The Artist’s Journey, #10
We’re now a little short of halfway through this serialization of The Artist’s Journey. (I may break it up with the odd rogue post from time to time). If you’re just joining, click on any of these links to track backward in time through prior posts:Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8. Part 9.
42. WHO R U?
I’ve read a dozen different versions of Stanislavsky’s famous Three Questions, i.e. the questions an actor must ask him- or herself before playing any scene. Here’s my version:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What do I want?
The second two are pretty easy. It’s the first that’s the killer.
Who am I?
An actor can answer that question like this: “I’m Ophelia. I’m Hamlet’s sweetheart and potential bride, etc.”
What about you and me?
We have to answer that question not on the stage, but in our own lives and in our own art.
“Tell me who you are, Junah. Who, in your deepest parts, when all that is unauthentic has been stripped away. Are you your name, Rannulph Junah? Will that hit this shot for you? Are you your illustrious forebears? Will they hit it?
“Are you your roles, Junah? Scion, soldier, Southerner? Husband, father, lover? Slayer of the foe in battle, comforter of the friend at home? Are you your virtues, Junah, or your sins? Your deeds, your feats? Are you your dreams or your nightmares? Tell me Junah. Can you hit the ball with any of these?”
We said earlier that a writer or an artist has no idea what she’s doing when she is initially seized by an idea.
I certainly had no clue when this passage of dialogue appeared on the page in The Legend of Bagger Vance. I didn’t plan it. It wasn’t in any outline.
How did it get there?
What happened was the “me” that wasn’t me, knowing that this issue was central to my evolution as a writer and as a human being, broke through like a dream and pushed those sentences onto the page.
43. THE WORLD THE ARTIST LIVES IN
Here’s my model of the universe in a nutshell:
The universe exists on at least two levels. (It may exist on an infinite number, but certainly it manifests itself on two.)
The first is the material world, the visible physical sphere in which you and I dwell.
Then there’s the second level.
The higher level.
The second level exists “above” the first but permeates the first at all times and in all instances. This second level is the invisible world, the plane of the as-yet-unmanifested, the sphere of pure potentiality.
Upon this level dwells that which will be, but is not yet.
Call this level the Unconscious, the Soul, the Self, the Superconscious.
44. THE ARTIST’S SKILL
What exactly does an artist do?
The writer, the dancer, the filmmaker … what, precisely, does their work consist of?
They shuttle from Level #1 to Level #2 and back again.
That’s their skill.
Twyla Tharp in her dance studio, Quentin Tarantino at his keyboard, Bob Dylan when he picks up a guitar or sits down at a piano. They perform this simple but miraculous act a thousand, ten thousand times a day.
They enter the Second World and come back to the First
with something that had never existed in the First World before.
A machine can’t do that.
A supercomputer packed with the most powerful A.I. system can’t do that.
In all of Creation, only two creatures can do that.
And you and I.
45. THE CONTOUR OF THE ARTIST’S LIFE
From the epiphanal moment at the end of her hero’s journey, the artist’s life is about the works she will produce. These taken in sum will comprise her body of work. They’re her “oeuvre.”
They’re also her destiny.
If she does it right, they will constitute upon completion a pretty fair expression of why she was put on Earth. They’ll define who she is. They will be her “gift for the people.”
But here’s the interesting part.
Each work (or, more exactly, the artist’s inner odyssey as she labors to produce each work) will be a hero’s journey in its own right.
46. EACH INCREMENT OF THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY IS A HERO’S JOURNEY
We experience our life as dull and ordinary. But beneath the surface, something powerful and transformative is brewing …
Suddenly the light bulb goes off. We’ve got a new idea! An idea for a novel, a movie, a startup …
Except immediately we perceive the downside. We become daunted. Our idea is risky. We’re afraid we can’t pull it off. We hesitate, until …
We’re having drinks with a friend. We tell her our idea. “I love it,” she says. “You’ve gotta do it.”
Fortified, we rally.
This is the pattern for the genesis of any creative work. It’s also, in Joseph Campbell terms, “the Ordinary World,” “The Call,” “Refusal of the Call,” “Meeting with the Mentor,” and “Crossing the Threshold.”
In other words, the first five stages of the hero’s journey.
Keep going. As you progress on your project, you’ll hit every other Campbellian beat, right down to the finish and release/publication, i.e., “The Return,” bearing a “Gift for the People.”
This pattern will hold true for the rest of your life, through every novel, movie, dance, drama, work of architecture, etc. you produce.
Every work is its own hero’s journey.