Weekend Reads: the invisible artist.
As we countdown the days until we begin to Tell Amazing Stories together during our 4 week collaborative course—only 3 days left to register to be (relatively) exact!—we're putting more and more effort into researching, dissecting, and just plain thinking hard about what it actually takes to tell an amazing story.
So we boil it all down to essentials: a story's "why"—it's purpose—is really about making sure that the storyteller can steer an audience, any audience really, to an intended destination, be it an emotion or an important realization. In that sense, what makes for an amazing story?
The most amazing stories are those that carry us to an astounding emotional destination before we've barely even noticed we've left.
Which is why this week's reading list is all about being invisible: artists who create art so immersive, so utterly captivating, we forget we're even in the midst of something that's been constructed at all. From actors to designers, from photographers to, of course, directors, the best stories don't even seem like stories at all.
They seem like a part of us.
Here are 5 reads we've recently uncovered that only reveal their intent long after we've started reading.
For any actor, a true measure of success is how believably one can disappear behind a carefully constructed character's facade. A perfect example—and one cherished by audiences recently—is Uzo Aduba's turn as Crazy Eyes on Netflix series Orange Is The New Black.
More than demonstrate Aduba's preparation for the role, this interview with Fast Company explores the kind of physicality and trying compartmentalization and artist must undergo to sublimate one's personality—make it invisible—in order to inhabit another soul. If an actor is doing it right, the audience should never even realize there's another person behind this one.
"On the walk in, it’s to invite in Suzanne and to just get my body to move, to just open up into that free place where she lives, and then I think, more importantly for me, depending on the weight of the scene, afterwards I usually walk about 20 minutes after work to just put her away. It’s almost like a treasure chest of toys, just to put everything back in the chest and make sure everything’s back in there. I’ll put her away like a doll almost. I finish using my imagination, and I put her back on the shelf."
Jim Harding is an airport sign designer: he helps people find their way through airports. In other words, if he’s doing his job to the utmost, no one will have any idea he’s doing it. Like any storyteller, in order for an audience to best be carried to the right place, to feel the intended emotions and understand the intended purpose, the audience must have no real idea they are being led.
Which isn’t such a sad thought for a creative person—that recognition exists only in a job well done—but it does mean that a truly satisfied creative must always remember why he or she does that job every single day.
A creative person must inevitably ask him or herself the same two questions: why do I create? For the sake of it?
“If you want to perform difficult, creative work at a masterly level, one key could be to, at least some extent, disregard external motivators… This isn’t to say that Harding and other Invisibles—as I call professionals whose work is critical yet goes largely unnoticed by the public—are indifferent to outside rewards, only that with near-unanimity they run second to rewards and motives derived from within.”
Like Jim Harding, Liu Bolin considers his art a success when he is undetectable. While there is something to be said—something metaphysical—about art that is about invisibility (like: it's art about art), Bolin is really dissecting the connections that art asks of us: with the art, sure, but mostly with each other.
As storytellers, we should always be asking ourselves that question: just how far can I remove myself from the stories I tell before it stops bringing people together?
Liu disappears. He stands still for hours as an assistant paints him to match his surroundings. Liu hopes his works...will compel people to ponder the often contentious relationship between the individual and society.
Some practical advice care of the awesome folks over at Wistia, their short primer on getting the music volume right for your video touches on a very important point for any storyteller: fading into the background is all about finding that perfect balance.
Background music can do wonderful things for your video. It can help create emotion, drive the pace and flow, and even hide pesky audio edits. But counter to what you may believe, the most successful background music is the music that you didn't even know was there.
Leave it to our friend Vincent Laforet to know a thing or two about immersion: be it pre-production, sound, or, especially, camera movement, Vincent is a huge proponent of filmmaking with purpose.
What it all comes down to (Or up to? Zero gravity is confusing.) is story: the storyteller must serve the story, not him- or herself. Because for any story to take the audience in the intended direction—to feel what the director intends to emotionally share—the storyteller must completely disappear from the story completely.
His ability to undertake this absolutely monumental task and bring incredible techniques to bear and still ultimately allow us to become enveloped in the STORY…is incredible.
This is easily one of the single most immersive films I’ve ever experienced.
It’s not just the 17 minute opening shot (without a single cut) that has you forget that you’re watching a film or montage, it’s also the incredible finesse as a director that Cuarón demonstrates in his knowledge of how and when to pull back, and to go from heart pounding immersion and overwhelming sound, to incredibly personal moments where you can’t hear a single sound.
If you have any articles or good reads about artists successfully disappearing behind their art—about storytellers able to get you lost in the stories they've created—please share in the comments below. This is what we'll be reading this weekend. What about you?