Friday, November 9, 2007

CLARITY: Ideas before drawings!


"SONYA, will you go up and say something for us?"
"A wonderful individual..."
"But you accent all the words equally!" exclaimed Tortsov, "You cannot squander your accents recklessly! . . . Say the word: individual."
"Indi-vidual," came the crisp reply. . . .
"Now you have two accents and the word has broken down in the middle." . . .
"Individual," Sonya said with great effort.
"That is not a vocal stress but a blow on the head," was Tortsov's joking comment. "But why do you feel you must cuff your words around?". . .
"Besides, . . . when you have sliced your word 'individual' into two parts you treat the first half with disdain by almost swallowing it, and you hurl the second half at us to explode like a hand grenade. Let in be one word, one idea, one meaning. Let its composition of sounds, letters, syllables be one melodic line. . . . That line will have form, definition, wholeness and integration to it. It will be better than a piece of wire broken up into bits, scattered around separate from each other. Now try bending the phonetic line of the word 'individual' into a variety of tones."
The whole class began to hum with a confusion of sounds.
"You are doing it mechanically," interrupted Tortsov. "You are producing dry, formal, inanimate sounds, only externally connected with each other. Put some life into them."
"But how?" we asked in bewilderment.
"First of all, by giving to the word the meaning with which nature endowed it - the thought, feeling, idea, image - and not by reducing it to a simple series of sound waves striking the ear drum.
"Make a painting with the word so that the individual you are drawing, that you have in your mind's eye and are describing to the character playing opposite you, will be clear to him. He will sense whether the human being behind the word is beautiful or deformed, tall or short, agreeable or repulsive, kind or cruel." . . .
Sonya made another try but still could not meet the test.
"Your mistake lies in the fact that you first say the word and only afterwards try to understand what it means. You are not drawing from a live model. Try doing things the other way around: first call to mind someone among your acquaintances, stand him up in front of you, the way a painter would, and then tell us what you see in the retina of your inner eye." . . .


When Tortsov came into class today he said to Sonya with a laugh:
"Well, how is our 'wonderful individual' today?"
Sonya answered that the wonderful individual was very well, and as she said it she accented it perfectly.


This was an abridged section of a Chapter titled "Accentuation: The Expressive Word" from Stanislavski's "Building a Character".
Although this passage stresses the importance of clear communication within acting, I find its meaning to be equally representative of the importance of clear communication within drawing. It is directly linked to something Walt Stanchfield - another important teacher - once wrote: "One should have a goal in mind when starting a drawing. And remember, a good beginning is a sure way to a good ending. This does not mean you shouldn't settle for where those lines may lead you - you must guide them toward your goal - which is a good gesture or story point."
The key here, I think, is the great similarity between Stanislavski's phonetic lines "bent" toward a specific definition and Stanchfield's drawn lines guided toward a precise story point.

Although I seem to understand the notion of clarity in theory, I, like Sonya, have difficulty with the practical approach. Here's a drawing I did recently, done in a couple of minutes, during what felt like a rare moment of "clarity".


Emma said...

Yeah, I have trouble with that. I like having a vague idea of what I want and then let the pencil wander, because I'm not good enough to actually draw anything fixed in my head.

Really intense look from him. His eyes pop off the page!

Anonymous said...

i'm more of a brecht person myself. never really liked the stanislavski approach.
the eyes and mouth in this drawing are perfect, they tell a big story.

Jason Kim said...

WoW! I'm so impressed. great stuff Dani!

Dani said...

Emma, I know, it's hard! I think it's a mix between knowledge, feeling and improvisation - and all of those can co-exist in a singular thought.

Pete, thanks.
I don't really know much about acting, but I do enjoy finding the similarities in approach between different art forms.

JK, thank you. That's highly encouraging!