Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Visual vs. Performing Arts

One of my many astute commenters made a remark on the previous, pointing out a conflict between one thing I've said and another thing I've said. Both pretty recent, robust, declarations, too! It got me to thinking.

The performing arts have a long tradition of teaching, all the way up to the top. The best of the best, as often as not, still take lessons. The visual arts, at least in the last century, have less of such a thing. And that's interesting, isn't it?

I don't actually know the story in the performing arts, but I've seen some movies and read some books in my life, and I can speculate. So, what follows here is some mixture of fact, fiction, and speculation. cum grano salis as the poets say. A significant part of the lifelong teaching in the performing arts surrounds the management of injuries. Refinements of technique so that one does not hurt oneself in the dance, or to come back from an injury, or to deal with the changing body.

Photography in particular finds itself outside that world, because frankly the techniques are not that complicated, and the chances of injury are fairly slim. One might take a class from someone to quickly grasp some skill, say, portrait lighting, but one does not contract a long term relationship with a teacher to maintain and manage ones technique.

But that is clearly not all of it. There are certainly elements of expressiveness, of The Art, whatever that might be, in the classes a ballet dancer takes even at the top of their game.

My sense is that these teachers are at pains to avoid disturbing the artistry of these top performers. The goal of that aspect of the lesson is not to alter the artist's conception, but to help the artist discover and execute their own vision. I even saw a very very small dose of these a million years ago when I took piano lessons. Not that I am a top performer, or even a middle one. Perhaps a moderately capable 4 year old.

In any case, if for whatever reason you have contracted with a teacher to give you a lesson, you can reasonably expect them to tell you if your work is shit. What I hope that a teacher would do, though, is give you your head to pursue it the way you want, and more or less tell you what the results are.

"That's not working" might be a response, rather than an over-the-shoulder "no no, change that, do this, stop, back up" although that will happen too, but on matters of technique.

There's probably something to be said about the way performing arts separate expression and technique. Technique can be fiddled with on the fly, which is where the "no no, back up" ought to be coming in. In the first place, this is how you prevent injury, and in the second place breadth of technique enables expression. One might not say "that bit needs to be louder" but one might say "if you do this instead of that, you'll have more control over the volume in that bit" which is a jolly subtle distinction.

Anyways, there's definitely some conflicts in my thinking right now. I have very definite beliefs which contradict one another. Will it resolve? Will I catch fire? Stay tuned! Anything could happen!


  1. No worries, Emerson has your back: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..."

  2. Was it not ol' Walt Disney who wrote, "Do I contradict myself? So sue me! I am rich, I contain platitudes!"? No it wasn't, now I come to think about it. Some other Walt Guy. But you get the idea.