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Making Art is Hard

Sunday, 21. April 2024 22:52

We got into art for a variety of reasons. We found that we enjoyed it. We found that we had an aptitude for it. It came to us easily. We liked the other people involved in our art and felt at home working with them, perhaps for the first time. We had something to say, and our art provided a way for us to do that. Our art satisfied our need to create. There are probably other reasons, but these seem to be the ones that readily jump to mind. So we set out to make art.

Then we discovered that making art is intrinsically problematic. The further we go with our art, the more difficulties we run into. We search for the “right” words and the word order that will make the phrase what it needs to be. We labor over getting the lighting “just right, so that the photograph or painting will reflect the feeling that we are trying to convey. We spend a significant amount of time trying to create the exact color that we need for the picture. We spend hours perfecting dance steps and putting them into a sequence. We arrange and rearrange notes to create the musical phrase that says what we want it to. We try out different beginnings and endings to increase the impact of our work.

As we progress in our art-making, we inevitably must choose whether we will pursue art-making as a full-time vocation or whether we will keep our activity avocational. If we choose vocational art-making, we soon discover that accompanying that decision are numerous other problems. Since we chose the path of professional artist, we must find ways to monetize our art, which may be easier for some of us than for others; but, regardless of who we are, we will have to find ways to promote ourselves and our work. And we immediately encounter the dilemma of the self-employed artist: deciding how to split our time and energy between marketing and making art.

If we chose the other path—to pursue our art on a part-time basis, earning our living by some other method, we face another set of problems, the most significant of which is deciding how much time we can devote to our art, and how much we spend on other activities, including work. Additionally, if we want to make our art known, we face many of the same problems that the self-employed artist encounters, specifically how do we get our art out there and how much time and energy do we want to spend on that. We find that, while the problems do not impact our income significantly, they are just as real and vexing.

Some of us decide that the best path for us is to practice our art through an institution of some sort. For example, some visual artists work for advertising agencies. In such instances, one of the difficulties to be faced is how much, if any, time they get to spend on personal work instead of company work. Others of us go into academia, because it allows us to practice our art as well as teach about it, which is a perfect blend for some of us. Regardless of the type of institution that we work for, we will encounter some issues that do not bother the self-employed or part-time artist. We will be faced with the inevitable bureaucracy inherent to any institution. This may take many forms: materials may need to be justified and paperwork created before any purchase can be made. There may be committee assignments that have to be addressed. There may be company censorship of our work.  We may have to modify our work to meet the requirements of the job. We may have to work with people who are less talented, less intelligent, or are just difficult to work with. And we may be evaluated not only on our work but also our methodology and attitude.

Regardless of the path we choose, we find that making art is hard, for the reasons cited and dozens of others. There are, however, rewards. Each of the situations outlined here provide different kinds of rewards, but within each scenario is the reward of actually making our art. And that makes the difficulties worth it.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

“There’s No Accounting for Taste”

Sunday, 7. April 2024 22:28

It’s an old saying, and it’s true. As we established in the last post, not everybody likes Bob Dylan. And the same holds true for every artist, every genre, every art medium, even art itself. Some people like rock and roll; others hate it; still others tolerate it. Some find abstract expressionism offensive; others think it is the advanced form of visual art that has ever been practiced. And it’s not just contemporary art: Some people believe Michelangelo’s David to be a masterpiece while others find it obscene. Some theatregoers love the work on Tennessee Williams, but eschew the work of Arthur Miller; some like Miller but not Williams; some like both playwrights; still others like neither.

The question is why is this the case? And the answer is that nobody knows, at least as far as I have been able to tell. Oh, the question of taste has been considered by various philosophers, but with very mixed results, most of which come down to “it’s in the eye of the beholder.” Hardly a sufficient answer, but it does seem to be a very individualized thing. Some art resonates with some audience members, but not with others. The question of why remains.

Some work resonates because it strikes a nostalgic chord in the audience member, perhaps from their childhood Sometimes this resonance can even be subconscious, but still it gets a positive response. Likewise the resonance can be trigger a certain memory which causes the individual to respond in a positive fashion. Some work can resonate because it satisfies the audience member’s sense of aesthetics. This sense of aesthetics can, in addition to arising naturally, be developed from the person’s education and experiences as well as their exposure to other art. It can be something that has been learned in school and incorporated into the person’s belief system to the point that when one encounters artifacts that satisfy their aesthetic criteria, they respond positively, and report that they “like” the artifact.

It turns out that having a work satisfy the whole of an audience member’s aesthetic is a very complicated business. As noted above, individuals construct their aesthetic in a number of ways, building from a number of sources, and the aesthetic may be organized in a complicated fashion. An audience member may like most of a piece, but be repelled by some smaller part of the work, or vice versa.

Unfortunately, this sense of aesthetic is so individualized, it is nearly impossible for an artist to appeal to a large segment of the potential audience without subscribing to a pre-existing philosophy of art or one of the existing artistic movements or creating in an already-established genre. This is why it is so difficult for an artist to have genuinely ground-breaking work accepted.

Given this, there are two takeaways for the artist working today: (1) stop trying to get everyone to like your work. It’s a fool’s errand; your work will not resonate with everyone, and you will not be able to make that happen no matter how hard you try. (2) Make what you like; make what satisfies you. Some people will like it and some people won’t. But whatever you make will be yours, and it will be authentic.

Category:Aesthetics, Audience | Comment (0) | Author:

Everybody Loves Bob Dylan

Sunday, 24. March 2024 22:19

Actually…they don’t—not everybody. Admittedly, a great number of people love Bob Dylan, and an even larger number like him, but some only like one or two songs, and some don’t like him at all. And that’s the thing about art: most art does not resonate with everyone, and some art resonates with just a few people. This is what makes it so difficult for an artist to make a living doing their art—finding enough people who not only like the art, but like it well enough to spend money on it. It has been a problem from the very beginning of art until the present.

Even people who work in the art world, artists included, acknowledge that they don’t like all art. What they understand, however, is there is a great difference between liking a piece of art and understanding that it is good art, regardless of how well it is liked. Take Dylan for example. While not everyone likes his music, there is near universal agreement that he is “considered to be one of the greatest songwriters in history.” “Liking” something indicates that we have a personal resonance with the object; it speaks to us. Acknowledging the quality of something, on the other hand, indicates that we recognize that the art in question meets certain standards and has intrinsic value. Thus, while we may or may not like Dylan’s work, we must appreciate that the quality of it is such that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 for his song lyrics.

Such a distinction applies to all arts. Take, for example, professional wrestling. At first glance this activity may not seem to be an art, however, it is clearly defined as “a form of athletic theater that combines mock combat with drama, under the premise that the performers are competitive wrestlers,” and we can generally agree that theatre is an art form. Many, many people like professional wrestling— because it is highly entertaining. However, that does not mean that it is a highly-valued art form. In fact, it is difficult to assess the quality of professional wrestling at all, since much of it is loose improvisation. Some entertainers are certainly better than others and may be lauded for their performances. Still, the art form itself lacks the qualitative stature that is common to other theatre forms. Certainly, one does not expect a Nobel Prize to be given to professional wrestling. But that is not the point. The point is that there is a great difference between being liked and being considered “good.” Sometimes being liked is the desired goal.

So what are we as artists to do with this information? We need to decide whether we are trying to do work that is good or work that is liked. Ideally, we would do both, but often we cannot have that. We must decide what we are trying to do with our art. Are we trying to impact our immediate audience, or are we trying to create work that will speak to audiences in other times and places as well as our own? This is not to say that one choice is better than another; rather, it is to say that sometimes we must clarify what we are trying to do, so that we can better hone our craft and speak to whichever audience we choose.

Category:Audience | Comment (0) | Author:

Expose Yourself to Art

Sunday, 10. March 2024 22:42

As I was thinking about this post, I remembered that in the greenroom of the theatre in which I used to work hung a poster by Mike Ryerson that showed a back-to-the-camera flasher facing a nude female statue over the caption “expose yourself to art.” Good advice I think.

The problem is that in twenty-first-century America, we are so busy that we forget to do that more often than not. We are too busy. We spend every minute being occupied with something:  working, family, politics, social media. And if we are not doing one of these things, we’re thinking about doing these things: worrying about something that has happened or trying to anticipate something coming up. And all of this is related to productivity. We believe that we must be productive all our waking hours. It leaves us little time to do anything else but sleep and eat.

Even those of us who work in the arts are productivity-driven. We need to write the next ten pages of our play; we need to plan our next class; we need to paint the next picture; we need to promote ourselves on social media; we need to respond to email, media posts, telephone calls. We need to stay busy, because productivity demands it. So we spend our time being just as busy as any stockbroker or business person.

Think about it. When was the last time that you sat down to just enjoy a film or a novel or a play or a painting or a poem for that matter—without analyzing it or mining it for ideas? My guess is that it has been a while.

And that is exactly what we need to do. In addition to all this busyness, we need to stop and take some time that is not occupied with productivity and expose ourselves to art. That is, we need to take some time to absorb some art of some kind. This does not include the art we are working on producing or art we are studying or art we are teaching. It only includes art that we experience for ourselves—for enjoyment. And we need to do this every day. Even if all we take is just a few minutes every day, we will soon discover that those few minutes matter. We will find that it rests and relaxes us. Moreover, we will discover that our world is better because of that exposure to art. Our brains will become involved with art on a different level than usual, and we will find that our thoughts are changing—for the better because we are spending a little time on ourselves. We are finally beginning to take care of ourselves, and that is worth doing.

So let me encourage you to take a little time out of every day and involve yourself in some aspect of art that is not productive, something you simply enjoy, something that enriches you. It can be at the beginning or end of the day, or at some convenient time in the middle, but take some time to enjoy art, not just produce it. Start today.

Category:Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

Serendipity

Sunday, 25. February 2024 21:08

The last post came about strictly by serendipity. A friend commented that it was getting so that all artists had to be their own publicists as well as knowing their craft and suggested that I might do a post on that subject. I made notes, understanding that it would take some time and a bit of research to make a coherent post about the topic. The very next day on Threads I had a multi-page thread on the same subject come across my “for you” feed. Within two days I accidentally discovered an internet article on the same subject. The universe seemed to be telling me that I should go ahead and create the post. So I did.

Serendipity seems to have “two variations: 1) looking for something and finding it in an unexpected way, and 2) looking for something and finding something entirely different and very useful.” Notice that the emphasis is on chance. Serendipity is not something that we do; it’s something that’s done for us—all we have to do is recognize it. Of course that recognition of the happy accident may require some wisdom to recognize the unexpected observation. We have to be able to identify the useful information or idea for what it is. As a matter of fact, “serendipity has played a prominent part in many scientific discoveries.”

While some say that serendipity is just a chance thing, a coincidence, others believe that one of the way’s the universe tells us things. Sometimes, the serendipity is so strong that it seems the universe is demanding that we deal with whatever the topic is. Admittedly, that is a somewhat mystical approach, but the mystical aspect does not make it invalid. Perhaps the universe was indeed telling me to write the blog post.

Most of the time, however, I think that we create our own serendipity. Take, for example, the blog post in question. Since it was mentioned to me the day before I saw the thread, the topic was on my mind to some extent, which may have caused me to pay attention to the thread when I saw it. Had I seen the same thread the day before, I might have missed its significance all together. Had those two things not happened I could have entirely overlooked the internet article when it came by. Perhaps having that topic in mind—even at the subconscious level—causes us to look at the world with a different lens, one which causes us to be more aware of other data that may be related to the topic at hand.  Thus we are more alert when serendipity strikes and are in a better position to utilize the coincidental information.

Whether serendipitous ideas are completely coincidental or are the result of our mindset, we must take advantage of them when they happen. There seems to be little doubt that having the topic in mind, no matter what level, makes us more open to useful information. So we would do well to keep our current projects in mind at all times, so that we up the possibilities of encountering the serendipitous.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

Self-Promotion: a Required Skill for 21st Century Artists

Sunday, 11. February 2024 22:02

The traditional path to a career in the arts is no longer available. It used to be that the artist would spend time honing their craft, then produce a product. Using networked contacts, the artist would then locate a gatekeeper, and if the product were deemed worthy, it would be sent out into the world. With the exception of the contacts and an occasional interview, the artist was free to devote time to creating the next work.

Today the artist still has to produce a product and maintain a network of contacts, but also has to have a social media presence. Actually, the artist needs more than just a social media presence; the artist needs to become an influencer. So great is the need that some believe the profession of artist no longer exists—“only ‘influencer’ remains.” What this means is that the artist needs to establish a “personal brand,” learn the technology associated with a number of social platforms, decipher the algorithm that will push postings on each of those platforms, and—most importantly—post consistently. That means time away from making art and spending more time on self-promotion. Soon, the artist is spending more time working on their brand rather than on making art. As musician Ricky Montgomery says, “Next thing you know, it’s been three years and you’ve spent almost no time on your art. You’re getting worse at it, but you’re becoming a great marketer for a product which is less and less good.”

Some celebrate this phenomenon. It’s more democratic, they say. What they don’t say is that when the artist is self-promoting on social media, they are competing for attention with everybody else on social media, whether they are artists or entrepreneurs selling new and exciting life styles. They are, in fact, competing with the world. And, it’s not as democratic as it seems. The gatekeepers are still there, except now, they not only worry about how good the artist’s work might be, but how many followers the artist has on Instagram, TikTok, X, Threads, YouTube, or Facebook. Gatekeepers are now looking for a guaranteed audience. Not only are there stories about writers who do not have enough of a following to be published, but there are instances of actors who were not cast because their competition had a bigger following on Instagram. No one is immune; Rebecca Jennings, in her Vox article, “Everyone’s a sellout now,” notes the case of a 65-year-old accountant who is “being encouraged by her company to post on LinkedIn to ‘build [her] brand.’”

And if the artist is opposed to self-promotion for whatever reason? Too bad. This is the society we live in today. So, yes, an artist could produce a fantastic work of art, whether it be a book or painting or photograph or sculpture, and never have it see the light of day because of lack of self-promotion. Joan Westenberg says that “we have confused popularity with skill. The number of hearts, likes, and followers determine a writer’s worth—not the quality of their prose.” And that may be sad, but until something changes, that’s how it is, and any person who wants to survive as an artist had better add self-promotion to their list of required skills.

Category:Marketing | Comment (0) | Author:

Continued Artistic Relevance

Sunday, 28. January 2024 20:10

A large number of people swear that when they go back and re-read Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, it’s a different book; it has different things to say; there are things in it that the reader has not seen before. This is a phenomenon that is not limited to Illusions; rather, it happens with almost any work that manages to stay relevant over time, or “hold up,” as some would say.

Composer and pianist Philip Glass has noticed the same phenomenon with regards to pieces of music, although he does not believe that the pieces have changed. Instead he believes that other things have changed and that change impacts the music: “What I found most interesting in coming back to many of these pieces is that something has changed. The music remains the same but I have changed, the world has changed, the way people hear, including myself, has changed. That change, or metamorphosis, is what interests me.”

It seems that there three ways to classify works of art over time: (1) there are those that “hold up,” that is, they continue to speak to their audiences, although, as noted above, some things seem to change or parts that were of lesser importance early on are now very important. (2) There are also those works that do not hold up without help, that is to say they lose their relevance and have to be made relevant to interest a “modern” audience. This often happens with musical theatre revivals, perhaps because musical theatre is so topical and temporal. This also happens with other types of works as well, often comedies—for the same reasons. (3)Then there are works that lose their relevance entirely as time passes. This is usually work that is tightly tied to temporal and topical aspects of the era in which it was created. There is very little way that such a work can resonate with an audience not of its time except as a cultural curiosity.

And while Glass is interested in the change itself, others are concerned what it is that makes a work continue to stay relevant to an audience over time, even though the specifics of what parts of the work actually speak to the audience may change. Certainly, a study of all types of art could be done to isolate those qualities that cause a work to remain relevant even though the audience may go through decades of cultural change, but the result would likely be a rather dry academic work that would say that those works that present problems and conditions that are universally human are the ones that will remain relevant. This, however, would be of little use to the working artist, because we all know that if we make our work too universal, it will not gain traction with the current audience and thus have no current relevance, much less relevance to future audience members.

The best solution is, I think, to forget future relevance. We need to make our work relevant to our current audience; we need to allow it to touch on universally human characteristics. Beyond that, we need only to strive to make it the best it can be. Whether it is relevant in the future is really up to future publishers, producers, and audiences. We need to worry less about some nebulous legacy and more about the art we create and its impact on its immediate audience.

Category:Audience | Comment (0) | Author:

Own Your Art

Sunday, 14. January 2024 23:18

There are a number of artists who are very much interested in keeping themselves out of their art. Instead of investing themselves, they develop a craft outside themselves to produce their product. That, of course, is one way to make art. Whether one makes the best art one can make, or even authentic art by that method is another question completely.

If one examines the work of acknowledged masters across all arts, one finds that most superior art is created by those who put themselves into their work. Consider the work of Tennessee Williams, Edward Hopper, Ansel Adams, Tony Kushner, Ernest Hemingway, Michelangelo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bob Fosse. Close examination of the work of these artists reveals that they created work from their own psyches, and that work is far superior to the work of artists who put less of themselves into their work. Moreover, because they invested so much of themselves into their work, they did not have to work at developing a style; rather, it came naturally because it was integral to the artist. The work of these and other-such individuals is immediately recognizable because of that integral style.

Not that we want to copy these masters, but we would do well to emulate their approach to creation. We would do better to create from our souls and own that creation rather than trying to make art that will appeal to the masses or generate a following. As the person on Threads who goes by the handle illitica1 says:

Too worried about
What will attract the masses
What will sell
Instead of opening the heart
Releasing the soul
The gift of creativity
Pen to paper
Stop trying to make it perfect
Let it be
What it is
Raw & uncut

Two likes. Shit that’s fine. If you doing what you love, everything will work out in time.
Just do.
Stop comparing. Hype yourself up.

If we aren’t already, we need to stop hiding who we are and pretending our art is not a part of us, or rather that we are not a part of our art. We need to first accept who we are, then acknowledge that who we are informs our art. We have things to say; we need to say them and not worry about the likes or retweets or follows or any of that other stuff. If what we make resonates with others, they will let us and others know. And soon there will be a tribe supporting our work. And if not, we still will have had the joy of creating—and knowing that our work is authentic and comes from deep inside. Our work will matter, if not to anyone else, to us.

Some theorists advise that we create according to what we know. Rather we should create from who we are, and be willing to own what we create. Our relationship to our work will be easier and our work will be the better for it.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

We Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel

Sunday, 31. December 2023 22:45

At this time of year, there is a virtual frenzy of New Year’s resolutions. Evidently, many of us think that we have behaviors that need correcting or improving or modifying, and January 1 presents a very convenient time to begin these new activities. Indeed, some seem to want to completely reinvent themselves. And perhaps new behaviors are a good idea, never mind the fact that 53% of New Year’s resolutions last three months or less. So this seasonal shift in attitudes and behaviors may not be the best way to really change things for the better.

And although New Year’s resolutions might be useful for other areas our lives (Statistically, the vast majority relate to health or finances.), such resolutions with regard to our art practices are not necessarily a good idea. The time of year might catch us in the midst of projects in various stages of completion, and changing approaches and procedures mid-project is never a good idea. Thus it is likely that the work will suffer or that the resolutions will last an even shorter time than three months.

It is, however, an excellent idea to review our working procedures from time to time. We may well find areas of our practice that will benefit from periodic appraisal. But when do we want to do that, if not at the end of one year and the beginning of another? Perhaps when we wrap up a project is a better time for self-evaluation. This approach allows us to consider one project at a time and evaluate the procedures and approaches that we utilized for that particular project, determining what worked well and what was less than satisfactory. Areas that need improvement can then be isolated and improvements considered before we begin a new project. For example, I know a stage director who, after the run of every show, holds a post mortem which involves the whole company. This allows everyone to examine what was done and how it was done, noting what improvements are called for by the next project. It is a procedure that seems to work very well for his situation.

By timing our evaluations and “resolutions” to the interval between projects, we are more likely to actually implement new ideas and changes in processes. If, of course, we find that these ideas are not productive, we can always revert to our former practices to get the job done. Or we can stop and try to find even newer ways to approach the creative problem.

Additionally, we might find that our new ideas for creative projects are not sweeping changes that will completely alter the way we approach the creative process the way some more general resolutions are designed to change our approach to health in a thorough and far-reaching fashion. Rather they are small changes, perhaps in the order in which we do the work, or what tools we select to perform certain tasks, or how much time we allow ourselves to do the work. But small changes can be very important in the long run and should not be ignored.

All of this presumes that we have a fairly solid process for creating; many of us have worked on our process for years and are mostly comfortable with it. That does not mean that no changes are called for, but it does mean that it does not need a complete overhaul—certainly not once a year and not in the way that more general New Year’s resolutions are designed to literally change a person’s life.

In other words, as regards our artistic process, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel once a year.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

When Inspiration Strkes

Sunday, 17. December 2023 19:56

The problem with inspiration is that it’s unpredictable. That’s why most working artists don’t depend on it. Rather, they show up at the easel or computer or studio at a predetermined time and do the work. Ideas lead to other ideas and the artifact gets produced. Then the artist moves on to the next project. It’s not as romantic as it is in the movies, but it’s more reliable—if the goal is to produce art.

But occasionally inspiration does strike. Most of us are so wrapped up in our daily routines that we often don’t know what to do with that. And one never knows what shape the inspiration will take or how long it will last. It may be an image or a plot line or a a melody line or a character description or a situation/resolution or just a situation with no resolution. It may not be about the content at all; rather, it might be about the shape of the finished artifact. And inspiration is often fleeting, having arrived in a dream or when the artist is in an altered state or in the middle of a conversation, and it is likely to disappear just as quickly and dramatically as it arrived. So what are we to do?

Do make notes immediately. Since the idea or vision or whatever it is is likely to evaporate instantaneously, it is a good idea to stop and make notes as soon as possible. These notes need to be as thorough as possible in the time allotted, even if it means stopping a conversation to write something down. And they need to be legible; often notes made in such a rush are illegible once they become cold, so care should be taken to be sure they are readable. Again, they should be as complete as possible, given the situation—just a single word or a phrase is not likely to give memory the kick it will need later to remember exactly what the inspiration was.

Don’t interrupt your current creative routine. Such a move can result in losing both the current flow and thus the current project as well as the new idea presented by the sudden inspiration. It’s better to continue on with the current project until completion, then turn to the new idea, which is why complete notes are so important.

Do revisit notes of the inspiration as soon as practical so that additional notes and embellishments can be added. This is an important step in that the idea may appear differently once the conversation or sleep or whatever is over and the idea has cooled a bit. It is also a necessary step in that the cooling of the initial idea will require that details be added and gaps be filled so that the idea can be developed.

Don’t let the idea languish too long. It was important enough to break into your consciousness unbidden, so it is important enough to develop. Work it into your creative routine as soon as you can without displacing other ideas and projects.

Do develop the idea. It may turn out to be some of your best work—or some of your least good—but it deserves to be realized.

And finally, don’t think that because of this idea, particularly if it successful, you can depend on inspiration for the bulk of your art-making.  The best you can do is to develop a creative work routine so that you invite inspiration to strike. It may or may not, but your production of art can continue.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Author: