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.
If you’re plugging into the series for the first time, click on the following links to access the first seven parts of the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.
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?”
I always feel elevated by the thoughts that show up here.
This series gives me a lot to think about – as always, thank you!
Loving the serialization. Has my gears turning and my mind ready for Muse 2018 in Boston this weekend. Thanks for all you do! Cheers!
I’m also loving the serialization and new website, and want to once again thank you, Steven, for all you do. I’m looking forward to having this book within easy reach on my bookshelf. This particular post hits deep, exactly where I need to go.
Thanks, Steve. One way to discover your voice is to hear your work read aloud by someone in the string of a writing group. If it is a critique group, it can be useful to get feedback. Or not.
In a critique group I attended about 6 of us each brought 5 copies of 5 pages of what we had written. Then one of the group would read aloud pages not their own while we all listened.
After this there was an orderly sequence of feedback. You got your pages back which also had notes.
For me the critique feedback was quite secondary to the visceral surprise of hearing how different my writing voice sounded when heard next to others’.
I recommend this kind of experience… whether or not you enjoy getting feedback… just to hear the differences.
So…36 Righteous Men?!?! When will this be released. I love the Title.
Because of last week’s installment, I got a clear realization of my subject (although I’d always had a sneaking suspicion it might be that). Since then, I remembered that this subject has been following me around since college (I’m 76 now), and now (thanks, Steve!) it’s finally jelling and making itself at home.
It’s working. The cumulative effect of your posts over the past year is working. Don’t stop. Thanks.
Thank you, Steve!
Subtle but powerful. As always, few people make me think the way you do.
I just noticed your series on The Artist’s Journey two weeks ago, and it has already become the most favorite thing in my inbox. I relate to so much of what you’re saying. (For example, #32, Subject: My subject also just “showed up,” a decade or so after starting my Artist’s Journey, without me having to choose it. Looking back, there it is–my subject has become a defining thread in my musical compositions, essays, and even my graduate thesis). I really appreciate the way you illustrate your points by listing various artists’ bodies of work, including your own. I have one comment to offer about #34. Throughout my training as an ethnomusicologist, I have come across the ethnocentric, (e.g.,”white folk”) and erroneous idea that folk music is somehow a “lower” idiom in context to Western based or other so called higher art forms. There are numerous articles and books written on the more innovative (and necessary) aspects of folk music as well, which keep the form(s) alive. With this said, I understand what you’re saying within the overall frame of your work, and your words, which are a balm to the artist’s soul. We need this. I need this. And, I will line up to buy whatever you publish about The Artist’s Journey as soon as it’s in print. All the best!
I stumbled on The Artist’s Journey for the first time this morning, but I have deeply longed for it in recent months. I even started rereading The War of Art, but set it aside thinking I am not an artist. Well, of course I am, and that’s precisely what I have been resisting. The distinction between the hero’s journey and the artist’s somehow frees me. Now I am truly terrified.
I have just begun reading The War of Art; suggested to me by a lovely artist. now following you on The Artist’s Journey. I am 77 years old and have been terrified to pursue any art work. have tons of art supplies and am terrified of those blank papers. I am enjoying your words of wisdom and am trying to push through this stagnation. Looking forward to getting this book. Still need Do The Work. Where to find it.? Thank you for your precious time.
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