Sunday, November 8, 2009

Learning from Other Artists

On Monday, I went with Rachel Jameson to see two documentary screenings hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The first was a film about the writer-historian David McCullough. This one really inspired me.

One of the most important things David said during the documentary was that art is something that can only be learned by doing. You can only get so much from books and watching. The real knowledge comes from doing it: writing it, sculpting it, painting it, acting it, performing it. That is the only way to truly master a creative art form.

I loved the way David McCullough delved deeply into historical figures he wrote about by going where they went and doing things they did and learning what they learned. Though it sounds so simple, not all writers do this. In some cases, the residence of said historical figure is either far away or no longer exists, but in other cases, we just study as much as we can from books and go from there. But, there is something to be said for breathing the air in the same place as a character and seeing what they see (or saw).

The film made me think differently of myself as a creative artist/writer and about the kind of writer I want to be.

The second documentary featured Phillip Glass. It was about two and a half times as long as the first one and delved into Phil Glass' family life, composition, friends, and a bit of history surrounding his career. On the whole, this one wasn't as engaging as the David McCullough documentary, but there was something that I did learn while watching.

Early on in the film, Phil Glass says that sometimes he doesn't know what he's doing. He doesn't always have a plan for what the whole thing will be, he just writes it until it all comes together and sometimes, when the conductor and the musicians play it, he will make adjustments because the notes he writes down are not always the sound he heard in his head when the song first came to him. He talked about having to listen and that there are times when the music is faint in his mind and he has to concentrate to hear the music.

I think this is the experience of most creatives. You hear or see something and you attempt to write it down or paint it but what you heard or saw in your mind is fuller, deeper in context than what you can convey with your translation of it. I find that as I write I don't always know what the story will be. There are times when I stop and start, when I have to re-group and figure it all out. And, there are times when I start writing, not fully knowing the direction, and yet it all comes together so brilliantly that I can amaze yourself (those are the moments artists all treasure).

So, I leave you with the thought that we must all learn our art by doing, by practicing, by writing, composing, painting, crafting. And, that sometimes, you don't know when you begin where you are going or where it will end up, but that doesn't make the effort less valid.

Write on!

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