faith & art

arch of titus
Arch of Titus, Rome

“Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur.” ~ Henry Miller

What does that quote mean to you? Do you have faith in being an artist, a storyteller? The best people in film, TV, improv and comedy, regardless of their daily task whether behind or in front of the camera, above or below the line, are part of the storytelling tradition. Writers write for many reasons and the best ones keep writing, regardless of its reception. Artists keep going.

Our Level 7 improv teacher at iO West gave us the on-going homework of writing out a list of things we love every day. I like it because it goes a step beyond gratitude (or it can). If you’ve been doing a gratitude journal for awhile and are in the habit, try making lists of things you love. I’ve done these assigned “love lists” using the alphabet, 5 senses, 25 things, 10 things… whatever method strikes me on any given day. It’s the spirit of “Yes, And…” which, as you advance in improv, takes on a spiritual component. Yes to life, yes to moving forward, yes to uncertainty, yes to the next thing. It is the essence of the life of the artist. In a lifestyle filled with uncertainty, rejection, isolation, and so on, it’s focusing on the yes, on the love of creating that can keep you going. Because no matter who you are, at some point, the going always gets hard.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris
Arc de Triomphe, Paris

And yes, I will find my notes on Dorothy Allison’s lecture!

What does the film need?

June Squibb in NEBRASKA

Last night I attended a SAG Foundation event with Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd, who cast Fruitvale Station, and John Jackson, who casts Alexander Payne’s movies, including Nebraska. Nebraska was a ten year process. Novels, films, plays… they are often difficult things to get right, difficult to complete, to fund, to get out in front of an audience.  Even, maybe especially, the casting process, like much of the rest, is full of intangibles. Who can say why one actor comes through on film or is right for a role? They both mentioned a spiritual component to casting. And an intuitive one.

When he was asked about his day-to-day work casting, Mr. Jackson said he continually asks, “What does the film need?”  It sounds simple, but I find myself returning to it. It’s a great question for anyone in a creative endeavor: for the writer – what does the book or story need? for the improviser – what does the scene need? for everyone on a film – what does the film need? It helps take the ego out of the process and puts the focus on to the final product, where it belongs. It is a question of service and as such, one of love. Love for your fellow artists, for the audience, for the process, and for the work itself. You can watch their interview along with dozens of others at the SAG Foundation website for free!

What does your work need?  It is a question that will return you to your passion when it fades, to your purpose when you lose sight, to the story when you wander off. It is worth revisiting every day. Asking “what does it need?” will keep you honest.

Something else to ponder is this from Emma Thompson. As with Mr. Jackson, I keep coming back to what she says:


The artist and self-compassion

If you pursue the creative life, the journey will be, well, if not easier, more pleasant if you are kind to yourself. As a friend is fond of saying, the world is hard enough on you, why be hard on yourself? Please watch this, especially for the important distinction between self-esteem and self-compassion: