Friday, February 15, 2013

The Non-Compete Clause

Another thing Mr. Lewis said in his keynote, and which he considered so important that he actually said: "Write this down," was "Never compete with the imagination of the child." He was addressing the picture book illustrator particularly, but it can also apply to the tendency of writers to overexplain.

Not explicitly stated, but demonstrated during the "first impressions" panel, is that the writer and illustrator must not compete with each other. More than one picture book text was too wordy and left nothing for the illustrator to do, while illustrations were cluttered with unnecessary details that detracted from the overall effect and were probably better explained in text or left up to the reader to supply. A picture book text and illustrations will ideally work together without redundancy, so they have to trust each other and not step on one another's lines, as well as trusting the audience to get the point without a big textual or illustrative hand emphasizing it. This is one of the reasons why the picture book is the most difficult artistic medium to master.

I'm not given to flat statements of fact on subjective matters, or hierarchical arrangements of anything; but I think "The picture book is the most difficult artistic medium to master" is as near as nothing a statement of fact, not opinion, and anybody who thinks differently should try it. But that is by the way.

Anyway, it occurs to me that the point here is that we all have to trust our collaborators in the creative process. And we all have collaborators, unless we hoard our talent and never let an audience at it. The audience changes the art.

It's like the observer effect in science (I think, if I understand that effect correctly.) The most perfectly-designed experiment has to be observed, recorded, and interpreted before anything can be learned from it; and the act of observing, recording, and interpreting changes the result in subtle, unquantifiable ways. That's something scientists can't get rid of and just have to live with and work around as best they can.

Artists do have a way out of releasing their work to be changed willy-nilly by any old person who happens along; but the price of it is too high. Art that no one looks at is art you fully control, but - what's the point? Unless somebody somewhere sings your song, dances your dance, plays your game, reads your book, eats your meal, or sits in your garden, it might as well not exist.

Which means that we have to be prepared to relinquish control; and that starts when we leave room in the creative process for the audience and our other collaborators - the people who play the instruments as well as the people who listen to the symphony.

When we resist the temptation to compete with the imaginations of the children.

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