Pearls from artists* # 17December 5, 2012
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
The better you know yourself, the more you will know when you are playing to your strengths and when you are sticking your neck out. Venturing out of your comfort zone may be dangerous, yet you do it anyway because our ability to grow is directly proportional to an ability to entertain the uncomfortable.
… Another thing about knowing who you are is that you know what you should not be doing, which can save you a lot of heartaches and false starts if you catch it early on.
I was giving a lecture to students at Vassar not long ago. Working with the students’ autobiographies, I invited a dance student, a music student who brought his saxophone, and an art student to join me on stage. I asked the dancer to improvise some movement from a tuck position on the floor. I asked the saxophone player to accompany the dancer. And I asked the art student to assign colors to what they were doing. I admit I was constructing a three-ring circus in the lecture hall. But my goal was to bring the three students together by forcing them to work off the same page, and also to free them to discover how far they could go improvising on this simple assignment.
When I asked the art student to read out loud his color impressions, everyone in the hall was taken aback. He droned on and on about himself, feelings he’d had, stories about friends. Not a word about color. Finally I heard “limpid blue” come out of his mouth. I waved my arms, signaling him to stop reading.
“Do you realize,” I said, “that you’ve just recited about five hundred words in an assignment about color? You’ve covered everything under the sun, and ‘limpid blue’ is the first time you’ve mentioned a color. I’m not convinced you want to be a painter.”
As far as I was concerned, this young man was in “DNA denial.” I gave him a painterly exercise and he gave me a text heavy response. A young man with painting in his genes would be rattling off colors immediately. Instead, his vivid use of language – limpid blue does not come in tubes – suggested that he really ought to be a writer.
It would be presumptious of me to think I had him pegged for a writer, not a painter, after that brief encounter. But if I got him to reexamine what he’s built for, then he was a step or two ahead of most people.
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life
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