Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Truth of Line

One of the things that being an artist has taught me, is that everything is illusion and everything is also truth.

Yes.  You read that correctly.

All visual art is about recreating a truth in the world - and that recreation is never the actual object/being/place/person - it is a representation of it, an interpretation, and since it is not the actual thing, it is also an illusion - a network of lines and colors, dots and surface.

But that does not make it a lie.  Our own experiences, our interpretation of what we see, touch, and feel, our attempt at translating it, is also truth.  Truth to ourselves at least, though outside of that can be debatable.

So what does that have to do with dance?

Good question.  I will explain, but first a story!

I have attended numerous art classes throughout my entire life, from age 3 through now.  One of the ones I remember with great clarity was when I was 6, and we were tasked with making a drawing a still life of a candle in a holder. Rather than drawing the outline of the candle and the holder, the instructor said to me, as I remember it: "Break down the object into the shapes you see. So if that base there is an oval, you will draw an oval - but don't just draw one oval - allow your hand to make multiple ovals on the paper until you find one layer you are satisfied with.  Then chose that one as the best one to use to make your shape." I don't remember who the instructor was (though I remember many others throughout the years), but that concept struck deeply within my head and defined how I drew from that point on. 

But I didn't consciously realize it until about 10 years later, where I was auditioning to attend the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts.  You had to present a portfolio to several instructors during an interview, and then were observed in a drawing class.  As I drew the still-life, one of the teachers I had interviewed with looked over my shoulder, made a noise, left, and came back with another instructor, and they observed my drawing (no pressure guys!).  After a few minutes, he excitedly said, "You draw just like Alberto Giacometti!" He would later explain in greater detail when I attended the school the following summer - the distinct use of building depth in a drawing through multiple lines, varying the density and application of the line to create light and dark, defining the positive and negative space within the network of lines.  I hadn't really thought about why I drew the way I did, so it was rather validating as a young artist, and enlightening. This view told me every line didn't have to be perfect and clean - that it was the collective effect of them that created the experience.

The next drawing class that impacted me was my freshman drawing class at RISD with Tom Mills. He emphasized the creation of depth through many layers - of drawing and erasing, drawing again, rubbing away, and drawing again.  And upon this surface, making a strong commitment to the line, or the absence of it. It wasn't about having this perfectly white paper with perfectly articulated line that made a drawing "good" - it was about the emotion created, the layers of experience, and skillful interaction of the drawing implement with the surface.

So again, what does this have to do with dance? Everything.

The lines that a visual artist uses to draw are akin to the movements we make with our bodies in dance.  The canvas or paper is equal to the earth or stage the dance is performed upon. The lines recreate a truth, a journey, an experience in a drawing or painting.  It may be a painting of a vase of flowers, but it will never be the vase of flowers - for better or for worse.  A dance also recreates a truth, a journey, an experience in the same way - it is not the exact thing (a gathering of swans, fated lovers, a warrior in the desert?), but rather the emotional imprint of the thing and our relationship with it.

What does this mean? Why does it matter?  Well, an artist creates for the sake of creation - it is rarely about the finished product so much as it is the process.  It's about being to explore that truth of line as the art is being created - to argue with it, to define it, to obliterate it, and to build it up again.  The end result is successful if the journey is successful. If we allow ourselves to look at dance in the same - about how we create the dance, allow ourselves to explore the lines in all of their variations, rather than trying to strive for "perfection", we will get a lot more out of the process, and in turn, the audience will get a lot more from our dance.  It's not about the hard and fast details, the flash and decor, the branding and style - as it is about who we are on stage, what we have to say, and how say it.  That is the Truth of Line. Don't deceive yourself to believe otherwise, or let yourself be deceived by others - find your own truth first.

And then your dance will truly be YOUR dance.

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks for this illuminating post.
    One of my dance goals for this year was to work on my lines (in the Orientale sense of beautiful body lines). One goal now adapted! And to something approaching much nearer to my experience and joy of dance :-)