By Andrew J Chamberlain
About a year ago I launched a podcast called The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt. My aim was to provide some practical, accessible advice to writers, using short teaching episodes interspersed with an occasional longer interview with a writer, an editor, or a creative writing tutor. This has been the pattern for all of the thirty or so episodes I’ve released so far, except one. That one exception was an interview with visual development artist and illustrator, Claire Keane.
The reason I chose to talk to someone who is not a writer is quite simple; there are creative truths that apply across the artistic disciplines, and seeing them applied in a different art form can help us to understand how these truths work.
Three of these fundamental truths that I’ve learnt are:
Say what you mean
Authenticity is an absolute requirement of art. So for example writers will understand the need to create ‘authentic’ characters; that is characters who have an inherent truth about them, a reality that readers can identify with and believe in. When we start to talk to people from other artistic disciplines – artists, sculptors, illustrators, composers and musicians, actors and dancers – we find the same quest for authenticity. For these other artists that quest is mediated through physical performance, or musical composition, or lines on the page. But whatever artistic medium we are working in, all of us are striving to bring our audience to the point where they say: “I am prepared to believe in the truth of your art.” It might not be the literal truth in the sense of something that actually happened, but it is about persuading your audience that what you are showing is a truth, a truth about life, about how we are as people and how the world is.
Say what you mean
The best way to achieve this level of authenticity in our art is to have the courage to present what is in our hearts, whether it is from our own personal experience, or an honest perspective on the world. The artist must present things as they are, not as we would wish them to be. Presenting our art is not an exercise in civility and politeness, we need to present things as they are. Neither can we afford to be lazy and lapse into familiar clichés, and worldviews. Saying what you mean requires the courage to take the difficult route. Of course, authentic art can expose us, it can threaten how others perceive us. But the artist must set that aside and be honest with the audience. This does not mean they have to be rude or shocking for the sake of it, because that is as false as pretending the world is not as it is. But we have to do the simple, hard thing – and say what we mean.
Finally, and by way of a practical application, we must be specific. We must observe and present precisely what we experience. By doing so we stand the best chance of persuading our audience that we are telling them something worth attending to. It requires intense attention to detail, and relentless honesty. The end result of this quest for specificity can be something very brief, and simple. It might leave your audience saying “you make it look so easy”. Let them. Deep down they’ll know how damn hard it is achieve that.
This kind of brevity can only work if we are precise, sometimes obsessively precise. The writer who spends a day on six words, the composer who spends a week on a few bars of music, the artist who practices and practices to create a few lines of sketch – these people are not being precious about their art, they are working to achieve the precision required to create something authentic.
It is this mix of honesty, precision, and hard work that gives us our best work. It persuades the audience that what they are experiencing is a truth; a truth from which we can learn something, feel something. As artists our quest for these truths can be aided by seeing them manifest in different forms; and so when I interviewed Claire Keane, I knew that talking to an artist about her perspective on the creative process would benefit writers as they see the parallels in their own work.
This is the immensely hard challenge that all creative artists face, but all art forms have these creative imperatives; and if we are to present art that is worthy of our audience, and ourselves, then nothing less will do.
©Andrew J Chamberlain 2015