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  • Writer's pictureStefanie Barnfather

Art Is Messy

Learning from failure. Happy accidents. Clarity within chaos. However you choose to phrase it, Art is Messy.

Generally I structure my blogs fairly formulaically, but because the theme of this week is DISRUPTION we're going to have some fun. If you can handle a break in routine, keep reading. We're going to explore why you don't have to be afraid of down-and-dirty creation and how you can embrace madness to serve your stories.


A Lesson In Verse

Writers and artists are sensitive souls

Which helps us be good at our jobs,

But putting ourselves on display for the craft

Exposes our hearts to the snobs.

To weather the ups and the downturns of art

We have to hold strong to our pride

So when nasty critics go straight for the throat

It's easy to take it in stride,

But when you work hard on a story or tale

And sacrifice pleasure and care

A biting remark from a reader or pal

Can catch artists well unaware.

When you write a lot -- or create over years --

The hurtful words tend to increase

And so, to defend from the incessant jabs,

Most authors 'protect' to find peace.

We go to great lengths to avoid making shit

For fear we'll be poked once again,

But building defences will limit our work

Or turn it to something profane.

Please -- don't shy away from the uglier stuff

Despite what the critics will say.

Take risks and push boundaries, fail lots and lots,

And tuck that frail ego away.

If you can write crap and withstand the attacks

That fly at you from every side,

Then look at your work through compassionate eyes

You'll see all the good they've denied,

For failure has lessons attached -- every time --

If you can step back and be strong.

To make a career in an artistic field

You need to be messy lifelong.



When Geraldine entered the rehearsal studio that day she had no idea she was about to improve the narrative of her script -- and her life -- forever.

She'd stayed up the night before photocopying a new draft for the cast that had assembled to workshop her new play. They were performing the story for a live audience in two days, after only a week of reads and light dramaturgical exploration, so time was tight and text edit turnarounds were fast. Though she was proud of the story she'd written, after months of rewrites and -- now -- days with actors, Geraldine still wasn't confident her story would be well-received by an audience. The play wasn't coming together. Something was missing. But as hard as she worked, and as fantastic as her team was, nobody seemed to be able to figure out why the stakes of her story were lacklustre.

Geraldine was very concerned -- about her show, and her career as a playwright. It was a competitive industry, with little room for mediocrity, and her window of opportunity was tiny. She only had this one show to 'make it big' before she ran out of money and had to abandon her full-time artistic lifestyle.

So, she'd pushed herself: frantic edits, late night brainstorming sessions, lunch hour talks with trusted cast members and dragging in old pals to view the read-throughs. Geraldine would do anything to make her play shine -- but she was exhausted.

And she was terrified she was going to make a mistake.

Geraldine handed out the new draft to the cast, then settled on her playwright's chair behind the wide table that ran the length of the rehearsal studio. The surly director, Brad, flipped through her new pages while scanning his Facebook feed on his phone. The volunteer stage manager, Wendy, highlighted the new stage directions while biting her tongue. Geraldine sighed, rubbed her temple, then closed her eyes.

"Are we doing the whole thing today?"

A cast member's voice -- the lead actress' -- cut through Geraldine's sleep-fogged mind. She opened her eyes. "That's up to Brad."

Brad grunted, eyes still on his phone screen. "With two days until the performance, you bet your ass we're doing the whole thing."

The cast settled on their chairs, then flipped open their binders to insert the new pages into the older version of the script. Geraldine leaned around Brad to whisper to Wendy, "Did I number these pages correctly? There's been so many revisions, I lost track."

"Yup, they're good." A line of blue highlighter ran across Wendy's cheek. "Don't worry so much. Calm down." She mumbled something about 'emotional writers' as she continued her text illuminating.

Geraldine closed her eyes again.

"You ready?" Brad poked her shoulder. "If we want to make lunch, we need to start now."

Geraldine nodded, then looked at the cast -- who were watching the production table for their cue to begin. "I'm good."

"Okay, great." Brad turned to Wendy. "Any time."

"Alright cast!" Wendy's management tone commanded attention. "Brad wants to see the flow of the show, while giving you the chance to run the entire piece this morning -- so don't stop, no matter what. Even if this building catches on fire, we're going to keep going. Got it?"

The cast chuckled, then sat up straighter. The lead actress raised her hand. "Um, I think there's a page missing. Geraldine, can you walk us through the new transitio-"

"Didn't you hear what Wendy said?" Brad leaned over the table, scowling. "We don't have time to walk you through it. Be a professional, and read the text. We need to see the flow. Go with the flow."

The lead actress turned beet red. She shifted her eyes to stare down at her binder. "Sorry."

"No time for apologies." Brad leaned back in his chair. "Wendy? You got the timer ready?"

"Ready." Wendy's finger hovered over her phone screen.

"Remember, team." Brad smirked. "Don't stop. Go with the flow."

Wendy nodded. Her blue cheek twitched. "Alright, cast -- begin!"

The read began. As always, the first act went smoothly. This was the fourth time the cast had read through the beginning and their energy clicked and buzzed as though electrified. Geraldine's words came to life, practically leaping off the page. She wasn't comforted, though. The problems didn't begin until the second act.

After a five minute stretch break, the second act began. It started well -- the plot became more complex, the characters' relationships more strained, and the stakes rose as the action progressed towards the climax: but still Geraldine sat stiffly in her seat, dreading the stagnant pacing drop that was about to come. She didn't think her late night edits would make a difference. It wasn't going to be enough.

Mid-word, the lead actress stopped. She raised her hand. "I'm sorry, but this is what I was talking about. Geraldine, there's a page missing. My next line doesn't make any sense. I think you forgot to-"

"For the love of god, keep going! Stop resisting the flow!" Brad half-raised out of his chair. "We are timing you, for shit's sake."


Wendy flapped her arms. "Keep going -- keep going!"

The lead actress sighed. "Fine." She kept going.

The play progressed.

Geraldine sat up straighter. "Holy shit." She whispered in Brad's ear. "I did miss a page. This isn't right. Oh god, I'm so sor-"

"No apologies. Wait." Brad sat down, then hissed in her ear. "Watch."

Geraldine watched. Her eyes widened. The show was... good! There was no drop, no pause in the action. This happy accident of the exact, perfect page being excluded solved the problem she'd been struggling with for months!

She turned to Brad, tears pricking the corner of her eyes. "I should make mistakes more often."

Brad grinned. "See what happens when you go with the flow?"



What do you see when you look at this image by Jackson Pollock?

Do you see lines? Figures? Colour and movement?

Step back.

Do you see a story? Feelings? An image taking shape?

To many this painting is simple -- red and black and white, squiggles and inconsequential bumps. But within this mess meaning can be found, if you choose to look for it. Use your imagination. Invent answers to my questions. Put a stopper on your critical mind and open your limitless thoughts. Reflect. Introspect. Be bold. Be brave. Be unashamed to seek what is 'wrong' and challenge what is 'right'.

Walk away from the way you believe art has to be shared -- the way you were conditioned to trust was "correct" -- and change your creative values to see-think-feel-be beyond.

What do you want when you look at this image by Jackson Pollock?

What do you need? What do you desire?

Thanks for reading my blog this week! A personal note about my messy artistic style -- typically I write draft one of my blog on Fridays, then spend Monday morning editing. But my husband has been sick for three days and life keeps keeping on, so I wasn't able to write. I was in a MAD PANIC yesterday, assuming my blog would be trash this week, but this morning I took to heart the message I planned to share with you and stepped away from my regular format to try this. And I like it! I won't do this story-driven format every week -- I like my research // compartmentalized blog style -- but it's fun to depart from the norm every now and then, and my personal chaos enabled this to happen because I trusted good things could come out of irregularity.

Have a great week!

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