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

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.

Date: Monday, 2. May 2011 0:06
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Photography, Theatre

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  1. 1

    Using whatever makes its way into our lives in our art makes perfect sense. If it’s true that conflict is the heart of any story, and it is, then it also holds true that the imperfections of our lives might be welcomed as grist for the artistic mill. Some would even say that art without conflict is, well…dull. Using life’s difficulties and struggles in our art can also be therapeutic. So, it can infuse our art with passion while at the same time serve as an emotional purging. And, what else are you gonna do with all that stuff?

  2. 2

    Indeed, what else are you going to do with that stuff? I’m of the opinion that if you fail to use your life in your art, you are likely dishonest, or at least lacking authenticity, in your art or your life or both.

  3. 3

    Good advice, but then again ‘easier said than done’. Esp. when your art is photography. I would love to hear some practical examples. Any renown photographer who did so? And if they did so, could we see it in their images?

  4. 4

    Almost all conflict photographers do that on a daily basis, as do many news photographers. Street photographers are, in a way, reflecting their own lives. In fact, the practice of incorporating one’s life into one’s photography led Ansel Adams to say “270. There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”

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