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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:

Life Getting in the Way of Your Art? Use It!

Monday, 2. May 2011 0:06

This was the week to read the journals of the students in the acting class I am teaching. They are asked to write every day of the semester something related to acting. The task is intentionally broad and has a number of purposes: to get them into the habit of thinking about their art every day, to provide them with the opportunity to verbalize ideas about acting and theatre, to provide a safe vehicle through which they can communicate thoughts they might not otherwise express. (Nobody except the writer and me reads the journals).

Going through the journals is always an interesting exercise. One of the things that I find is that there is direct correlation between the quality of work that the students do in class and the complexity and frequency of the thoughts that they put into the journal. Another thing that I find is that there are, particularly among those who are not yet fully committed to any of the arts, a number of statements that run something like, “I didn’t get a chance to think about acting today because [fill in excuse here].”

It is fairly well documented that successful artists are thinking about art, if not all the time, certainly every day. They may not be thinking about their artistic specialty, but sometime during the day, ideas about art, or their practice, or art business, or some aspect of art will have play in their minds. Some, like Minor White, try to make this a habit; he said, “I am always mentally photographing everything as practice.” Others just recognize it as habitual. Many have no choice; they can’t not think about art.

Reading journals this week set me to wondering how many of us who consider ourselves practicing artists make the same justifications for not at least thinking about art or our art practices on a daily basis. As these acting students will attest, it’s hard to keep your art on your mind every day; there are other things to do. And for us who are no longer formal students it is no different; there are a thousand other things that demand our attention: families, bills, chores, day jobs, and the list goes on and on. For some it is not situations that divert them from art, but mental or physical states: exhaustion, frustration, depression, anxiety, love, physical pain or disability. The distractors are manifold.

We can’t presume that those who are “successful” in the art world are living lives without all of those same distractors. All practicing artists have physical bodies and lives that are not perfect. Regardless of our situation, and we have to deal with it and keep making our art. Susan Holland makes this point very clearly in her blog “When Life Gives you Lemons…Paint!” on Empty Easel. Holland says that when life “kills the motivation to create,” the artist should “paint about it.”

The advice holds for any artist, of course. When life gets too painful or too distracting or simply in the way, incorporate it into your acting, or your directing, or your photography, or your novel, or your poetry, or your dance, or your music, or your choreography, or your sculpture. Use it. That’s what all those artists you admire have done. Think how disordered their lives are/were. Theirs, like ours, are/were messy and imperfect, but they have managed to create art anyway, sometimes even masterpieces.

If they can do it, we can do it too. If we are to call ourselves artists, we must.

Category:Creativity, Photography, Theatre | Comments (4) | Autor:

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