Monday, February 9, 2009

the question of training

part the third
Once we have embraced the call of the artist, we must do something about it. The passage in Exodus speaks of Bezale’el being filled with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge in all manner of workmanship. This is part of the training of the artist. To be honest, I’m tired of “potential”. Potential is wasted unless it has purpose and direction. For the artist, it means more than simply doing what you’ve always been good at, at remaining at a certain level of skill and achievement. This training involves developing basic skills within your medium. You need a practical knowledge of the facts of the materials you are using. Drawing for the visual artist. An awareness of grammar and how language functions for the writer. Flexibility and strength for the dancer. Imagination for everyone.

It doesn’t end with physical skills. There must also be a development of mental skills: imagination, critical thinking, and an awareness of the traditions and larger histories of your craft. In many ways, creativity is simply “knowing what to do”. That requires an inventory of options already in place. The more you know about your materials, your tradition, and other practitioners of your chosen art form, the more choices you have, and the more aware you will be of possibilities. There is nothing new under the sun. Relax. Which leads me to a related issue.

Self-expression is, in many ways, the Golden Calf for artists. The image we have of ourselves as artists can easily become an idol and shape who we are and how we respond to people, especially when it comes to our art. I’m not saying that artists don’t express something of themselves as part of their work. There has to be an investment of ourselves to say what we feel needs to be said, to communicate something with passion and direction. But self-expression can often become the end-all and be-all. It’s not really about entering into a conversation. It’s not about the viewer or reader – it’s about the artist. And to be honest, that's selfish. The problem is that we too often swallow the [romantic] idea of the artist as tortured emotional genius, and that self-expression is our reason for being. It is not.

Bezale’el is also noted as having a desire to teach (and therefore, to learn). This is an important aspect of the calling of the artist - this desire to teach, or encourage, and to sharpen other artists (and other people, for that matter). Personally, I love introducing fellow creatives to new artists, new ideas, and new vocabularies for their work. I love challenging them and questioning them and critiquing their work, and enjoy it when other artists do the same with me. Don’t be afraid of critique. Understand where those critiques come from and that they are not personal attacks. You are not your work.

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