Thursday, November 19, 2009

artists statements and the art of dramatic writing

You might already know by now that I have multiple artistic identities.   When faced with a creative stumbling block, I sometimes find myself in a fugue state, shifting from artist to writer when I get tired of painting, or writer to artist when I just can't find the right words anymore.

Last week got to be pretty overwhelming as I underwent my thesis review and prepared to hang my work for the Eye Candy Show.  So overwhelming, in fact, that I didn't even go to the studio and paint on Saturday.  By Sunday, I was feeling like a writer again as my characters had found me and were providing me with new dialogue and backstory.

And so that's why this week I reopened a text from a screenwriting class I took long ago, Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing.  It's one of many books on writing  that I have in my personal library.  Reading it again after nine years, I was immediately was struck by what he said in the very first page:

Everything has a purpose, or premise.  Every second of our life has its own premise, whether or not we are conscious of it at the time.  The premise may be as simple as breathing or as complex as a vital emotional decision, but it is always there.
We may not succeed in proving each tiny premise, but that in no way alters the fact that there was one we meant to prove...The premise of each second contributes to the premise of the minute of which it is part, just as each minute gives its bit of life to the hour, and the hour to the day.  And so, in the end, there is a premise for every life.

A few pages later he emphasizes the importance of the premise of a story:

Every good play must have a well-formulated premise.  There may be more than one way to phrase the premise, but however it is phrased, the thought must be the same.
Playwrights usually get an idea, or are struck by an unusual situation, and decide to write a play around it.
The question is whether that idea, or that situation, provides sufficient basis for a play.  Our answer is no, although we are aware that out of a thousand playwrights, nine hundred and ninety-nine start out that way.
No idea, and no situation, was ever strong enough to carry you through to its logical conclusion without a clear-cut premise.
...You must have a premise--a premise which will lead you unmistakably to the goal your play hopes to reach.

And after reading this I realized not only what I needed to do about my never ending novel/screenplay in progress, but my art as well.  Because a premise is to fiction what a concept is to art.  And my creative process does not usually begin with such left-brain things as premises and concepts.  My writing is  usually inspired by people I know, conversations I overhear, or dreadful what-if scenarios I can't stop thinking about.  And my art (except for The Doll Project) is usually inspired by colors I like or textures I find interesting.  But it's not enough to write the kind of artist statement I am supposed to be writing.  My art must also have a premise, a concept, an internal logic that can be expressed verbally.

But where do premises come from?  Lajos Egri says they come from your own personal convictions:

You, however, should not write anything you do not believe  The premise should be a conviction of your own, so that you may prove it wholeheartedly.  Perhaps it is a preposterous premise to me--it must not be so to you.

A story without a premise, and an artistic oeuvre without a concept.  Those, so far, are my creative contributions to the world.  But I do have my own personal convitions, things I believe in, rules that I live by, the personal, idiosyncratic things that give all of the things I create their idiosyncratic qualities.  It's so easy to take things like that for granted.  I am hoping that with further introspection, I will discover that my premise and my concept have been there all along and I just needed to come up with the right words for them.

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