Different Perspectives: Doing Art vs. Consuming Art

Inspired by this thread where the ever-interesting Left Hand of Dorkness asked about Cirque du Soleil. A number of folks answered the question from an audience member’s point of view, whereas other posters answered from a cast-member’s point of view.

What are other examples where the artist/performer may have a completely different point of view than the audience - in a way that is not expected? I’m not talking about situations where a performer at Disney is so fed up with people wanting to take their pictures, or an actor on stage hates cell phones - something more insider and cool.

Here’s one from my perspective as a musician: super-rich musicians and mid-life crisis strummers shell out HUGE bucks for vintage instruments. Other players, like me, can’t afford those, but spend countless hours poring over what wood is used in the guitar, what tubes in the amplifier, etc. And mass-produced, digitally-driven gear is look upon snootily.

Ah - but session guitarists - guys/gals who don’t make a ton of money (unless they are one of the top players) but who are always trying to get a new gig for a commercial jingle or backing up a musician on a tour? They love the new digital stuff - all they care about is reliability and whether the gear comes close to getting the right sound - their hands can do the rest. I was talking with one really great session player and, while he acknowledged that his rig was the Chevrolet of gear not a Mercedes Benz, made a great case for how it served his needs.

How about you - any other insider scoop that an outsider wouldn’t realize?

Sculptor checking in. I doubt the general public understands the importance of skilled moldmakers, or the advantages/limitations of various casting media. Both can have an enormous affect on the end product, often in ways that are wrongly attributed to the skill (or lack thereof) of the sculptor… There are shapes can be reproduced in porcelain but not in earthenware. There are even more shapes available in a cold cast resin from a flexible mold that no fired medium which comes from a rigid plaster mold can reproduce, and so on. Until my own work was being reproduced, I had no appreciation for the difficulty of moldmaking or its importance in the final product.

As an author, I often see mechanical things in a book or movie that people overlook.

For instance, in Pulp Fiction, there’s much made about the band-aid on the back of Marcellus’s neck. As an author, it’s clear why it’s there: the audience has to identify Marcellus immediately when he crosses the road in front of Bruce Willis (otherwise, it would be mystifying as to why Willis tries to run him over). Yet we have not seen Marcellus’s face up to that point. Obviously, the band-aid is used to identify him: it allows Tarantino not to show his face, yet still make his identity clear when the audience needs to know. It’s very smart story construction.

I see things like this from time to time.

Another thing I see is people thinking a writer is an expert on some subject because he has a character saying something expert about it. But many times, the few lines needed for the story are the only ones the author knows about. The best example of this is in the book McTeague, in which Frank Norris describes a dental procedure in great details. Critics took this as a sign he spent long hours researching, but a check of Norris’s library records shows he borrowed a book on dental procedures and lifted the description almost verbatim.

People also seem to think that fantasy writers just make up things. However, most fantasy writers I know spend hours on research to get things right; I’m working on a story right now that is taking me more time to research than to write (and I have to stop writing from time to time to research it). When I finish it – and if I’ve done it right – 90% of that research won’t be noticeable to the casual reader.

There are also many misconceptions about authors that the general public has. For instance:

[li]Few authors (even successful ones) are rich. The average income for a writer is less than what you’d make at McDonald’s.[/li][li]Authors don’t get so wracked with writer’s block that they have to steal a manuscript and call it they’re own (I do know of one case, but that was highly unusual).[/li][li]Editors don’t steal manuscripts.[/li][/ol]

I learned quickly in college that in art and animation, there’s no such thing as “cheating.”
Stealing, yes, but the end product matters most.
If you find a better, faster, easier way to do it: do it that way.
(This did not apply to math (etc.) classes.)

To the end viewer, it’s more like “I don’t know art, but I know what I like.”
If it looks good, you did it good.

BTW, creativity is a process.

One of the challenges in writing for video is that wordsmiths don’t understand that the pictures always dominate. The words have to match not only in terms of narration, but mood, tempo and voice.

Linda Ellerbee (who came to TV after writing for newspapers) once said the hardest thing she had to learn was “writing silence.”

Nothing much to add. I just wanted to say this is one of the more interesting threads I’ve read here. Thanks for starting it WordMan.

I have noticed a very large disparity between musicians and non-musicians when it comes to opinions of which guitarist, drummer, whatever is more talented. I don’t think that’s anything new, or particularly astute of me, though.

First rule I learned in scriptwriting class was “Show, don’t tell.”
Knowing the rule didn’t make it any easier, though.

I collect art, as well as being a trained artist (that sounds much more pretentious than I mean it - I went to art college).

I’ve had friends and family members look at some of my artworks and say “Huh! My child/I/A monkey could do that!”

My art training allows me to point out why most people COULDN’T do “that”.

Also, when I see a $60 paint brush I drool, as opposed to think “You’ve GOT to be kidding me.”

As a very beginning painter, the first thing that surprised me is how technical it can be. I always looked at paintings with awe because I always thought an artist just ‘saw’ it in his head and painted it. But after studying painting techniques I discovered that much of it can be very precise. One famous painting of rowers on a lake by Thomas Eakins turned out to be backed up by perspective drawings, math, log scales drawn with a ruler over paper, etc. He even calculated the angles of incidence of the light on the lake to work out where to draw reflections and bright spots. Some early famous painters have erected huge wire grids to put in front of their subjects, and then drew the outlines on a paper with a patching grid to get all the relationships and angles right.

Of course, there are artists who can just see images in their heads and put them on paper, but many approach it much more technically, at least at first.

In woodworking, most people don’t seem to realize the massive difference between making one of something and making a bunch of identical somethings.

When building a single item, a great deal of time goes into hand-tweaking.

When building a run of matching items, a great deal of time goes into designing and building jigs. It takes twice as long to build the first one, but half as long to build the second one…

On a completely different subject, it never ceases to amaze me how many beginning writers think they’re going to produce a high-quality book all by themselves, never realize that professionals have publishers, editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, fact-checkers, cover artists, layout designers, sales and PR people, agents, indexers, and all kinds of others helping them out. We don’t all use all of the above (I do my own indexing and don’t have an agent), but this staff of experts backing us up is what makes for really great books with really great sales.

I’m shooting for a high quality book I do on my own, not necessarily presuming I’ll get there, if only to differentiate my work from the dreck created by others.

This is cool - thanks everybody.

As a musician, you always talk money first. Thanks for calling, yep, we’re friends and had some good times - how much are you prepared to pay? You going to meet my rate? Cover my costs if I get roadie help? You have adequate dance flooring? Access to heat and proper lighting? Adequate power? At least 2 30-amp outlets on different circuits?

Nothing sucks worse than not being in a position to rock the house because of inadequate planning. Some people think it’s being bitchy, but to the extent that playing in a rock band and getting the audience going in an art, it serves the art to have everything right. So yeah, I’m a hardass about it.

Og, yes! I can’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me to talk about equipment envy! Anything from the perfect paint brush to the perfect rotary tool can be a source of awe and wonder to those who use as opposed to those who buy. A potter friend of mine used to work as a machinist, and when the factory closed down he was given the most incredible goodies, including a vacuum chamber he uses for drying plaster and clay. He also bought a foxhair brush with handcarved bamboo handle that’s as beautiful to look at as it is to own.

I’m not an artist, but I wanted to thank you for this post. I will think of this when I am admiring paintings. Very interesting.

Been there, done that. I self-published a couple of books, doing all my own writing, editing, layout, indexing, artwork, cover design, paper selection, marketing, sales, and so on. It had better be a labor of love, because it’s a LOT of work, and it’s hard to even break even.

If you’re a great writer, but a mediocre cover designer (or artist, or layout designer, or whatever), you’re book simply won’t be as good as it could be if you worked with professionals. You have to be good at all aspects of the job. After those self-published books, I always hire a cover designer, and my books are better for it.

Even if you do try to do it all on your own, break down and pay a couple of proofreaders and a copyeditor. No matter how good you are, you’ll be surprised at what they catch. It’s really difficult to proof your own work and catch your own mistakes.


sorry to be self-serving here, but I found what other posters have had to say interesting so far…

The chapter “All About Music” from Frank Zappa’s book is one of the most illuminating things I’ve read for a while. At one point he has this line in bold:
**Music comes from composers – not musicians[/b

Yet, when I bring up Frank Zappa in conversation people will always comment on his ability to play guitar. It’s funny how often songwriting is overlooked, yet it is generally what determines the fate of a group.

Sheee. My POSTS on this message board are a testament to my inability to accurately proofread my own work. My three biggest miskates: I keep makign dunb typegraphical and spelling errs, or mentally inserting words that are to be there, or I’ll words invert in a sentence.

As an artist I realise that being good requires practise. I hate it when people say “Well of course you can do that, you’re just naturally talented.” All it means is that they can’t do whatever it is you just did, but considering that they haven’t drawn anything since fifth grade, it’s not very surprising. This probably happens to people whatever they do.

Well, talent is part of the equation, but it’s far less important than practice and determination. Plus you need to know the limits of your talent and develop the skills to use it to its best advantage.

A lot of people write books and don’t understand what makes a story worth reading. The assumption is that if a person sees a book – any book – they will buy it, read it, and tell their friends how good it was. Even though they are unlikely to do that – I’d guess that people will browse at least ten books and put them down while in the process of buying one.

People also have very unrealistic beliefs in the chance of success with self-publishing and of a vanity press. You can succeed with a self-published book if it’s specialized nonfiction (e.g., the history of My Home Town, or 1001 ways to cook venison) and if you market the hell out of it. But a self-published novel has no real chance of succeeding (there are a half dozen real examples of it happening – and hundreds of bogus ones*).

A vanity press has even less chance. And a vanity press is always going to blur the distinction.

*No, John Grisham did not self-publish his first novel (though he did market it himself). Edgar Rice Burroughs only began self-publishing when he was one of the most popular writers in America. Yet these examples come up time and time again.