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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:

Less than Successful as an Artist? Consider Reducing your Output

Monday, 12. December 2011 1:38

As you may know, there is currently a glut of advice to artists. It doesn’t matter what sort of artist you are, or what medium you work in, advice is abundant and easily found. Some advisors want to charge you for their words of wisdom; others will happily give you their opinion for free. Almost all of the advice out there boils down to one thing: be prolific; produce and then produce some more. This is always followed by sales advice, which is a whole subject unto itself. Lately, however, I have come across suggestions that perhaps high-volume output may not be exactly what we need to be doing.

This is not to suggest that you can become an expert in any less than the 10,000 hours that studies suggest are required to gain expertise in any field. But it is to suggest that in order to be successful, or influential, or even famous, you do not necessarily have to produce a new piece of art every week. Real art takes time, and often requires repeated tries to get it right. And unless you are a hack, my guess is what you want to put out into the world is work that is right, or as close to right as you can get it.

And I am serious about the successful, influential or famous part. Consider, for example, that Dutch painter Jan Vermeer produced less than 40 canvases during his lifetime, or that award-winning poet Grace Paley produced only three books in her thirty-year career, all three of which were critical successes. Robert M. Pirsig has written exactly two books, at least one of which may be the one of the most influential philosophical writings of the twentieth century.  Harper Lee produced a single book: To Kill a Mockingbird. Even Leonardo da Vinci completed “only about 15 paintings in his whole lifetime.”

There are a number of reasons for this level of output. Some artists may have said what they have to say and feel that to keep making unsubstantial work is a waste of time and energy. Some are involved in other equally important activities. Such was the case with Grace Paley: “Part of the reason she had such a small output is that she was busy with other things , not just raising kids but working as a peace activist.”

Sometimes it’s the nature of the work. Daniel Grant in his article “The Art World’s Slowpokes” lists seven contemporary artists with relatively small annual output: William Beckman, Barbara Dixon Drewa, Audrey Flack, Don Eddy, Candace Jans, Scott Pryor, Douglas Safranek. All of these artists are photorealistic painters, an art which require painstakingly detailed painting, which, of course takes enormous amounts of time.

Christina Patterson says that, based on his writing in his notebooks, Leonardo “thought, like all great artists, that nothing he did was ever good enough. He knew that people who thought their work was good enough were nearly always wrong.”

So it’s a matter of quality and judging what is good enough to show other people, at least according to Leonardo. It’s a novel concept in an era when every image that a photographer produces and every painting that an artist makes appears instantly on Tumblr, or whatever the current “in” website is. And if we’re so busy producing that we lose sight of quality, maybe it’s time we reevaluate. Ansel Adams said, “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” Maybe that’s something that we should all think about.



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Nor is Making Art for the Tentative

Monday, 3. October 2011 0:19

Several weeks ago I proclaimed that “making art is not for the timid.” It was a post about making choices and presentation. Recently I was reminded that there are other ways timidity gets in the way of making art.

Not long ago a friend invited me to a ceramics studio for a charity event. It was for a good cause, and I have a quiet interest in things ceramic so I went. It turned out that my friend, who is a beginning ceramicist, was at one of those places we all get to in whatever art we do where nothing seems to go right. But he was game, and kept throwing and working the clay and not succeeding. I watched.

There were seven people throwing and, although they all had the same instructor, each person had a different approach and rhythm in working with the clay. It was instructive to watch individual methodologies. My friend was not having a great day. I watched for an hour or so and then went on to do other things.

We got together later for drinks. He said that he had been progressing well for a good while and then hit a stumbling block and now nothing worked. He was trying to determine exactly what was wrong, and had, after I left, talked to more advanced potters, few of whom had concrete advice but all of whom were encouraging. He was a bit discouraged. I claim no knowledge at all about ceramics, but I had noticed one thing: he was tentative. It was as if he was afraid of the material or what he might do to it. It was my single uninformed critical observation, and we soon moved on to other things.

Being tentative is an easy thing to do. You are worried about not succeeding, and because you are worrying, you hold back; you decline to commit to the work. You become tentative, you begin to falter; then your work falters. Your brush strokes are not firm and confident, so you painting is not what it could be. You are hesitant in postproduction so your photographic images are less than you envisioned. You decline to make choices and your acting is not interesting. You waver in selecting words so your writing is weak and not at all what you wanted it to be.  And it’s all about being afraid.

You have to be aware that if you set out to make art, you will fail somewhere along the way, and you need to be ready. As Ken Robinson says, “if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”  It may be that you have difficulty learning a technique. It may be that you have temporary coordination issues. It may be that you are afraid of embarrassing yourself. It may be that you are not concentrating.

There are hundreds of things that will cause you to do less than your best work, but the one thing that you can do is resolve to make each element of your approach strong and confident. I do not mean that there can be no delicacy in your work. Sometimes that’s when strength in resolve is the most important. Make your choices and follow through fully, strongly, confidently. Approach your work as did author Edith Pargeter, “with absolute conviction.” And the odds are that you will be right, or certainly more right than if you had held back.

My friend took a week off, then went back to the studio. By then he had thought about his approach, and decided to modify his timing, adjust his technique, and be less hesitant. He was suddenly back on track. At least a third of his problem had been tentativeness. Don’t let it be yours.

Category:Creativity, Originality | Comments (6) | Autor:

The Creative Process of Others – Can It Be Useful?

Sunday, 25. September 2011 23:51

The other day I had lunch with an actress who had just come from an audition with an internationally renowned playwright. It had gone well and she was, needless to say, excited. We talked about the meeting, what it meant to her, what it might mean to her future. She, at one point said, “I’d like to ask him how he gets from idea to paper; I’d like to know what his process is.” The first thing I thought, but did not say, was “what would be the point of that? Your procedure and his can have nothing in common, since he is a playwright and you an actor. Knowing his process might be interesting but it has no real application, and besides, he probably doesn’t know how he does it.” But then I gave the matter some more thought.

My original response was grounded in the notion that every artist, no matter what medium, has a very unique individual process. Additionally, the process which works for one type of project will not work for another. I know that my process in directing a play is far different from my process for writing, which is, in turn, far different from the process used in creating a photographic image. Actually, the process used in photography, for me at least, varies with the type of photography and image that is being created; likewise the playmaking process morphs depending upon the work being staged and the actors with whom I’m working.

And the process is so internalized as to be nearly impossible to tease out. Most of us work on what is really a subconscious level when we are creating, but there are still conscious elements that influence the paths we choose in creativity. If you talk with an artist about his/her process, the response is often something like, “I paint from 9 til noon, have a little lunch, and then paint another two hours,” or “I get up at four and write for three hours before I go to work.” You get descriptions of the structure or pattern that surrounds the actual process. Even these patterns seem to be highly individual; what works for one person won’t work at all for another.

And still, we are talking only about approach and organization: what do we do first, second, so forth. The real processes by which we create are mysterious not only to others, but to ourselves as well. We may know that if we write for so long every day, we are more productive than if we don’t. We may know that if we “trust our instincts and don’t overthink,” the photograph will be better. We may know that if we let the canvas sit and do nothing with it for a while we will have fresh eyes with which to edit it. We may know what we need to do to get ourselves into flow. Beyond that, we know very little.

Since the essence of art is to see possibilities and connections and to express them, we might, by studying others’ procedures, learn something that will allow us clearer expression or that opens a new area of thought, which in turn allows our work to develop in a different direction. I am not at all suggesting that we copy others’ procedures, but we may find something in them that triggers an idea or leads to new understanding either in terms of technique or content.

So perhaps knowing an award-winning playwright’s processes would be useful. Perhaps such knowledge might cause us to recognize potential that had, heretofore, remained untapped. Whether useful or not, it would not hurt us, and, if nothing else, could be quite interesting.

While I have thought and written about the creative artistic process before, I don’t think that I have ever, until this discussion, thought of others’ artistic processes as anything other than intellectual curiosities. Now I am beginning to think that a consideration of the way others accomplish their artistic goals may be quite useful to the working artist.


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Making Art is Not for the Timid

Sunday, 31. July 2011 23:59

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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:

Uncomfortable with Self-Promotion? Take Baby Steps

Monday, 18. April 2011 0:05

One of the things there is no shortage of is advice on how to be a “successful” artist. Make no mistake; in this context “successful” means “an artist who sells.” Sometimes it means “an artist who makes his/her living from his/her art.” In any case, it’s all about marketing and sales. And why not? Being a starving artist may sound like a romantic idea, but it’s only that. We can all point to artists who were successes only after they were dead, but is that the model you really want to follow?

The fact is, whether we are painters, photographers, sculptors, ceramicists, or writers, we want people to see our art, and hopefully be impacted by it. So we have two choices: give it away or sell it. The second alternative seems to be the better of the two, at least to me.

We are told that we must self-promote, and the implication is that we should model ourselves after the most financially successful self-promoting artists. We are encouraged to follow the examples of those who promote shamelessly and/or exploit the internet. We are advised to spend every minute that we are not actually producing art interacting on Twitter or Facebook or our blogs and websites or engaging in some other form of marketing and sales.

This can be a difficulty for those of us who do not have art factories or assistants or those of us who do not believe that we are temperamentally suited for marketing. Some would say that we had better find a way to make the time and become suited or resign ourselves to giving our art away, or, like Emily Dickenson or Vivian Maier, having it found and made public after we’re gone.

There is no question that marketing and sales are necessary if we want to succeed in terms of putting our work out there into the world. We must promote our own work and we must figure out ways to become comfortable doing that.

This means researching and exploring the many different venues and approaches to art marketing and sales. Spend some time analyzing tweets, exploring Facebook, reading blogs, examining web sites. You will find that there are innumerable approaches and a variety of styles. And there are more all the time. According to Barney Davey, how artists promote themselves is constantly evolving, and one of the challenges is to try to keep methodology current.

Not every successful artist is a completely shameless self-promoter. Some promote better than others. Study them; see what works and why. See what appeals to you and why. See what fits you and why.

Then try some of those methods out. Take baby steps. Move out of your comfort zone a little at a time. As you build up your courage and your repertoire of possibilities, you can begin to see what works for you. And that, finally, is the most important thing, to find the methods or combination of methods that work for you.

Category:Audience, Communication, Social Media | Comments (2) | Autor:

Imitation May Not Be Completely Useless, But It Is Cheap

Sunday, 3. April 2011 23:56

In an acting book report that I heard recently, a student paraphrased the author, “Don’t imitate; create.” He went on to elaborate and to clarify the differences between pretending and doing, explaining that the author was talking about honesty in acting. What he said about acting also applies to art in general. It’s a topic I have discussed before, but it’s one that keeps coming up. Today I am not as concerned about the honesty part as I am about the imitation part.

The creation part may be questionable to some. Creation implies originality, and a number of people say that nothing is original, that we are forced to remix and remodel old ideas. That may be, but no one, it seems, is particularly fond of imitation. Picasso reportedly said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal,” which pundits have modified into the often used, “Steal; don’t imitate.” Or perhaps all of this is just a paraphrase of T.S. Eliot’s observation: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.…

The question that remains is if originality really is beyond reach, why is imitation scorned? The answer is simply that imitation is an admission that whatever you are copying is worth more than anything you could do yourself. Imitation is not just stealing; it is merely mimicking. Imitation is cheap.

This is not to say that all imitation is a terrible thing. Often, as a learning exercise, art students are asked to make a painting or a photograph or a drawing in the style of a famous artist, or at least a distinctive one. But even in such an exercise, outright copying is generally frowned upon. The poor student will copy the masterwork slavishly, trying to reproduce exactly what the older artist has done. The better student will look at the work of the established artist, and maybe others by the same artist and create something that incorporates the artistic concepts of the master artist but is still the student’s own work. These latter students learn the intimacies of the master artist without giving up their own identities.

Even participating in a learning exercise, the second group of students would be doing what some would call “original” work. It is work that is decidedly based on earlier work, but not blindly mimicked, not imitated. It is an application that teaches the successful students more about the style and content of another’s work through thought and analysis than they could ever learn by simply reproducing that artist’s work. But there the value of imitation ends.

Even if everything that you make is a remix or a remodeling or mash-up of the ideas of others, at least it will be your remix or your remodeling or your mash-up. It will reflect your approach, your effort, you. And in that sense it will be original, or at the very least authentic. It will be real.

What the Bhagavad Gita says about living life can be applied equally to making art: “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of someone else’s life with perfection.” It is better to make your own authentic art imperfectly, regardless of where you get the ideas, than to make a perfect imitation of someone else’s art.

And perfection, as we all know, is highly overrated.

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It’s the Audience, not the Artist

Sunday, 13. March 2011 23:45

Denis Dutton in The Art Instinct argues that in fiction there is a “communicative transaction between reader and author.” Citing Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author,” Hazel Dooney presents a very different view, maintaining that “a creator’s role is to produce and neither to explain nor to try to control the response to their work. It’s the reader (or viewer or listener) who gives it meaning through their individual interpretation,” a notion which is also explained here.

While I cannot argue with Dutton’s assertion that the author is “trying to control the show—the interpretation of characters, their actions, and the events that befall them,” I must agree with Dooney when she says “Even if people understand the concept of a work, their interpretations and deeper, emotional responses are always at a remove from the creator’s.”  My experience is that both are correct.

For example, in a recent rehearsal of a musical, an associate and I were discussing how an actress rendered a particular song. He was struck by the intensity of the piece while I was concerned that she had missed the feeling of the piece entirely, and, being the director, made a note to correct the problem. For a time I was convinced that our differences were caused by our differing functions on the show, but I came to realize that it was just that we, because of our different experiences, backgrounds, and internal reference materials, had interpreted what we saw very differently.

I have experienced similar reactions with audience members. Sometimes I am able to see their point of view and sometimes I wonder what show they have seen, because it wasn’t the same show that I saw, and it certainly wasn’t the one that I directed.

So what has all of this got to do with anything? All that holds true for fiction according to Dutton and Barthes and all that holds true for theatre according to my experience holds true for all arts. We make photographs and paintings and sculptures and collages and write haikus and novels and short stories and we have no idea how they will be received. We have no clue whether our audience will “get it” or not. We will attempt, in Dutton’s words, “by persuading, manipulating, wheedling, planting hints, adopting a tone” to control the audience’s response. We will fail.

There are simply too many factors outside our ability to control. There is all the stuff going on in the audience’s mind when they encounter our work. There is the experience of the audience, their education, their belief structure, their aesthetic. There is all of that and more. There are ins and outs and corners and nuances that we could not possibly know about or plan for when we built our art.

And no clever titles, explanations, artist statements, biographies, statements of philosophies will ever convey to them exactly the interpretation that we think they ought to give our work. Dooney has said that’s not our job, and she’s right.

We make our art and it is what it is. No matter how much we try to “control the show,” we will always fall short. That doesn’t mean that we should stop trying. It just means that we must recognize that the audience brings its own baggage to the party. Our work will always be viewed through someone else’s filters, interpreted in ways that we cannot imagine. Things we have been careful to insert will be missed; things we had not consciously intended will be seen. It will always be so.

The best that we can do is to continue working to create our visions, to manipulate the materials so as to minimize misunderstanding, to make our work sufficiently clear that our message is unmistakable. Then stand out of the way.

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Elements of Style: the Untaught Part of Art

Sunday, 6. March 2011 23:59

Yesterday afternoon I was reminded of one of the skills of a stage director that seldom gets noticed or discussed: deciding the how and when of giving specific notes to actors. For the words you say to actors to be maximally effective, ideas have to be couched in the right phraseology and then timed right. You have to know when to cajole, when to confront, when to use humor, when to be severe. It’s a thing that most directors do instinctively, although sometimes I find myself calculating so as to have the most impact. It is also a thing that is never, to my knowledge, taught in directing classes. Most of us learn by trial and error that developing these skills will allow us to become better directors and produce better shows.

This conversation caused me to start wondering how many things there are that fall into this same category: skills that are never taught in formal training and are hardly ever noticed or mentioned. Every once in a while you will run across a reference to something that “was not taught in art school” or “is never discussed in a seminar on photography” or was never explored in any teaching/learning environment, but not often.

For example, I know from experience that order in processing images matters, that  performing individual adjustments to an image in a certain sequence makes the process easier to control than doing it another way, yet no one, it seems, teaches that. I am sure that in every art there are skills and procedures that are analogous to image processing and giving notes.

So the question is, how do these untaught things impact us? And the answer is that they are elements of style. The way that you talk to actors, the way that you process images, the way that you handle the clay, the order in which you assemble phrases, the way that you layer the paint are pieces that, when assembled with other pieces, comprise your personal style. Aside from your vision and your subject matter, it’s what separates you from all the other directors and photographers and ceramicists and poets and painters. It’s part of what makes your art unique.

These untaught things may not influence the way that you see the world, but they certainly impact the way you express what you see. The fact that they are evolved rather than learned is reason your style develops rather than appearing full-blown when you begin your art career. Every day that you work adds to your experience which adds to your style. The things that you develop yourself, whether they are built on a foundation of formal schooling, apprenticeship, or self-education, become part of the work that you do, become part of your style, become part of your art. As Berenice Abbott has put it, “You have to evolve on your own.

And these untaught things may be the most important part of your art, the part that makes your art distinctive, the part that makes your disparate works form a cohesive whole. Hans Hofmann said that a work of art “is a world in itself reflecting senses and emotions of the artist’s world.” Your style is, in large part, responsible for that reflection, for the delineation of your artistic world. No matter what you have learned from others, your style, that you have evolved yourself, is what defines your art.

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