They were so kind. They loved it, 'this is great Art' they all said. I didn't have the heart to tell them it wasn't really Art at all.
I thought to correct them about the true meaning of Art, but then my years as an artist shone through and saved me, and them. Sometimes the smartest thing you say is while your mouth is closed with only an appreciative smile. The days are gone when if I thought it, I said it.
It was the combination of this moment, and a meeting I had recently with college-bound creative students that help pasteurize my thoughts about it all...about Art.
I learned, through artistic pain, the three legs of the Art stool: Story, Technique and Creativity. Once three powerful words as a foundation for greatness, but today often diluted by cultural overuse and misuse. Or maybe redefined by the times: Story-can you get my attention, Technique-can you keep my attention, and Creativity-will you tell your friends about it?
But of course Art is fluid with the times, only really defined after time has passed. So, who's to say what to call Art...but we all have our opinions.
I recently was asked to give a talk to artistic students getting ready to attend college; to impart some worldly wisdom for a most important step toward fame and fortune in their creative education, and then their creative professions.
I had first made a list of several dozen of my 'misconceptions about college,' which could easily apply towards 'misconceptions about life'. But I am older now and understand that wisdom mostly has value only to the one who creates the wisdom, not to those who need, want, or feel the inclination to listen. Everybody wants to make their own wisdom rather than borrow someone else's. I understand that.
I first asked these young artists if they wanted to be rich and famous. Of course they all did whether they were willing to admit or not. Then I asked how many wanted to be great; Great defined as Extraordinary work as opposed to Ordinary work; with the understanding that it takes ten times more effort and pain to make something great than it does to make something good. So why bother? Because it becomes your quest, your obsession. Obsession, one of the many pains of Art. I could tell this notion about 'great' was something their mind needed to chew on further.
I told them I thought we only have control over being Great. Riches and Fame happen within an uncontrollable set of random circumstances. The only common element is that when the time comes, the door opens, those who stand at the entrance better be prepared. The door is only open for an instant.
I conducted my presentation of random thoughts based on a three-point thesis: HEROES, BACKDOORS and BUILDING FROM THE INSIDE OUT-The Secret of Artistic Proficiency.
It was an honesty attempt I chose not to inspire unrealistically, but to plant the seeds of survival for the battles to come; one day they would be up against the odds and perhaps recall, hey, it's not supposed to be easy, Art is all about pain. And it may just be enough to help them over to the next hill.
HEROES: If you're interested in a type of art, identify an artist with that work. Get to know everything about them. Not just their work but their life, struggles and accomplishments-their pain. You'll find they always began as ordinary people, like we all are (Mozart's and DaVinci's are freaks of nature). But, those ordinary heroes worked to attain the level or extraordinary abilities-why? How? What was the pain they suffered to rise from the ordinary-usually rejection is the most common.
Learn their work until you can duplicate as good, or better than they did. Because there are details in the process you can only learn by doing the process, not just reading about it, or thinking about it. When you've learned enough, move on, find another hero and begin the process again-life is not long enough to make all of the mistakes you need, rely on other's mistakes.
BACK DOORS: The notion of achieving your Art by being invited through the front door is a myth, one that everyone needs to learn. All heroes go through the back door; and even then they usually sneak in. All heroes work digging dirt of the foundations of their art in the beginning. It is why they well understand the complete nature of requirements for Story, Technique and Creativity. Foundations are what makes Great Art; the part audiences never see, but they feel the experience of what they are built upon. All Art begins in the dirt and mud. Virtual-Art may look like something, but it is an illusion without substance to soon fade.
BUILDING FROM THE INSIDE OUT: At the end of the day, Art is not a voyage of self-expression, it is a painful process of problem solving. Solutions must be three-dimensional in approach and execution. The prerequisite for Art is defining what the heck you want to say. If you don't have anything to say, do not start! Do not pass go, do not collect anything. Sit and think until you have something to say. Then you can begin the painful process of taking an idea through a journey to becoming someday an audience experience. If the audience does not comprehend your work, or appreciate your effort, don't blame them. It is always your fault.
It is always the author's fault in artistic failure-again, part of the pain! If they don't get it, you are a poor communicator. Learn from the pain and find other solutions. It is not their job to be satisfied and inspired, it is the sole task of the artist to create that experience. You strive toward a goal, finding that the journey is often the payoff, the reward in understanding you could only glean important stuff from the investment of your footprints, or as a friend of mine used to write in his salutations, 'Keep Your Boots Muddy.'
No matter the pain, effort or experience in technique, rarely does an idea connect. When it doesn't, you try again. When it does they call it Art.
I don't know if the students benefited from my talk. Most often you never know if the connection is ever made. Perhaps they have new data to ponder. And perhaps some will use that data to build into knowledge, and perhaps over time that knowledge will become wisdom...with all the pain appropriately deserved.