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The Necessity of Commitment

Monday, 3. April 2017 0:29

There have been a number of posts here about obsession and the necessity of obsession for an artist (here, here, and here, for example). The problem is that obsession is not enough. Obsession does not necessarily engender action. There are a number of people whose obsession leads to nothing but mental preoccupation with whatever the object of the obsession happens to be. These people can include “artists” who sit around obsessing over the “next piece” but never actually doing anything about it.

What such artists need, in addition to obsession, is commitment to the work, a dedication to practicing their craft. It’s the thing that puts artists in the studio for x number of hours a day, every day. It’s the “going to work” part of making art. (In at least one previous post, I talked about the necessity of working at one’s craft—every day.) Artists have to show up and do the work whether there is inspiration or not, and that takes commitment. Commitment demands action, and action is exactly what artists need to move from the idea to the creation stage of art-making. The artist who is able to couple commitment and obsession is one who is likely to succeed.

A digital artist I know is completely obsessed with creating really intricate pieces; as far as I know, her obsession has never waned. However, not long ago she had a period of self-doubt; she was “down” for several weeks. But during all that time she never missed a day at the computer. She sat down and did her work, which she filed—because she felt that she was in no mental state to evaluate it properly. Fortunately her depression was short-lived, and soon she was back to her usual self. In the meantime she had continued working and had produced what turned out to be, with a little editing, some excellent pieces.

On his double album The Gold Medal Collection, singer and social activist Harry Chapin talks about Pete Seeger’s commitment. Seeger was committed not only to music, but to social activism as well. Chapin says (and it’s difficult to determine whether he’s quoting Seeger or commenting on Seeger):

Who are the people who are your best friends? Who are the people you keep coming back to? Who are the people who make your life worthwhile? Usually the people who are committed to something. So in the final analysis, commitment, in and of itself, irrespective of whether you win or not is something that truly makes your life more worthwhile.

Seeger and Chapin were talking about commitment to a cause bigger than oneself, but the same thinking applies to a person who is committed to his/her art (which is usually larger than oneself). It’s a person who doesn’t just think and talk about creating, but a person who does, a person who creates, a person who produces—and keeps on producing.

And to do that, the artist must be committed. And that commitment demands that the artist show up at the computer or the easel or the keyboard, or the sketchpad or the studio or the theatre or the rehearsal hall regularly and work at his/her art. The artist must follow the lead of Louis Armstrong, who said, “Even If I have two three days off, you still have to blow that horn. You have to keep up those chops… I have to warm up every day for at least an hour.” Artists must be committed.

The digital artist mentioned above said that she thought that sitting down and doing the work every day was responsible for her returning to normal quickly. We would do well, I think, to follow her example.

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

Professionals Practice

Sunday, 21. July 2013 22:09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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