Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Artistic Cross Training

by R.S. Mellette

I sat there naked listening to the teacher talk.

No, this wasn't one of those dreams where you find yourself in school or at work in your underwear. This was reality. No, I wasn't one of those young boys being abused by their smokin' hot eighth grade teacher... darn it. I was working as a model for figure drawing classes at Virginia Commonwealth University while I tried to finish out my BFA in theatre at this, my 3rd college.

To take my mind off my right foot, which had gone so numb from sitting still that it felt like it belonged to some other person, I listened to the teacher talk about technique. His art class sounded similar to my acting classes, and from what I could gather, his students hated him as much as some of the actors hated our teachers who pounded the drum of technique.

He talked of "seeing the muscles." (This was back when I had muscles). The students had to name them like doctors in an anatomy class. If a student drew lines, he asked them to point out the lines they saw on my body. (This was before I had lines on my body). "There are no lines," he would say, "only sharp differentials of light and shadow."

He was not teaching his students to draw; he was teaching them to see.

On breaks, I got to walk around and look at the students' work – which if you ever get a chance to do will make clear the concept of Cubism. In this teacher's class the drawings looked like me. Not only that, but as they year went on, the work got better. In another class, where the teacher did not harp on technique, anatomy, seeing what was really there, etc. I wondered why I had to be there at all. The drawings were as mushy as her discussions of how to draw. Her lessons had a point, but not for beginning students.

Noticing this difference, I decided to pay more attention to our teachers hammering home techniques of acting. "Listen and respond." "Don't act. React to what you're given." "Don't show, just do."

They weren't teaching us to speak – that's another class – they were teaching us to listen. To listen to our scene partners. To listen to the words on the page and what they had to say about the human condition our characters faced. They were teaching us to listen with our entire being.

The idea of artistic cross training took hold in my head and has become a tool of mine in all aspects of life. One I hope to share in this blog.

Painters learn to see. Actors learn to listen. Musicians learn to hear. Dancers learn to feel. Writers learn how all five senses create more than the sum of their parts.

From the artists' work, we learn how to become better human beings.

13 comments:

Josh Hoyt said...

This is very interesting the idea of listening with our whole soul. The idea of seeing beyond what we see with our eyes. Just some thoughts.

RSMellette said...

That's why I've always said that good artists are good people.

That doesn't stand up 100% of the time, but close.

Darke Conteur said...

I love that last paragraph. So true! Beautiful post. :)

RSMellette said...

Thanks. I worry that there's not enough practicle writing advice, but I guess someone has to be the esoteric one around here. :)

RSMellette said...

I forgot that today is 4/20 - National Marijuana day. I guess something esoteric and "oh, like, wow..." is appropriate.

Jennifer Merritt said...

I agree. If you pay attention, learning to see, hear, feel and listen helps you learn to live authentically. It's hard to lie to yourself when you are trying to see the truth in something or someone else. Great post!

RSMellette said...

Thanks Jennifer, I'm glad you could see the truth in it. ;)

cherie said...

Love your post, RS! I'm an artist--visual arts. I know what it means to "see". You articulated this so beautifully. Thanks!

RSMellette said...

Thanks for reading. I think you'll get a kick out of the series of articles I plan to do here.

Spread the word!

Rachel said...

Great post! Getting characters to react instead of act makes them so much more lively. I think I care more about characters when they're responsive like that.

RSMellette said...

It's called a communication loop. One person does something, which causes a response in another, which causes a response in the first, and so forth unitl you can't figure out what started it. Like the Hatfields & McCoys... or the Democrats & Republicans.

Leslie Rose said...

Whew, this took me back to my life drawing class in grad school. The models were not statue-worthy. I do believe a creative soul can channel itself in a myriad of ways when you learn different tools of expression.

RSMellette said...

That's what my articles here will be about, Leslie, so spread the word! :)