This week I had a lively conversation with an actor, designer and musician who are all actively developing their respective disciplines. There seemed to be an unspoken balance that everyone sought between becoming established and experienced and acquiring new skills and ideas.
One person brought up the idea of finding a voice. What does it mean to have a voice in art? In one of my very first art classes in my BFA studies, the instructor had each student say what he or she wanted to learn. I said I wanted to learn how to be honest in my work. Thankfully, the nagging feelings I had as a student—that I was merely emulating styles and techniques—do not plague me much anymore. Not that there aren’t frightening similarities between my works and other artists’, of course, just that it’s rarer now, and I’ve learned how to not be hamstrung by them.
The idea of having a voice made me think about having a perspective, of which a stronger extension, perhaps, would be taking a position with your work. And this brought up the different approaches within our crafts. I asked the actor if an actor is supposed to have a voice, perspective or position? Should an actor just disappear into the role? She explained the creative challenge and collaboration of acting—that a good actor can take crappy lines and turn them into a compelling character. This is much different from my approach as a designer, where I feel like without strong content, graphic design is just surface treatment. Because it’s a communications art, the form ought be in service of the content.
For actors and musicians, whose roles are largely interpretive, how much authorship is possible? We had an interesting dialog about whether the concept of voice is always tied to authenticity or authorship. Can one have a purely formal voice? When is form content? When isn’t it?
The musician shared a current debate in music theory about whether sounds are inherently meaningful or significance is culturally assigned to sounds. He then argued for the autonomy of the work; that a piece of music retains an essential identity outside of our social and cultural associations. To take a position in relation to a piece of music would be to deny the autonomy of the work, or to capitulate to the idea of complicity or relativism.