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Finding Your Own Voice

Sunday, 21. November 2010 23:40

Sharon Olds, who was raised as a “hell-fire Calvinist” began to find her own voice as a poet through a sort of “deal with the devil:”

I said to free will or the pagan god of making things, or whoever, let me write my own stuff. I’ll give up everything I’ve learned, anything, if you’ll let me write my poems. They don’t have to be any good, but just mine. What happened was enjambment. Writing over the end of the line and having a noun starting each line — it had some psychological meaning to me, like I was protecting things by hiding them. Poems started pouring out of me and Satan was in a lot of them. Also, toilets.

And find her voice, she did.

This week I spoke with an actor who was going through the same sort of despondency that pushed Olds into making her deal, although the actor was not fully aware of the real nature of his situation; he just knew that he was not satisfied with what he was doing. Later in the week, I talked with a designer who voiced similar questions about his work. I think that it’s a natural sort of artistic identity crisis that almost every creative person goes through, and keeps going through until he/she finds an answer or just gives up.

I suppose that there are artists who speak with unique individual voices from the beginning, but many of us wander around creating pieces that we feel finally do not accurately represent our point of view. Or we create work that somehow fails to say exactly what we want to say. Or we spend our time doing work that is derivative to the point of not being our own. Or we do this and that and the other thing and find that while it is all acceptable, it is somehow not really us, or it is us, but somehow not satisfying. While I was in the last category, you (if you have this problem) may be in one of the others, or you may have a category all your own.

The real question is how do you get out of that category and go about finding your own voice.  You can try making a deal with the devil, as Olds did, and hope for a similar sudden burst of intuition. My experience is, however, that such visions are few and far between, and you certainly can’t count on them.  So I think you might try another approach: experiment. Take a risk or two or three or four or seven. Try things outside your comfort zone. Try different twists and variations and approaches and processes until you find the one or the combination that is authentic, that represents your ideas—that is you.

Maybe that sounds a little clichéd, a little too easy. May be. But I have found that to really experiment, to try really new and uncomfortable things is difficult even on a good day. Sometimes, just to think of new and uncomfortable things to try is difficult. But to do them, and then to be honest with yourself about the results of those experiments is even more difficult. But it’s how you find your voice, or at least one way. In addition, you may find out a number of other things about yourself and your art, useful things, things that you can’t find out by thinking, or pretending, or even imagining; things you can only discover by doing and reviewing the result.

So, if you haven’t already, go find your voice. Imagine, think, intuit. But then put those thoughts and intuitions into action. Do, play, experiment, discover. It’s the only way to learn what really works—for you. Then you can produce art that is authentically you. It may not be completely original. Some people posit that originality is no longer possible, but that’s a subject for another time. What it will be is authentic. And few would argue that authenticity is not possible. Go find yours.

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

Likes, Dislikes, and Quality

Sunday, 5. September 2010 21:50

I remember explaining to my English professor that I just did not like the (American) romantic poets.  She informed me, in her British accent (which gives any academic an air of authority), that it was not important what I, or anyone for that matter, liked or disliked; what was necessary was that I understand what made those particular poems good.  It was one of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever got.

I find that students often dismiss a play or a movie or some other work or art that they do not like as not worth the time it would take to understand it, or at least figure out how it works, or know why it might or might not be important. And I think that many of us who are not formally students do the same thing.  We often confuse what we like with what is good, thus making the individual, educated or not, the arbiter of quality.  Without troubling ourselves to really examine the work in question, we fail to apply some standards outside our own personal feelings to determine quality.

I moved on in the course, and I remember how pleased I was with myself when I finally figured out exactly what those romantic poets were doing, how their poems worked, what made them good. I still did not like them, but I understood the difference.  And that was important.

My taste has changed since those days; the quality of the romantic poets has not.  My opinion of at least some of the romantic poets has modulated; the quality of the poems remains unchanged.

The capability to make that distinction between quality and personal appeal is an ability that every critic must have, and by “critic” I mean everyone who renders an opinion. That ability is even more important in today’s world of instant electronic, often uninformed, opinion than it was when I was learning it as an undergraduate.

You may be saying, “But my opinion matters. What I like and don’t like is significant.” Of course it is. It’s called taste. It’s part of what you bring to the art work. And it is important to you, and maybe even to the people you hang out with.  It is not, however, the determinant of the quality or worth of a piece of work. That is something that the artist puts in.

I am not suggesting that, like Phaedrus in Robert M Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, we spend our lives and our sanity in the pursuit of the nature of quality, although I think that is quite possible. I am suggesting that, before we spout our opinions about a piece of art, that we learn enough, educate ourselves sufficiently to have some foundation to begin to determine the quality of that piece.

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