The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, December 04, 2006

More on "Deja Vu"

Here’s the point for those of you interested in writing work like "Deja Vu":  the audience’s appreciation of your masterpiece will be less dependant on the strictly “logical” core and more on the emotional reality. Does it feel right?  Life simply goes beyond our ability to “logic it out.”  Those who can’t handle that often fumble at relationships, which are messy and refuse to be calculated.  By the way—this is one of the reasons that the “Lifewriting” system uses our intimate relationships to measure and mirror our progress as human beings.

Art (and often, artists) just isn’t neat and clean and easy.  It is messy, and hard, and heartbreaking, and beyond logical calculation.  There are tropes and structures that can help you guide the basic work, but ultimately, the unconscious takes over, and exposes the core of your being: what do you REALLY think, what do you REALLY fear, what do you REALLY cherish, how do you REALLY think the world operates?

In some ways, I use structure to distract the conscious mind, to give the deeper, wilder, more alive and honest being the chance to express itself.  We are herd beasts.  We need the approval and support of our fellow humans.  Survival trumps damn near everything else, and survival often means blending into the crowd.

Try to be too “individual” and you often just become a different kind of conformist.  By using standards and structures—but not being limited by them—we can set ourselves free. This is an oddness, but a truth.  You have to learn the basic notes and hand positions before you can play improvisational jazz. 

There is a terrific scene in one of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels where Trav is talking to an abstract artist.  He dares her to simply draw a tree.  If she can, he will shut up about her work. She cannot.  Before you can create an impressionistic work, be certain that you can accurately portray reality.  Only then can you really twist it out of phase in an effective manner. 

The problem is that the urge for artistic—or individual—freedom can also hide a lack of skill or education or genuine intent.  It is the refuge of the artistic scoundrel, the person who is afraid to compete, and so creates something beyond (or beneath) evaluation, and then demands the same critical “pass” given to those who actually have the basics and have risen beyond.  For these, a monkey splattering paint on a canvas is no different from a painter who can create photo-realistic images, but scrambles the colors and shapes to give a purely emotional impression.  And ignorant audiences often trot right along with them.

I implore you not to do this to yourself.  Learn your basics.  Master them before you try to move beyond them.  The effort will pay you back manifold.

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