Friday, February 19, 2010

World Watching

There can be no true art without living.

Constantine Stanislavski
True art doesn't imitate art. It imitates life. Or better, it helps to explain and understand life. If I take my inspiration from art, I get it from music, literature, paintings, opera and dance. I don't really enjoy going to the theatre or watching a film as much as one might think. I find it hard to get involved in the story because I am watching actors act. I'm watching workers do their work. Having spent almost 50 years as a performer, I have an educating view of what actors do and what they don't do I can see the difference between the good and the bad, the real and the fake, the inspired and the acting-by-numbers. I can spot the influences and the copies. I can tell original work from the in-the-style-of.

It was also true during my career. I could admire them, but I never wanted to be so influenced by the work of another man that I would fall into the temptation of copying him. As a young man I learned a lot from the experienced older actors I had the good fortune to know. But what I learned from them was not technique. It was artistry.

And what is artistry? It's a very difficult thing to explain. Artists and others have been trying for centuries. You won't find the final definition of art in the pages of this journal, or anyone else's I suppose. Art is destroying and creating, it's shutting one's eyes in order to see clearly, it's digging for buried treasure without a map, it's taking all the struggles of one's life and slapping it down on a potters wheel.

One day a young woman came to visit me because she wanted some advice about becoming an actor. I know she wanted to hear about pictures and resumes, about getting an agent, getting auditions and where to look for wark. I could have told her about all of that, but I could tell she wasn't ready for it. I said, as I have said to others, there are as many ways to make a living in show business as there are people who've done it.

Instead, I advised her to read as much as she could, especially the great writers. I told her to go to concerts and carefully listen to the music, to go to the museum and spend time with the pieces there. I told her to watch people. If she wanted to depict the human race she should know what they are really like, what they do and how they behave. And most of all I said she should be aware of her own reactions to everything she experiences in her life. The artist never knows what slight impression, image or gesture lodged in his memory may become the master stroke of a great work of art. It is why the figures in Michelangelo's statues are alive.

DB - The Vagabond
(This is not a contest.)

Given the resources and opportunity, what one thing do you want to do in 2010 that you've never done before.

You have all Winter to answer. Answers will be posted on the first day of Spring.
16 responses so far.

DB - The Vagabond


Big Mark 243 said...

I don't think that you can 'copy' anyone. All you can do is make an interpretation based on what you draw from anyone else. That is how a discipline is built up and it continues to evolve. I mean, after the first one to do something, all else has to be a copy?

By whatever means one has to use to achieve, they should. I understand (I think) the advice you gave the young lady. It is the same kind of conversation I would have with someone who was interested in becoming a boxer/fighter. What you seek isn't directly in front of you on a straight line but all around. You have to draw it all together, but first you have to look for it.

Once you have discovered the art/skill/talent, then you can shape it into what you want it to be. Because it may resemble something doesn't change that you own what you have created.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Interesting, I had not considered that an actor would not want to watch other works, focusing on the mechanics vs. the story.

Gerry said...

I saw an old movie down to Doc's today called "Some Came Running." I am almost sure James Jones wrote the book, but whoever wrote it I thought was a very careful observer of human beings. The writer in the movie could not get the college teacher to accept him, flawed or not, but a girl even his friend called a pig loved him unconditionally, so he married her. Shirley McClaine played the floozy girl as well as any actress could in the business and Frank Sinatra was the brawling alcoholic writer who had more in common with the floozy than the college professor. You believed him. Dean Martin was his alcoholic friend who also went out with a floozie who could drink herself into a standing stupor (funnee) but Martha Hyer playing the college English professor Frank wanted to marry was miscast. She mangled her part in general. I just started cursing to Doc, "They miscast her, Martha Hyer can't act. She is ruining this great movie!" Arthur Kennedy as Frank's brother was perfect. Well, it was still a good movie and what you said reminded me so much of how important it is for an actor to know people in order to play them. Martha cared more about her makeup. Everything she said was affected, not spoken in natural tones at all. She was a great big miscast in a surprisingly great movie.