The Artist’s Journey, #8
Continuing our serialization of The Artist’s Journey, we’re picking up from last week, where the subject had become “What exactly is an artist?” We were delineating in that post the qualities that an artist possesses in her or his work.
32. MY SUBJECT
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Gates of Fire
Tides of War
Last of the Amazons
The Virtues of War
The War of Art
The Afghan Campaign
The Warrior Ethos
The Lion’s Gate
An American Jew
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t
36 Righteous Men
Even if you haven’t read any of these books, you can tell just from the titles that they possess a unified subject.
And yet …
My own artist’s journey, as I said, started twenty years before the first book on this page was written. Through those two decades, not a single book or screenplay I wrote was “on subject.”
Then, all of a sudden, the list above started.
A subject appeared.
From then on, every book was unerringly on-subject.
I have no idea how to explain it.
There was no plan. No decision. No moment of inflection.
It just happened.
33. AN ARTIST HAS A VOICE
The Deer Hunter
Kramer vs. Kramer
Out of Africa
The Bridges of Madison County
A Cry in the Dark
Postcards From The Edge
The Devil Wears Prada
The Iron Lady
Into the Woods
Ricki and the Flash
A Meryl Streep performance is as recognizably Streepian as a song by Jackson Browne is Browneian or a dance program by Twyla Tharp is Tharpian.
Did these artists get lucky? Were they born with voices? Or did they find and acquire them on their artists’ journeys?
34. AN ARTIST HAS A MEDIUM OF EXPRESSION
For Stephen King, it was fantasy/horror, which evolved over time into more ambitious and literary forms. For Bob Dylan, it was folk music, which likewise developed into higher and more innovative idioms.
A critical part of the artist’s journey is answering the question, “What is my medium of expression.
35. AN ARTIST HAS A POINT OF VIEW
When I first started working on movie sets, I used to marvel at how the director could answer so many questions from so many people so quickly and with such authority. “Where do you want the camera?” “What mark should the actress hit?” “How long till lunch?”
How did the director do it? How did he always know?
One day I asked.
“Because,” the director answered, “I have a point of view.”
In other words, the director knew what movie he was making.
He knew what it was about (subject.)
He knew what he wanted it to look and sound like (voice, medium of expression, and style).
36. PICASSO HAD A POINT OF VIEW
When Georges Braque and the early Cubists first painted portraits that had two eyes on one side of a woman’s face, critics were outraged. Art lovers were appalled. Intellectuals were brawling with each other in bistros in Montmarte and Saint-Germain-des-Pres.
But Braque knew. Picasso knew. Leger knew.
They had a point of view.
The Cubists could draw a representational face. But that wasn’t what they wanted. That wasn’t their point of view.
Caesar had a point of view.
Gandhi had a point of view.
Donald Trump has a point of view.
The artist can answer any question (including those posed by herself) when she has a point of view.
37. AN ARTIST HAS A STYLE
Picasso didn’t paint those crazy Cubist faces because it was the only way he knew how to draw. Nor did Hemingway employ short words because he couldn’t spell antidisestablishmentarianism.
Style is inseparable from voice. It evolves out of subject and point of view and blends seamlessly with medium of expression.
The artist on her journey may try out a number of styles before finding her own.
Each one of these—subject, voice, point of view, medium of expression, and style—is an aspect of the single question, “What is my gift?” which is itself another way of asking, “Who am I?”