Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Inspiration, the Artist & the Audience

You can pretty much separate an artist's mind into two states: "inspired and working through it" and "waiting to be inspired."  The latter is usually accompanied by nail-biting, melancholy, and thoughts of "OMG, what if I never have another good idea again?!"  Which is rather silly if you actually do function actively as an artist, because you KNOW something always comes along, but yet, we go through this negative process time and time again. 

Perhaps it's because we're always measuring our current projects up to our past successes - which is also rather silly, because everything looks better in hindsight, and you can never go back to exactly that one moment in time.  Actually, I think most artists do understand this, but the issue perhaps lays more in the audience, who rarely know/understand the process behind art-making (be it music, painting, poetry, dance, etc), and pretty much all they have to look at is whatever is laying before them and what THEY remember about it and THEIR experience with it.  Worrying about how the audience will respond is what causes that valley of doubt in artists.  Which in turn can corrupt the creative process, and set the artist off on the wrong path.

Which is not to be interpreted as me saying, "the audience doesn't matter" - because especially for performance, what really brings the art to life is that interaction between the audience and the work*.  Art is meant to be experienced - first by the artist through the process of art-making and then by the world.  But if you seek to create a piece with strictly audience response in mind, you're truncating the process and gliding across the surface of an idea rather than delving into it.  What makes art honest - and most successful in my opinion, is work that you can tell was fully explored by the artist, through the artist, and then offered to the audience.

Let me put this is in terms that are more concrete:
-If you're a painter, you use the color red heavily because it means something to you, it has a purpose and an integrity to the work, and you simply MUST use red.  Rather than using red because you heard it's the hot new interior designer color and it means you could sell more work. 
-If you're a musician, you use a certain instrument because it rocks your soul and moves you to create, versus playing something because it's convenient or attracts the opposite sex.
-If you're a writer, you write about what really inspires you and what you know, versus concocting another vapid teen vampire romance, because those are so hot and selling at the moment.
-If you're a dancer, you choose movements that make you feel amazing, work with the music, and compliment your body, versus using whatever Big Name Dancer is currently doing or did last week. Or choosing music that really moves your soul versus what everyone else is using. 

I guess what I'm really talking about here is "selling out."  (And I swear I really started this post with the idea to talk about inspiration and where it comes from...oops...)  While in the short term, it may seem a good idea to either try and mimic a past success, or copy whatever everyone else is doing to get noticed (Look! I'm standing out by doing something crazy! Just like everyone else!) - it may get you temporary satisfaction, but it won't last long, because the cycle will continue onward, and the process will get farther and farther away from being in the realm of art-making - the audience WILL lose interest, and that valley is going to be even more deeper when you hit it.

Here's the dirty truth about Art: It ain't easy.  It's not supposed to be easy, and it's going to be messy at times.  It doesn't follow recipes consistently, especially if you're substituting in gimmick for substance.  It's got to be honest for it to truly be successful.  And rather than trying so hard to find inspiration for that next great idea, let it come to you, don't force it, and don't worry.  It will come, and probably smack you down and take your wallet while it's at it. (Gotta watch out for those Muses...) Lastly, not every idea is going to be successful - even going through the process entirely, doesn't mean it will be a hit.  Art is a bit like Russian roulette in that way - but if you don't take the risk, you'll never find out.  You just have to keep trying.

So with that to consider, I would like to leave you with one of my favorite art-related quotes of all time:
“Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further” - Rainer Maria Rilke

*I think I've talked about enough in the past about how performances shouldn't be "private moments on stage" where you're holding the audience hostage to whatever "art" you want to explore, in order to be in the spotlight.  Art is communication - and it's particularly a dialogue between the artist and the audience - not a lecture or display of self-indulgence (unless you're doing a piece about the 7 Deadly Sins perhaps..and even then..)


  1. You speak Truth, as always. being ourselves as artists is terrifying - because we are putting our "baby", our creation, out for public display and criticism, and yet people always seem to shine most when they are doing what is truly their inspiration, their beauty - following their Truth.
    A friend sent me this link today - and I love the list it contains:

    Thank you, Tempest!

  2. I love your blog. :-)

    "Art is a bit like Russian roulette in that way - but if you don't take the risk, you'll never find out. You just have to keep trying. " is the most true statement I have read all week!!