…….“The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” To write or paint or sing what you know is a good starting place, as it gives you the foundation and the tools to work with in order to build upon it. Continuing to create what you already know, however, leaves one feeling stagnant and dissatisfied. There is the sense that there is more to be learned, to be exposed to, in order to grow as an artist, whether of words or paints music.
In order to do that, you have to push beyond what you already know. If you love Shirley Jackson’s surreal prose, seek out a writer on the opposite end of the spectrum. If Monet inspires your canvas, look to Picasso. Find something so completely outside your own life experience, whether it’s in a book or in a museum or in an acting class, and embrace it. Tell that frightened voice that doubt is okay, that fear of the unknown is natural, but to kowtow to fear is what keeps us paralyzed in the same place day after day.
We can only grow through movement, through experience. An actor will inhabit many different people – in order to present them as real, rounded individuals as opposed to caricature, the actor will research her character to the last detail, up to and including language and movement. She will create a backstory for the character, something that only she will know, but the choices she makes informs her performance and provides a rich experience for the audience.
An example of this would be Demi Moore in G.I. Jane (1997). To prepare for her role as Lt. Jordan O’Neill, Moore had to undergo training and dietary changes. On top of that, she was sent to boot camp for two weeks, interacting with real military personnel. Keep in mind this was research and training for her character – this is an extreme example of pushing herself so far outside her comfort zone. But through this work, she created a character that was strong, intelligent, determined to succeed despite the odds stacked against her.
I remember seeing this film in the theater – the cheers from the audience when she challenges the master sergeant during her character’s training convinced me that they had wholly bought into her role, her character and were completely on her side to succeed.
This is really what you have to do in order to succeed – to reach for something that most certainly may exceed your grasp. How many times will you fall? You could fall down ten times, and rise up eleven, fall a hundred times, and rise up at a hundred and one. How you define success after that is entirely up to you.
Editor’s Note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC
Beloved by Toni Morrison