On the Nature of Artistry

This post is inspired by the lectures of John Jacobsen.

What does it mean to be an Artist? Is an actor an Artist by default? What does the actor need to do to be considered an Artist? Those “actors” we see in TV commercials, are they artists?

What about Katy Perry? Madonna? Lil’ Wayne? Lady Gaga? The Beatles? Bananarama? Mozart?

Maybe Artistry has something to do with vision and approach to the work. Michelangelo is quoted as saying, “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

Can an actor be an Artist when she only has 3 lines? What about when the material is second rate? Now, think about the visual medium. Is it Art just because it is framed? Because it is hanging on a wall and underneath polished, anti-glare glass? Is it Art because everyone else says so?

Recently, in Scotland, I got to take in a lot of Picasso at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I was lucky enough to see some of my favorite works. I did not get to see his Guernica, although I do think I saw it at the Tate Modern in London, 2004. Guernica “shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace.” – Wikipedia.

In my opinion, this is “capital A, Art.” Now, I don’t think it is essential for an actor to civilly protest or be exceptionally politically to be considered an Artist, but an Artist, in my opinion, has to “speak” from a place of absolute truth. A place that is uniquely his own. It is only through this personal and honest expression that the actor-as-Artist is able to transmit universal ideas. And if we accept that acting is “responding to stimuli in imaginary circumstances in an imaginative, dynamic manner that is stylistically true to time and place, so as to communicate ideas an emotions to an audience,” (from Acting for the Camera by Tony Barr), then I believe that the most effective actors are those who have made a commitment to pursuing a path which develops their whole instrument – body, mind, soul, and spirt – while possessing the bravery to “go places” which are emotionally uncomfortable on a regular basis. It is this willingness to be seen which is at the core of the Artist.

I believe actors should strive to be Artists. To bring a high regard to the work, no matter how seemingly inconsequential the assignment. “There are no small parts!” I heard that chanted over and over when I was first starting in this business, and, by golly, it’s true.

Thanks for reading.

Stay Inspired,

David

4 thoughts on “On the Nature of Artistry

  1. When you say “Art with a capital A” – that’s correct because there are 2 kinds of art – good art (Capital A) and art in general, as in ‘anything created’. When Andy Warhol had his collaborators urinate on canvases he was making a wild statement that relates. The piss was framed and the piss, by this fact, was art. Warhol’s whole career was about questioning what art is and who decides. Also, I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent studying “Guernica” in my life. It was on my walls for years and I spent time with it everyday, I’d have to drag myself away from it. I was even writing about it yesterday. Picasso did all these studies, just endless studies to get the posture of the horse or position of the grieving mother correct. He did all this work and then just burned the painting out in a fever once he knew what he wanted to do… sort of like how an actor prepares – all this work, mulling over the script from every angle and making choices, then taking risks and going for it. Oh yes actors are artists, artists that live for that moment. Whether it’s ‘Art’ or just ‘art’, that’s not really their concern, you know, and a lot of it is out of their hands (Robert De Niro starred in both “Taxi Driver” and “Rocky and Bullwinkle: The Movie”) because movies are so collaborative. An interesting thing about actors is that the training and homework they do is to prepare them to be adaptable and flexible, not unlike a jazz musician, lots of instinct is involved. I like the ‘willingness to be seen’ line a lot – it takes bravery for sure. Dug reading this.

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