The Reader As An Artist

When asking popular writers for advice, most of them remark the act of reading as a must. A duty for every aspiring author to acknowledge. Read, read, read. Read and don’t cease to do it, even if you have published more than a hundred books.

At the very least, that piece of advice is ambiguous. It seems like reading is the first step of a great writer. A first step to the perfectly crafted artwork.

Most people are not aware of the power of reading. To read (to read well) is sometimes— with due respect to writers— more critical and more creative than writing. Many authors have a single idea in mind when they write (even if good literature implies many interpretations, metaphors, and allegories) a story, often plainer than what readers theorize about.

Readers dissect, analyze and comment in ways that enrich the writing universe. They have the audacity to unveil hidden truths, some of them harsh and disturbing for the upcoming readers. To uncover the political meaning, the many clichés of a passage. To create new unseen shapes for the original story. That is, by far, one of the most compelling creative ‘jobs’: the reader.

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Acting Is, Foremost, a Critical Ability

Acting as an art, acting at the stage, acting in front of the camera. The verb ‘to act’ means more than follow a script. It would be naive to think of acting as something simple, consisting on two steps: perceiving and doing.

What the audience sometimes fail to see is the inner work of an actor/actress. The visible interpreter, the most expressive critic is the actor. Literary critics, philosophers, journalists? They are mostly working behind the spotlight.

But in the acting world, we are witnessing the vulnerable part of the critic, the one who makes an unique representation of the text, the one who has two difficult goals: to make a personal, refreshing view of the original text; and to convince the audience while doing so.

Good acting involves both introspection and the will to show oneself’s greatest capacity. We usually only recognise the second one. It even happens with some film critics: the result is brilliant, the result is overacted. What about the process? For most cases, the process is just material for biographies and documentaries concerning the lives of these artists. Next time, we should stop and have a glimpse on the journey.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is one of the most valuable, demanded skills. However, not many people know what does this concept mean. With ‘creativity’, critical thinking is probably the fashion word in today’s bussiness world. But in the same way, we are lacking of creativity and critical thinking the most. What is the problem, then?

The main issue there is that critical thinking and creativity imply autonomy, an independent mind. Many schools take a correct approach when teaching, but they forget the central point of the whole question: letting students make up their mind by inquiring and getting their hands dirty. In other words, teaching students how to be the source of the information, instead of teaching them what the answer is (which is important, too).

The next step is to suggest what kind of methods should be applied to ensure a greater critical thinking in students. Because all of it can be summarized in the idea of ‘curiosity’, people have to be encouraged to open their inquiring mind. This can be done by making projects and taking a more personal approach (e.g. How is Shakespeare related to my daily live and what can I learn from his writings?).

In the long run, critical thinking has an essential compound in our own experiences. That cannot be taught away from our lives in a fully impersonal way.

What Kind of Reader Are You?

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed one particular trend among academical subjects: we usually read the comments before diving into the original text. Which context is it set on? What innovation does it present? And the structure of the text, the grammar? Then, we experience the real piece of art; the one we have studied in thousand analysis and essays.

I tested myself by doing it in the other way: I decided to read a novel first, and then I would do the same with its comments. For my amusement, I discovered how a literary work opened more questions than answers. Opposed to the typical approach, my inquiries began to grow exponentially. When I was used to reading an academical comment on, let’s say, Hamlet of William Shakespeare, I encountered that I was reading it with another mind, already set in my brain wires. There were rather few questions.

This pattern applies to other fields. What if scientists today were invited to discover things themselves, and then they could compare their results with previously accepted ones?

How about a familiar context? We are often learning after the experience, not before. The conclusions tend to be ours, not from standard sources.

The Driving Impulse of the Artist

“The artist must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted. This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tension is the source of artistic energy.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Every artist feels an urge to express a truth through an artwork. That may be why this field is always making social criticism. The main task of the artist is to surrender itself to the act of creation.
Creativity used to be a problem for artists and scientists. Nowadays, with entrepreneurial coaches, gurus, and politicians who advocate for improving ‘creativity’ and seeing it as crucial, real artists are somehow discouraged. The creative process has been transformed more in a business question than in an art-related issue.
However, what artists really feel when it’s about creativity is always enduring and cathartic, not mindfulness or inner peace. When you face the battle of creativity as your core identity, your struggles are considerable enormous. As Goethe goes again:
It seems that two qualities are necessary if a great artist is to remain creative to the end of a long life; he must on the one hand retain an abnormally keen awareness of life, he must never grow complacent, never be content with life, must always demand the impossible and when he cannot have it, must despair. The burden of the mystery must be with him day and night.
We can conclude being an artist and creative is not only a career but an attitude.