When I was a child in kindergarten I worried about entering the first grade. In particular, I was worried about meeting the gym teacher, a lady named “Miss Tarbell.” My brother told me that she was a terror, and that her name was due to the fact that she was covered in sticky tar with bells hanging from it so that she clanged when she walked like a fire alarm. I can remember the peculiar state of my five year old mind in which I both doubted this could be true and yet thought it might be.
A child’s state of mind. Innocence? I guess. A genuine belief that anything is possible. For an artist, the absolute confidence that I can make it so, whatever “it” is. How can an actor, for example, play Gandalf the Wizard?
Sir Ian McKellen: “How do I act so well? What I do is I pretend to be the person I’m portraying in the film or play. … Peter Jackson comes from New Zealand and says to me, ‘Sir Ian, I want you to be Gandalf, the wizard.’ And I say to him, ‘You are aware that I am not really a wizard?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I’m aware of that. What I want you to do is to use your acting skills to portray a wizard for the duration of the film.’ So I said, okay, and then I said to myself, ‘hmmmm, how would I do that?’ And this is what I did. I imagined what it would be like to be a wizard and then I pretended and acted in that way on the day. And how did I know what to say? The words were written down for me in a script. How did I know where to stand? People told me. If we were to draw a graph of my process, of my “method”, it would be something like this: “Sir Ian, Sir Ian… action… WIZARD: “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” …cut… “Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian…”
Acting is the first art, the first storytelling. The first paintings were stories. Paintings are always stories. Everything is story. Everything in art is pretend and make believe. In fact, the greatest human truths (not so-called “scientific truths”) are rooted in make believe. We make believe that our lives matter. Somehow or other. We do that, or we cannot make art or live life at all well.
Do I believe what I just wrote? For the moment. This is not an exercise in making a convincing argument, but rather an exercise in musing, just letting my thoughts take me where they might and seeing what turns up. To muse is not to think logically. That has its place, but not here. Not at the start. No, sir.
How might we punk the muse this week? Find an artist you admire, someone whose art is different than yours. You’re a writer? Think of an actor or a painter or a musician. Read what that person has to say about their art. Take it in. Meditate on it. Allow yourself to be moved and see where it leads.
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– Charles Kruger
The Storming Bohemian