It Only Takes One

Sunday, 4. June 2023 20:37 | Author:

The current state of affairs in American school districts, some libraries, and arts organization is that it only takes one complaint to cancel what the majority might benefit from if these organizations weren’t so easily intimidated. Two recent cases illustrate this trend, one in Florida and one in Utah.

In Florida, one parent complained to the Miami-Dade School District about Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb” along with several other books. The complaint was promptly referred to a committee, where it was determined that one of the books was “balanced and age appropriate and would remain available for all students.” The others, including Gorman’s poem, were restricted to middle-school students only.

A not dissimilar situation recently unfolded in Utah. Again one parent was the complainant. The complaint was that the King James Bible was unsuitable for children due to “vulgarity and violence.” The parent did provide eight pages of passages to show that the Bible is inappropriate. The Davis School District committee concluded that the Bible “does not contain sensitive material” according to Utah’s criminal code, which defines pornographic and harmful materials. Thus, the book was allowed to remain on high school library shelves. It was, however, removed from elementary and junior high schools. This complaint and result was quickly followed by a second complaint by an individual demanding that the  Book of the Mormon be removed from the Davis School District school libraries due to violent content.” The same committee will review the book.

In both of these cases, the books were not banned outright, but restricted because they were “age inappropriate.” One has to think that all the books in an elementary or middle-school library have been vetted by educators and librarians, only to have their judgment “corrected” by an individual parent.

And the threat of a single complaint is spilling over into public libraries and the arts as well. The complaint of a one parent caused a Texas elementary school trip to James and the Giant Peach to be canceled, thus depriving an entire class the opportunity to experience a children’s theatre production rather than keeping one girl home. A theatre director I know is, because of the touchiness of her administration, very concerned about receiving any complaints at all about any production. Needless to say, this has a chilling effect on the choice of plays and the manner of production.

One wonders whether the schools and libraries who cave to the demand of a single complaint have it right. It is, after all, a single complaint, not a majority clamoring for the removal of a certain title. Wouldn’t it be more responsible to say to that individual, “don’t read it,” or “don’t let your child read it,” rather than penalize all who use the library? Perhaps the library in question could keep a list of restricted patrons rather than a list of restricted titles. That way, the vast majority of those who don’t object to the material being available could be better served than by removing the book from availability because of single complaint.

And all of that goes double for those books that are not just “restricted,” but entirely banned. It is obvious that most of the book-banning and book-restricting demands are politically motivated—and do not represent a majority of library patrons. And let’s not forget that the majority of books being banned are by minority authors, many of whom, as Gorman says, “have struggled for generations to get on the bookshelves.” Perhaps author Stephen King has put it most succinctly: “Book-banners, after all, insist that the entire community should see things their way, and only their way. When a book is banned, a whole set of thoughts is locked behind the assertion that there is only one valid set of values, one valid set of beliefs, one valid perception of the world. It’s a scary idea, especially in a society which has been built on the idea of free choice and free thought.” And it only takes one.

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More AI

Sunday, 21. May 2023 21:37 | Author:

In a discussion of the last post, “Artist and Artisan—the Differences,” a friend of mine wondered how different the answer would be if posed to a different AI. So I did exactly that. I queried Google’s Bard using the same prompt: “In an essay of approximately 500 words, explain the essential difference(s) between an artist and an artisan. Document all quotations.”

This is Bard’s answer:

The terms “artist” and “artisan” are often used interchangeably, but there are some key differences between the two. An artist is a person who creates art, while an artisan is a person who creates objects using traditional methods and materials.

One of the main differences between artists and artisans is their motivation. Artists are motivated by a desire to express themselves creatively, while artisans are motivated by a desire to create functional objects. This difference in motivation is reflected in the different types of objects that artists and artisans create. Artists typically create objects that are meant to be appreciated for their aesthetic qualities, while artisans typically create objects that are meant to be used.

Another difference between artists and artisans is their level of skill. Artists typically have a high level of skill in their chosen medium, while artisans may have a more specialized skill set. For example, a painter may be skilled in using a variety of brushes and paints, while a carpenter may be skilled in using a variety of saws and hammers.

Finally, artists and artisans often have different audiences. Artists typically create art for a broad audience, while artisans typically create objects for a more specialized audience. For example, a painter may create paintings that are meant to be hung in galleries, while a carpenter may create furniture that is meant to be used in homes.

In conclusion, there are some key differences between artists and artisans. Artists are motivated by a desire to express themselves creatively, while artisans are motivated by a desire to create functional objects. Artists typically have a high level of skill in their chosen medium, while artisans may have a more specialized skill set. Finally, artists typically create art for a broad audience, while artisans typically create objects for a more specialized audience.


  • “An artist is a person who creates art, while an artisan is a person who creates objects using traditional methods and materials.” – Merriam-Webster
  • “One of the main differences between artists and artisans is their motivation. Artists are motivated by a desire to express themselves creatively, while artisans are motivated by a desire to create functional objects.” – The Difference Between an Artist and an Artisan
  • “Another difference between artists and artisans is their level of skill. Artists typically have a high level of skill in their chosen medium, while artisans may have a more specialized skill set.” – The Difference Between an Artist and an Artisan
  • “Finally, artists and artisans often have different audiences. Artists typically create art for a broad audience, while artisans typically create objects for a more specialized audience.” – The Difference Between an Artist and an Artisan

In all fairness to Bard, I must confess that this is the response to the second time I posed the prompt; I failed to properly save its first response. I also learned that Bard prepares three drafts of its responses, which is also useful. While Bard does remember what and when you queried, it does not itself save the responses. I do remember that in the first response, the quotes were from individuals, not quotes from the response itself; it’s curious that Bard interpreted the term “quotations” differently on the second pass.

In any case, while this information is much the same as that provided by ChatGPT, the presentation is markedly different. Bard’s answer is more conversational and less academically structured. And, although ChatGPT’s quotations are less relevant, they were better integrated into the body of the response. It is difficult to say which is actually better; I tend to like the ChatGPT response better in this instance because it seems more sophisticated, but everyone will have to judge for themselves.

Both of these entities were reported to have been updated this week, so improvements will continue. And new programs come on line almost daily. AI extensions for web browsers have recently been announced. ChatGPT is now connected to the internet in real time. It’s rather remindful of the advent of digital photography, except the technology is moving exponentially faster. Already, academics I know are using AI to create reading lists and course outlines. They report that they are not perfect, but only need to be tweaked to be useful. And it was also reported this week that publisher Bloomsbury unknowingly used an AI-generated image for the cover of a newly-published book; novellas are already being written using AI. And most of us are already using the most rudimentary forms of AI—the spellchecker and grammar checker.

So it becomes a matter not of whether we will use AI, but more a matter of when and how much. Tom Comitta, writing in Wired, contends that one can detect the human hand in every aspect of creativity using AI. As in digital photography, there will always be those who eschew AI, but most of us will begin to employ it at least a little. The real question is how we can use these new tools to enhance our art and help us better communicate our messages.

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Artist and Artisan—the Differences

Sunday, 7. May 2023 21:51 | Author:

A number of years ago, I posted an article entitled “Artist or Artisan?,” wherein the differences between the two were explored, relying extensively on the ideas of a painter, John Stillmunks. With all the hubbub about artificial intelligence, I thought I would pose the same question to OpenAI via ChatGPT. So I posed the question in this form: “In an essay of approximately 500 words, explain the essential difference(s) between an artist and an artisan. Document all quotations.”

This is the response (which came in seconds):

Artists and artisans are both creative individuals who produce beautiful and functional objects. However, the essential differences between them lie in their purpose, intention, and approach to their craft. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an artist is “a person who practices any of the various creative arts, such as painting, sculpture, music, or writing, to produce works that are primarily aesthetic in nature.” On the other hand, an artisan is “a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.”

One key difference between an artist and an artisan is their intention. While both create objects, the artist’s primary intention is to express themselves and communicate a message to their audience. As noted by artist Jasper Johns, “Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it.” Art is a means of communicating one’s emotions, ideas, and beliefs through visual, auditory, or literary media. It is a reflection of the artist’s inner world, experiences, and values.

In contrast, an artisan’s primary intention is to create functional objects that serve a specific purpose. Their work is focused on functionality, rather than self-expression or communication. According to artisanal bread baker Chad Robertson, “The goal is not just to make great bread; it’s to make great bread that is accessible to everybody.” The artisan’s focus is on creating well-crafted objects that are useful and serve a practical purpose.

Another important difference between artists and artisans is their approach to their craft. Artists tend to have a more experimental approach to their work, exploring new ideas and techniques to express their creativity. They often work independently, outside the boundaries of traditional artistic styles and techniques. As artist Pablo Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Artists are free to experiment, push boundaries, and create their own unique style.

In contrast, artisans tend to work within the boundaries of their craft, using traditional techniques and methods that have been passed down through generations. According to ceramicist Frances Palmer, “I’m not a ceramic artist, I’m a potter. I make things that are useful.” The artisan’s focus is on mastering their craft and producing high-quality, functional objects that are both beautiful and practical. They often work within established styles and techniques, striving to perfect their skills and achieve excellence in their craft.

In conclusion, while both artists and artisans create beautiful and functional objects, their intentions and approaches to their craft are fundamentally different. Artists focus on self-expression and communication, while artisans focus on functionality and the mastery of traditional techniques. As noted by philosopher R.G. Collingwood, “Art is self-expression; craft is the expression of a tradition.” Both artists and artisans play an important role in our society, enriching our lives through their creative work.

It’s not a bad answer. I find it interesting that ChatGPT took the instruction, “Document all quotations” to mean “include quotations,” even though they were not all entirely relevant. Aside from that, the answer is complete and well organized, if not nuanced. That, of course may be the result of the prompt, which is itself not terribly sophisticated, but then I’m new to AI, and perhaps some massaging of the prompt might have resulted in a more refined answer.

Interestingly, the differences posited by ChatGPt are remarkably similar to those expressed by Stillmunks, although the emphasis is a bit different. And it’s interesting that Stillmunk’s main thesis still holds: “no, not everybody’s an artist (despite what they may think).” But we have to remember that at the end of it, it is still nothing but a label. We are free to cross the line in either direction, depending on the current project. No one ever said that we have to be either artist or artisan all of the time.

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How Big Does Your Audience Need to Be?

Sunday, 23. April 2023 21:22 | Author:

The answer is, of course, “as large as possible.” So perhaps a better question is, “when is the audience big enough?” This is a question that in one form or another I have put to a number of artists who work in different media, and the answers reflect both the artist and the media involved. Some theatre artists, for example, say that it depends on the venue while others say that it is a matter of the average audience size for that particular genre in that particular theatre. One director I know says only that there should be more people in the audience than there are on stage.

Visual artists, of course, differ in their answers, and those answers have to do with whether an audience are those who look or those who buy. Musical artists take into consideration the type of music being played, type of amplification, and the acoustics and ambience of the space. Some artists will answer the question with “when it provides enough revenue to break even”—or make a profit. Some artists don’t seem to be concerned with income; they just want to make the art. Every artist, it seems, has a different answer. And perhaps that means that we are once again asking the wrong question.

To get to that, we must ask what artists want from the audience. Is it enough for the audience members to sit through the presentation or look at the work on display, or do we want more? Most artists do want more, but what is the “more” that they want?

If we are trying to get rich, we will give one answer. If we are just trying to make a living from our art, we will give another. If we are trying to do neither, what are we trying to do? Perhaps we should examine our motives for making art in the first place. Are we trying to entertain, create beauty, change minds, challenge political stances, instill empathy, highlight a social problem, impact the audience members in some other way?

Once we can articulate why we are creating art in the first place, then we can better determine when the audience is “big enough.” In other words, how many of our audience will have to “get” what we are saying for us to be satisfied that  our work is successful in what it is trying to achieve? That is, how many must we entertain? How many must perceive beauty? How many must change their political stance? How many begin to understand empathy? How many recognize that social problem? The number, of course, will vary from artist to artist, but it would be well for each artist to know the answer for themselves.

Perhaps a greater problem for artists are that we may never know how many of our audience were impacted by our work in the ways that we intended—or when. (I once sold a piece a full month after the show in which it was shown.) We can, in some instances, discover how popular our work is by the numbers in our audiences or the number of likes we get on social media, but we can never really know who we have actually touched with our work—unless the audience member tells us. The best we can do is to keep our eyes on our goals, continually evaluate our methods and motives, and keep producing work that we are proud to have done.

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Your Art Doesn’t Have to Speak to Everybody

Sunday, 9. April 2023 22:33 | Author:

It’s fairly common knowledge among artists that not everyone will like everything we produce. A piece has to resonate with an audience member to be appreciated, particularly to the point of purchase, and even then it’s a hit-or-miss proposition. Ask any artist who has rented a table at an arts fair and displayed work, or who has tried to get poetry published, or a comic accepted anywhere. In some of those instances there are gatekeepers, while in others, the art is presented directly to the potential audience—either physically or electronically. Still it’s unpredictable who will like what, and even more random when trying to determine who will buy what.

Many of us cannot afford to keep renting art show spaces, or self-publishing with no accompanying marketing effort. But we can’t not show our work; the result of that would be absolutely no sales. So we seem to be caught, and do the best we can—showing our work when opportunities we can afford present themselves, and holding back when we have no affordable alternatives. Given this situation, what are we to do?

Since not everyone is going to like everything we produce, we need to examine the relationship between our work and our potential audience. We need to realize that our work and our audience should match. This realization often leads artists to modify what they do so that what they try to say does appeal to everyone. This, of course, waters down the artist’s voice and, more importantly, the message of the piece.

Rather than modify our art, we would do better to concern ourselves with our potential audience. To increase our chances at finding those who might find our work resonant, we could do one of two things: (1) If we can find an existing potential audience whose members are interested in the sorts of things we have to say, we increase our chances of sales tremendously. (2) Failing that, we might develop an audience whose members are interested in the subject matter of our art.

The first alternative is perhaps a little easier—it means that we don’t enter every art fair we can afford, or show our work in every possible show. Rather, it means that we pick our shows carefully, that we research what sorts of work have been shown in the past and whether there are particular criteria for work that might match our own interests. Show listings are not all that difficult to find on the internet. There are a couple of web sites dedicated to directing artists to shows, and usually the criteria for the shows are clearly stated. This is not something that can be said of most art fairs.

Developing an audience is a more daunting task. However, there are at least a few conferences a year, and a number of books devoted to just that. Admittedly, these are aimed at the live theatre market; however, there is much they can teach artists in all media. Theatre folk are constantly trying to match material that they want to produce with potential audience and determine ways to increase the size of that audience. Some are very successful at it, so there is much they can teach the rest of us.

The point is that once we realize that our art doesn’t have to speak to everyone, the sales/marketing side of our artistic lives become just a little easier. Once we learn to curate and cultivate our audience, we can spend more of our time concentrating on actually making the work that matters to us, and that is the important thing.

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Embrace Change

Monday, 27. March 2023 20:44 | Author:

With all the current emphasis on branding, many artists are working for consistency instead of developing and evolving. This, of course, causes artists to produce work that is strikingly similar to previous work, and that continues as the brand is built. This process, in turn, causes the artist to be a producer of artifacts which are all similar, rather than a creator of new and wonderful things. Artists then become artisans—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, except that when one is involved foremost in production, there is little room for growth.

In The Creative Act: A Way of Being, Rick Rubin says:

Though artists generally aren’t aware of it, that end work is a by-product of a greater desire. We aren’t creating to produce or sell material products. The act of creation is an attempt to enter a mysterious realm. A longing to transcend. What we create allows us to share glimpses of an inner landscape, one that is beyond our understanding. Art is our portal to the unseen world.

If this is true, then our job as artists is to enter into this mysterious inner landscape and reveal as much as we can in our work. In order to this we must make our brand not consistency, but exploration and revelation. We must turn our attention away from creating things that look or sound or read alike and toward unearthing new insights, and go wherever that takes us. We must stop avoiding change and discover newness. We must get out of our “own lane” and embrace change. As Jerry Saltz advises:

Artists: Never stay in your own lane. Change styles if you like; switch mediums, materials, whatever. There’s no need for consistency. When people tell you to stay in your lane, they’re trying to hold you back or keep you down. Do whatever you want to do and you do it well.

But if we do that, if we switch up what we are doing, what about our comfort level? There is a certain sense of well-being that accompanies turning out artifacts that are similar. We know what we are doing; the work is not too difficult: we just do what we are used to doing, making a little change here and a little alteration there. Embracing change increases uncertainty, sometimes to the point of discomfort, but that discomfort allows us to evolve and grow—so we become even better artists.

And what about our audience? They are used to seeing/hearing a certain kind of product from us. If we stay with the tried and true path, we get similar results every time and our audience knows what to expect from us. Unfortunately, that can also cause our audience to get bored with us. Whereas, if we embrace change, our audience can be surprised every time we publish a new piece. Yes, we may lose some audience—those who expect the same thing every time. However, we may gain audience, simply because we show them something new with every new piece we make. Soon they will be eager to see what we produce next—our audience may well grow.

We need to consider all of this the next time our inner impulse says that we need to make a change. We need to listen to that impulse. Our growth in art demands it.

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A Forgotten Front in the Culture Wars

Sunday, 12. March 2023 21:45 | Author:

In the ongoing educational “culture wars,” the focus has been primarily on diversity, equity, and inclusion; critical race theory; and sexual and gender identity. The primary battlegrounds have been public school classrooms and libraries, with some spillover into public colleges and universities. The goal of these attacks is to censor what is being taught and discussed. One front, often forgotten in these battles, is live theatre, again primarily in public schools with a spillover into colleges.

Productions have been challenged and sometimes cancelled in Florida (Indecent), Indiana (Marian, of the True Tale of Robin Hood), Kansas (classroom censorship of The Laramie Project), Pennsylvania (Rent), and Ohio (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee). (The last situation had the best outcome which eventually involved actors and creators from the Broadway production.) And these are not counting those cancellations that did not make the news. For example, here in Texas last year a play at a local high school was canceled because it portrayed a gay character—not the lead, and the play was not about homosexuality. Just one of the characters happened to be gay.

And at a nearby community college, the entire season of dramatic work must be approved by the Executive Leadership Team, a group made up of the president and his vice-presidents. Of course, none of these are classroom instructors, nor do they have any expertise in theatre or audience development. They simply have the authority to veto productions—at least it’s in advance, before the work of the production is done. Moreover, the process is completely opaque. The Theatre Director at this institution has no idea why any particular play choice is vetoed, particularly when he has made a best guess at what will be acceptable. There are no guidelines.

Admittedly, in the way of things, academic live theatre is not a huge or well-known battleground; it is, however, an important one. Shows are cancelled without concern for the students or programs involved. There is no consideration given to the impact on audience development or recruiting. And this is often done on the basis of a single complaint, or worse, fear of a single complaint. Additionally, no consideration is given to what this may be teaching students: run and hide at the first criticism, or the fear of criticism, never mind that there may be only one objection. Where is the allegiance to academic freedom and integrity? Where is the support for students and faculty and their choices, which may be based on numerous factors outside the consideration of the censors?

All academic censorship is done under the flag of propriety: the material of the play is “inappropriate”—usually for the students, but sometimes the institution. This notion, however, seems to be based on the comfort level of community or administration members (and it is usually a small minority), rather than the students themselves. And that comfort level seems to be founded on the misapprehension that the students and/or the audience members are less mature and aware than they really are.

What are the theatre faculty and students to do in these instances? What they can—argument seems to serve little purpose. The best that can be done is to gather as much audience, faculty, and student support as possible, be careful of your play choices, and, most important, keep pushing the envelope.

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Sunday, 26. February 2023 21:56 | Author:

It’s difficult to go a day without seeing an article about artificial intelligence. AI has suddenly taken the world by storm. For writing there are ChatGPT, Copymatic, Wordtune, and Anyword. For art, the programs most in demand are Midjourney, DALL-E-2, Dream, and Craiyon. For the music world, there are platforms specifically for music generation, music production, music videos, and music composition.

The specific topics of AI articles are all over the place: many are concerned with students at the high school and collegiate level using AI to do their assignments. A number are detailing specific AI platforms to use to achieve specific results or strategies for using particular AI platforms. A number of articles consider AI just another tool to be used for all sorts of work and embrace its use. Others take the opposite view and deplore the use of AI for creative work, saying that AI products are derivative, an argument that devolves into a copyright debate. Speaking of which, the US Copyright Office has already ruled that AI-generated art cannot be copyrighted.

But few articles have touched on the use of AI for the serious artist, and even fewer on the philosophical argument that such moves by artists would engender. The whole AI argument focuses on product—whether it’s a section of computer code or a freshman term paper or a novel, or a piece of visual or aural art and does not speak to the process of creation. And that, I think, is a sticking point for a number of artists.

Most artists get into art because they want to make things. Some of the things that artists want to make are, of course, not things at all, but experiences: theatre, dance, ephemera of all sorts. It may be that AI is, or will become capable of generating such experiences, but that does not yet seem to be the case, so let’s concentrate on artifact-producing and what AI-produced work does to the creator.

AI changes the role of the artist. In the case of a writer, for example, the writer no longer produces word order that is the product of their brain synapses and the way the writer’s mind associates ideas. Even if the AI is instructed to write in the style of the writer, the role of the writer is changed from creator to instruction-giver/editor and the resulting artifact would be completely different. So long as the writer is okay with that, it could be a successful use of AI and might produce work of a reasonable quality, but most artists I know really are not looking for a change of role or an easier way to do what they do. They would much prefer to be hands-on creators because of what they get out of the process.

For technical writing or production art, AI could be an immense time-saver. However, for creative work, it is difficult to imagine artists being willing to hand over the creative process to a machine, no matter how much time it saved. Many artists are story-tellers, and story-telling is a very different activity from giving instructions about telling a story. As noted, the creative process is just too important to them.

Of course, the ongoing existence and improvement of AI might produce a different kind of artist than we now have—one who wants to be an instruction-giver/editor instead of one who enjoys and appreciates the process of creating every detail. That sounds like science fiction, but so did AI not long ago. Regardless of the change that AI brings, we will continue to have people who want to create, who want to explore the creative process. What that will mean to the future of art, we cannot say, but we can be assured that art will continue and that the audience for art will continue to exist.

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Art is Like Soup

Sunday, 12. February 2023 22:59 | Author:

There is a great push for artists, no matter the media in which they work, to get work out into the world. There are numerous articles about this, and even books. The reason, of course, is that artists are sometimes hesitant to release their work; this is perhaps due to being a perfectionist or just not wanting to release the work until it “feels done.” Perfectionism is not a desirable characteristic for a working artist, and holding on to our work for excessive periods is certainly not a way to improve our reputations or income. On the other hand, we shouldn’t rush our work out the door.

And the reason is that we have to give the disparate pieces of our work time to, as my grandmother used to say, “marry.” It’s the reason that soup tastes better the second day: the ingredients have had the time to interact and influence one another. There are a number of theories why this happens with soup, many of them scientific, but essentially it breaks down to “flavor compounds flow…in and out of components,…balancing and integrating the overall flavor.” In other words, soup is better the next day because all the different flavors are transformed “into one harmonious soup.”

Much the same thing holds true for a work of art, particularly collaborative works. For example, it takes some time and adjustment for actors and directors to get to know each other and understand the others’ working methods and processes. Only when that is done can the collaborators really begin working together to build a fully integrated play or film. In the case of a play, this development continues into performance. The elements have to “marry.”

The same is thing applies for solo works of art a well. As each new element is introduced, it must work with what is already there. Then it takes some time for all the pieces to mesh and work with and off of each other; some preexisting areas may need modification. The pieces have to “marry.” Then the work begins to take shape, although it may take some time for its final form to be realized. Art critic Jerry Saltz says “most artists have to work on something for a long time before they know what they’re working on.”

Just as when we make soup, we can certainly put all of the elements of a work together in a brief time, but we will invariably get a better product if we not only allow this mixture to simmer but allow the piece to sit for a time until we can get over creation fatigue and go back to the piece to better tie the parts together in the editing process, increasing the harmony and uniformity of the work. We might even let it sit for a time after that before doing a second edit, integrating the parts of the work even more tightly. The parts have to “marry.” Then, and only then, can we think about releasing the work.

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Don’t Overthink Your Work

Sunday, 29. January 2023 22:21 | Author:

There’s a lot to think about when we begin a new project. What is the nature and scope of the work? Is it unique and original? Can it be accomplished in the allotted time frame? What is the allotted time frame? Do we have the proper materials to complete the work? How will this project be shaped? Can we fund it? Who will be the audience for this project? What is it about? What are we trying to say? What impact do we want to have on our audience? Is this a project that we should do? Is this a project that we should do now? Why do we want to do this project in the first place?

Having answered these initial questions, we begin work, only to find that there are still other questions: Does this part of the work go here or somewhere else. If we place that part here, how does it change the meaning and impact of the whole work? Would it better be left out? Should this element be expanded? If so, how much? What does that mean to the overall work?  Are we spending too much time on this part or that part? Are we still saying the same thing that we set out to say or has the message changed? Are we making progress at an appropriate rate? And so we begin to second-guess our choices and decisions.

As we question and second-guess, we may find that we are thinking so much that we are forgetting the feeling, emotional side of our project. We might even get so tied up in considering where this piece goes or whether that image is appropriate that we forget to allow ourselves to dream and create based on feeling and imagination. And whether we recognize the danger or not, once we begin to forget these things, we are overthinking, and risking being stuck.

If we get stuck in overthinking, there are two possible results: (1) the work we produce is stiff and overly self-conscious, overly intellectualized. It appears artificial and inauthentic. It’s more of a treatise than a work of art, not what we had intended at all. (2) The other possibility is that the work gets stalled. We overthink and second-guess to the point that we are immobilized. In our continued thinking, we have lost the art of the piece and are only concerned with technique and message.

This is not to say that no planning or thinking is necessary. We certainly need to know whether we are writing a short story, novella, of full-length novel. However, perhaps we would do better if at the beginning we answered basic questions, thought about the shape of the project, and then just jumped in and did—without thinking too much along the way. Many of the questions we ask ourselves as we create can be answered intuitively as we work. We might go further if we let our initial thinking set the path, then turned off the thinking and trusted our instincts, letting our imaginations out to play.

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