t, but that not only was he satisfied with the presentation, he actively liked it and would not appreciate my tampering with it. This made me re-think the whole idea. I can certainly modify matting for future prints of this particular piece, but I will probably leave his alone. It is, after all, his. He paid for it. He sees it every day and has feelings about it. I, on the other hand, see it only once in a while and in a completely different mental/emotional context.

If the piece in question is still in our imaginations, we can delay or modify or anything we want. If, however, the piece in question is in someone else’s possession or has been widely disseminated, we might want to be careful about modifying it. Just as the makers have a special relationship to the art they are making, so do the audience and collectors of those same pieces. The audience/collector relationship is very different, however. Someone sees something in our work that resonates, and decides that he/she has to own the piece in order to have that experience on a daily basis. Then that relationship further develops over time, and sometimes becomes just as passionate as that of the artist. And we, as artists need to be respectful of that relationship: it’s the very reason that we have an audience.

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

The Artistic Balancing Act

Sunday, 2. September 2012 22:51

On a recent episode of Project Runway, Michael Kors commented that fashion is always “about balancing art and commerce.” He went on to tell the emotional Elena Silvnyak, “this is your shining moment that you found the balance.”  Nina Garcia followed up with idea that successful design is “not about stifling creativity,” but about “being creative and taking chances” and balancing that with customer appeal. (This last phrase is my wording, not hers.)

Substitute “audience appeal” for “customer appeal” and the same statements could be made about not only about any of the performing arts, but about virtually any art. Certainly film must appeal to an audience if it is to be financially successful. Live theatre too has to fit within the range of audience acceptance, which, as any theatre practitioner will tell you, is contextual. Dance is the same way, as is music.

The same concept applies to visual and plastic arts as well. There are endless stories of paintings, photographs, and sculptures that received critical acclaim and did not please their immediate audiences. The photography of Robert Mapplethorpe jumps to mind, as does the David Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in My Belly.”

And, of course, much that is written, whether it is words or music, does not find an immediate audience beyond critics and a tiny group aficionados, sometimes for less than artistic reasons—consider the publication history of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Some of the art that was not initially well-received, or was prevented from being received at all by authoritarian intervention, has had to wait for years for general acceptance. Some has never received it, at least in certain localities, particularly if the subject matter is religious or sexual. For example, Nagisa Ôshima’s film, In the Realm of the Senses, released in 1976 and considered by some to be a cinematic masterpiece, still cannot be shown completely uncensored in Japan.

The fact that some art is not immediately accepted by a general audience certainly does not mean that that the work is not good, merely that it has not (yet) found its audience. The question for the artist is not about the quality of the work, but whether he/she has been able to balance creativity and the appeal of the work to a purchasing audience. Being ahead of your time may produce some masterpieces, and certainly some controversy, but often it won’t pay the bills. So the problem for the practicing artist—at least for the majority of his/her work—is to find that balance that Michael Kors mentioned, the equilibrium between artistic vision and audience appeal.

And finding that balance is difficult, regardless of your art. If you move too far in one direction, you find yourself pandering to the audience instead of really creating. You quit making art and start making artless commodities. Your work becomes all about chasing the dollar, or yen, or euro and not about all of those things that you used to think art was really about. For musicians, and maybe for others, it’s often called “selling out.”

If you move too far in the other direction, you lose your audience, and you may run afoul of censors, whether official or unofficial. You make things that may or may not garner critical acclaim, that appeal to a tiny segment of arts-appreciating community, but you move so far beyond the majority of members of that community that you find yourself unrewarded financially.

If you are compelled to say things with your art that will prevent that art from being appreciated by a paying audience—and many artists are—by all means do so, but with a full understanding of what you are doing. If, however, you want to say what you have to say and get paid for it, your dilemma is exactly the same one that Elena Silvnyak and every other artist with a strong point of view or a clear artistic vision faces—how to find that place where everything balances, where one can follow one’s vision and create, yet at the same time incorporate that creation into a form that an audience—and it certainly does not have to be a huge one— can understand, appreciate, and pay for. It may not be easy, or even doable, but it’s worth your time to investigate the possibilities.

Category:Audience, Communication, Creativity, Presentation | Comments (3) | Autor:

Actors and Salaries and Art, Oh My!

Monday, 9. July 2012 0:11

A headline attributed to Forbes appeared not long ago in my news reader summary: “Kristen Stewart’s Lavish Pay A Sign That Nobody In Hollywood Knows Anything.” It turned out that the headline belongs to an op/ed piece by Kyle Smith, a Forbes contributor. Smith’s position seems to be that Stewart, who topped the current Forbes Highest Paid Actresses List, earning $34.5 million, did not make a significant contribution to the films she was in. Smith cannot find connections between the high incomes of major movie stars and the number or earning power of the films in which they appear. Nor does he see any connection with branding of the films.

Anyone who has studied film should understand that movie-stardom and the quality level of film are not really related. Movie-stardom is about a relationship between a movie person and his/her audience. It has very little to do with acting ability, profitability, or anything other than celebrity. Sometimes, movie makers can cash in on that popularity and utilize it for marketing (Historically, it has been used as an aid to market stability); sometimes not.

Smith also seems to miss at least one point that Forbes staffer, Dorothy Pomerantz, in a business news article, “Kristen Stewart Tops Our List Of The Highest-Paid Actresses,” makes quite convincingly. Stewart is in demand; fans would allow nobody else to play Bella Swan in any of the latter Twilight films. Thus, she (and her co-stars) could command a significant salary and a percentage of the profits. And why would the studios not pay? Hollywood, after all, is (and has always been) about the money, and if the producers want the movie to make more money, they will give the potential customers what they want, and if what the customers want is the actors they are used to seeing, regardless of the level of talent or skill, then they are who appear on the screen. And that same fan base justifies a higher salary for these actors in other movies.

Putting any actor in any role is a gamble into which many factors play. As far as I can determine (without digging too far), at least nine other actresses were considered for Stewart’s role in Snow White and the Huntsman. Replacing any actor playing any character can and does change the nature of the film. The choice of Stewart, and her accompanying higher price tag, was not a chance thing done for no reason.

Another thing that is evident is that the money paid a person working on a film is not automatically related to “crafting a story.” Money in American film is allocated not in a way that will necessarily contribute to artistic improvement, but in a way that will make more money. One reader of Smith’s article points out that Forbes also nominated Stewart as one of the most profitable/bankable stars of 2011 because “she was netting an estimated $56 for every dollar she was paid.” That is a pretty good return on investment according to almost anybody’s way of thinking.

Aside from finances, there are a number of considerations in putting a film together, artistic considerations being only one. Creative projects, as any of us in the arts know, tend to take on a life of their own. Once you are committed to the project, we will do almost anything to bring it to life. In the case of movies, this involves many compromises and much collaboration. And it includes scheduling: is this actor available when we want to shoot? Do we modify the schedule? Do we find another actor? Will these actors working together make the project better or worse? Should we pay more for this person, material, location, or less for that person, material, location?  What is the nature and availability of our funding? What is our window of opportunity? How will modifications impact audience acceptance? How much are we willing to compromise? What about the project is really important? How badly do we want to do it?

In the end, what becomes important is completing the project, realizing our vision. And we do what we have to do to make that happen, whether we are collaborating with others to produce a multi-million dollar movie, a stage play, a concert, an art show, or working individually to produce a photograph, painting or sculpture.

 

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To Make Good Art, Find Your Type and Embrace It

Sunday, 29. April 2012 23:38

Last weekend, I was cameraman for an acting-for-film workshop. Among the issues that came up were questions and suggestions about auditioning and getting jobs. The instructor advised students to learn what type(s) they were and then go after roles that were that type. She went on to say that actors should be comfortable with what types they can and cannot play believably.

Her basis for all of this was that film is an intensely visual medium so it is very useful to know how you come across on camera. This enables you to go for roles that “fit” you physically, which means that you can be visually convincing for your audience. At the same time she said that the camera will pick up your personality whether you want it to or not, so it makes more sense to admit that your personality informs your work.

Essentially her advice was to find out who you are and who you can be and embrace that. It seems to me that this simple instruction might be sound advice for any artist in any medium. Perhaps those of us who are not actors need to discover who we are as artists and embrace that and let it inform all that we do artistically.

Perhaps then we can actually make art that represents us and our world view and our values and emotions and all of those things that we were going to do when we first started. And that would guarantee that we would put ourselves into our work. Perhaps then we can allow ourselves to ignore the fusillade of advice that bombards us daily about how to sell our work, how to advance our careers, how to modify what we do so it will better fit the marketplace.

But then what about those careers? How are we to sell what we make if all we do is make art that represents and pleases ourselves? The workshop instructor’s answer to this question was, “Money follows bliss,” another version of the more familiar “Money follows passion.” As simplistic as it sounds, almost every career guide echoes this idea. If we are blissful or passionate doing what we do, it is likely that that will come through, and we will do a better job and create better artifacts. And it is equally likely that viewers of our work will see the quality and the passion and reward us.

If we try to be all things to all people or if we try to produce whatever is trending in the marketplace, we do a disservice to ourselves and to our talent. And we may find that if we wander too far from our own “type” of art, from who we are, our work can become confused, unconvincing, forced, or trivial.

This certainly does not mean that we cannot change. Most of us do change; many of us evolve. Some of us care about different things at different times; those changes can certainly be reflected in our work. Others of us have much the same interests and concerns that we had decades ago, but we may develop new ways to express those concerns and interests. Regardless of who we are or how we express ourselves, what is important is that we allow ourselves to create work that reflects us, and does so honestly.

None of this means that we can disregard auditions or juried shows or gallery exhibitions or having an internet presence or networking. But it does mean that that we can believe in what we are presenting, that we know what we are offering is real and valuable and genuine—and ours. It may take a little longer to find our audience that way, but we can and we will.

 

Category:Audience, Creativity, Originality | Comment (0) | Autor:

Yes, Education Can Help You Appreciate Art

Monday, 27. February 2012 0:53

A friend of mine teaches high school English. This past week she was teaching poetry and had a student who was rather vocal about the silliness of poetry and how it was hard to read and why would you want to anyway. She asked him to read a part of a poem aloud and then suggested that he read to the punctuation rather than to the end of the line.  He did so. She said that she could literally see the light bulb going off. His assessment? “It makes so much more sense when you read it that way.” Now he got it. Poetry had become cool. It would never have been so without that small amount of education.

Having even a small amount of education about a work of art is not absolutely necessary for appreciation. The unlettered serf during the middle ages could appreciate a cathedral because of its size and grandeur, but think how much more there is to appreciate once you have educated yourself beyond “big and impressive.” If you know something of architecture, of art, of religious iconography, the architectural work can speak to you on more levels. And if you know even more, it is likely that it can speak to you on many more levels.

But do you really have to know something about the medium itself to appreciate the work? It may not be absolutely necessary, but it doesn’t hurt. I sometimes teach a course in the development of the motion picture. More than one student has told me after they completed the course that it changed the way they look at movies. Now that they have some idea about how film is put together and some background, they have developed a different perspective that allows them an appreciation that is both deeper and broader.

And what is true for poetry and architecture and film is also true for any art. The more knowledgeable you are about cultural history and art, and perhaps aesthetics, the better able are you to appreciate a work on more than the superficial level.

And, of course, if you are an artist, the more you know, the more layered and complex you can make your work, even if that occurs on a subconscious level. Just as mastery of the techniques of your medium allow you to create more complicated, more challenging works, so general knowledge gives you more to draw from and informs your work, allowing it to have a richness of meaning and operate on multiple levels at once.

Essentially, the more you know, the more you can do and the more you can enjoy—or not: the more you know the easier it is to spot crap. And that, even though it might reduce your enjoyment of certain work, is wholly positive. Artistic value is often assigned by what the work brings at auction or in the marketplace, and many times what passes for “good art” is really just one-dimensional junk.

You don’t have to have a degree in art either to make good art or enjoy it fully. The student in the opening story didn’t need a year’s study in poesy to appreciate a poem, just a better way to approach it. Having knowledge can help you better understand a piece of art.

The next step, of course, is the development of taste.

 

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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.

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

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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