What is it that makes great art great? I’ve often seen people try to answer this question in a technical way, and have even been guilty of doing that myself on occasion; but I really think that it’s not about anything technical. Great art speaks to you in an intangible way that reaches to your very core. It may bring a deep sense of peace, or a sense of discomfort in the unsettled — but it moves you in a way that’s profoundly real. So as someone who creates art, the question becomes how do you do that?
There’re a number of things that have been helpful to me in my work, I’ve found that either technical mastery or technical inexperience tend to be good starting points — one end of the spectrum the technique is so natural that it’s not in the way, at the other end of the spectrum there is no sense of technique or how it should be to get in the way. I’m reminded of Prof. Peter Rothbart who I studied electroacoustic music with at Ithaca College. In one of the first intro classes he suggested that those of us who were not really accomplished keyboard players not try to play the synthesizer like a piano but rather treat the keyboard like a row of buttons so that our creativity was not stifled by lack of technical ability.
I’ve also found that for me it’s important to “empty the cup,” that is to stay to start from a position of no expectation about what the outcome will be. When I begin a new design, I do my very best to set aside any preconceived notions and simply read the script and/or score and see what it has to say. Only then, am I ready to talk to the director, with my initial impressions firmly in my mind to ground me.
But I still don’t think that these are the things that make for great art, I believe they can certainly help to facilitate it, but there’s something else. Whenever I do what I later looked back on as some of my best work, I home to a critical point where I am getting out of my way, and letting the work “do,” rather than me doing the work. I really don’t know how else to explain this, in a way it’s very strange, and in a way it’s very natural. It really is about letting go and letting the music, or the imagery, or the stage picture, or the talk comes through me. When I’m able to do that, that’s where the real magic is.