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The Artistic Balancing Act

Sunday, 2. September 2012 22:51

On a recent episode of Project Runway, Michael Kors commented that fashion is always “about balancing art and commerce.” He went on to tell the emotional Elena Silvnyak, “this is your shining moment that you found the balance.”  Nina Garcia followed up with idea that successful design is “not about stifling creativity,” but about “being creative and taking chances” and balancing that with customer appeal. (This last phrase is my wording, not hers.)

Substitute “audience appeal” for “customer appeal” and the same statements could be made about not only about any of the performing arts, but about virtually any art. Certainly film must appeal to an audience if it is to be financially successful. Live theatre too has to fit within the range of audience acceptance, which, as any theatre practitioner will tell you, is contextual. Dance is the same way, as is music.

The same concept applies to visual and plastic arts as well. There are endless stories of paintings, photographs, and sculptures that received critical acclaim and did not please their immediate audiences. The photography of Robert Mapplethorpe jumps to mind, as does the David Wojnarowicz’s video “A Fire in My Belly.”

And, of course, much that is written, whether it is words or music, does not find an immediate audience beyond critics and a tiny group aficionados, sometimes for less than artistic reasons—consider the publication history of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Some of the art that was not initially well-received, or was prevented from being received at all by authoritarian intervention, has had to wait for years for general acceptance. Some has never received it, at least in certain localities, particularly if the subject matter is religious or sexual. For example, Nagisa Ôshima’s film, In the Realm of the Senses, released in 1976 and considered by some to be a cinematic masterpiece, still cannot be shown completely uncensored in Japan.

The fact that some art is not immediately accepted by a general audience certainly does not mean that that the work is not good, merely that it has not (yet) found its audience. The question for the artist is not about the quality of the work, but whether he/she has been able to balance creativity and the appeal of the work to a purchasing audience. Being ahead of your time may produce some masterpieces, and certainly some controversy, but often it won’t pay the bills. So the problem for the practicing artist—at least for the majority of his/her work—is to find that balance that Michael Kors mentioned, the equilibrium between artistic vision and audience appeal.

And finding that balance is difficult, regardless of your art. If you move too far in one direction, you find yourself pandering to the audience instead of really creating. You quit making art and start making artless commodities. Your work becomes all about chasing the dollar, or yen, or euro and not about all of those things that you used to think art was really about. For musicians, and maybe for others, it’s often called “selling out.”

If you move too far in the other direction, you lose your audience, and you may run afoul of censors, whether official or unofficial. You make things that may or may not garner critical acclaim, that appeal to a tiny segment of arts-appreciating community, but you move so far beyond the majority of members of that community that you find yourself unrewarded financially.

If you are compelled to say things with your art that will prevent that art from being appreciated by a paying audience—and many artists are—by all means do so, but with a full understanding of what you are doing. If, however, you want to say what you have to say and get paid for it, your dilemma is exactly the same one that Elena Silvnyak and every other artist with a strong point of view or a clear artistic vision faces—how to find that place where everything balances, where one can follow one’s vision and create, yet at the same time incorporate that creation into a form that an audience—and it certainly does not have to be a huge one— can understand, appreciate, and pay for. It may not be easy, or even doable, but it’s worth your time to investigate the possibilities.

Category:Audience, Communication, Creativity, Presentation | Comments (3) | Autor:

Self-Knowledge: An Artistic Necessity

Sunday, 29. July 2012 22:03

In the middle of last week, one of my favorite ex-students came by to visit. An actor, she is currently in a show locally and wanted to give me a comp, which I happily accepted. And, of course, we talked—well, mostly she talked. But she always has really interesting things to say, which are usually about her journey as a theatre artist. She was pleased to report that she had finally found out what she needs from a director. At the same time, she acknowledged that she knows that she won’t always get it; however, simply knowing allows her to ask the right questions. It also allows her to become less frustrated when she doesn’t get what she needs, because she is now aware of the source of the frustration.

Two days later, I sat down to watch, via DVR, the season premiere of Project Runway only to hear Gunnar Deatherage say that the reason he was among those cut in the first episode of the last season was that he didn’t know who he was. He made reference to this idea several times, at one point changing the statement slightly to say that last year he didn’t know who he was as a designer. Another time he said that he knew who he was now. Regardless of what you think of Deatherage, his comments are important.

What is significant in both cases is the recognition of the importance of self-knowledge. We in the creative universe often talk about what we need to know—our media, our equipment, our message, our tribe, our potential clients, our business plans. We often hear ideas that hit close to the need for self-knowledge without actually saying it: “know what you are comfortable with,” “know where you fit into the market,” “know what is required of you,” “find your direction.” Very seldom do we hear this most basic and necessary of advice: know yourself. What better advice could there be for anyone in the arts?

Many people have no idea who they are. Some have never considered the question, while some have gone to great expense and trouble to “find themselves.” I am one who does not necessarily believe in finding yourself, but I am a great believer in learning yourself, finding out who you are. If you have no idea who you are, what you are about, how can you possibly hope to produce a coherent body of creative work? You are lacking a basis for your art.

But the self is not something that we can come to know once and never have to look at again. The self can be as dynamic or static as our emotions and intellect, but regardless of how fast if might be changing, a fairly stable core develops, and that is the part we need to get to know first and best.

Then we can and must look at the changes. These changes can modify our creative work. And sometimes, our creative work can change us. Once we develop some self-knowledge, we can then begin to sense when we are changing, what those changes are, and how they might impact the work that we do.

That we can only know our conscious mind should not suggest that only our conscious mind is involved in artistic creation. No matter what we do or do not know about ourselves, our work will still come from the same areas of the brain as always— the unconscious/subconscious as well as the conscious parts. However, with more self-knowledge, we may better be able to focus and direct the conscious part of our creative process so that our work better reflects both us and our message. Those who know who they are, at least as artists have, like this season’s Gunnar Deatherage, a point of view. They are no longer working only from the need to create, but from the additional need to say something, to express something, and they know what that something is. With self-knowledge comes direction.

And, armed with that self-knowledge, we, like the actor mentioned earlier, are in a much better position to decide what questions to ask, to determine what input we need to fuel our best output. Like her, we may not always get the answers we want or the input we need, but we will at least now know where to look.

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

The Efficacy of Editing

Monday, 10. October 2011 0:16

Quite a lot has been written about nurturing, or unleashing, or developing individual creativity, depending on whom you read. Not much has been written about editing the output of that creativity. If you research editing (for art works) you will find very little. There are a few tips for writers out there, but for the others of us, there is virtually nothing. Almost everyone who writes about the creative process mentions editing, but no one discusses the topic in full. I, myself, have mentioned editing several times, suggesting most recently that editing will allow you to make your work definite, strong, and meaningful.

Editing is just as much a part of art as the inspirational or inventive part. For example, Walter Murch, editor of The Godfather, Part II and Apocalypse Now has said that film editing “could just as easily be called ‘film construction.’” Stories abound about Murch and other film editors who have, by changing the pace and timing and juxtaposition of shots, actually “created” the most interesting and moving parts of the films. And what is true of film is true of other arts as well. Playwrights edit their already “finished” work, modifying and rewriting until opening night and sometimes after it. If you are familiar with Project Runway, then you certainly are aware of the judges repeatedly advising designers to edit their work. These fashion professionals seem to believe that runaway creativity may be just as bad no creativity.

Editing shapes the raw material of creativity. And self-editing is far more difficult than editing the work or others. It is relatively easy to look at a piece by someone else and see things that, if changed, would make the piece better. That’s why publishers employ editors, to take the task away from the far-more-subjective authors. However, looking at your own work and finding those same things to change is far more difficult. I suppose this is because you are so close to the work and perhaps have an emotional investment in it. The other reason is that a lot of us try to edit as we go, which does not allow us to be far enough removed from the creation of the piece to be as objective as we need to be to edit effectively.

Ernest Hemingway suggested that we “write drunk; edit sober.” Whether you write or photograph or paint or sculpt drunk or just in the flow, it is likely that what you produce will be in need of editing. And good editing requires that you be sober and objective.

For me, really effective editing requires a time lapse. I have to have enough time to let go of the work and come back to it with fresh eyes. How long that is depends on the work and how much creative investment I have in it, but some time lapse is required. Whatever time lapse works for you, or whatever other method you develop for yourself, the key is to come to the work with fresh eyes. Only then can you summon the objectivity needed to really examine, modify, and improve your work.

Of course, when you learn to edit as part of the total creative process, you find that there will always be something to change. There is always a tweak that can be made to improve the piece. So along with editing, you have to develop a sense of when to stop. That is, you have to be able to determine when the process can be suspended and the artifact released.

While it is part of the process, editing not just one more phase of creativity; it is a separate function entirely—not completely divorced from creation, but not the same either. It is the refining of creative output. And for really good work it is an absolute requirement.

Category:Creativity | Comments (1) | Autor: