Ten Lessons from 2012 – Six: “From your Taste Comes your Voice.”

Everyone in the arts is always very interested in the cultivation of your unique artistic voice.

What a strange abstraction that seems at first.  It is something we immediately recognize in specific artists and directors, but when trying to determine how that “voice” arose, it seems nearly impossible.  Is it completely arbitrary?  Do artists simply decide – “well I will behave in this way and that will be my trademark!”  How can one learn to cultivate their voice?

It is made all the more tragically significant in the post-modern digital era of artwork – where personal stye and voice often trump raw technical ability and mastery over a craft.  Still, no one would deny that style and voice are essential features of mastery.

Yet how do they come about?  It is understandable that a master arrives at his skill set through thousands of hours of practicing the craft – the relationship between labor and skillfulness is something we have all experienced on varying levels in our own lives.  How one goes from invisible practitioner to unique embodiment of creative choices is less clear however.

This year, I felt that I discovered the distinctive feature of this jump.

Craft is in large part characterized by the careful process of learning what consequentially significant individual choices make up the whole of a particular thing or desired end.  What materials, what methods, and what problems must be solved – and the variety of ways in which these problems can or should be solved.  In short, craft, like everything, is a series of small tasks and problems that need answering by acting man.

But by what basis will these problems be solved?  One measure, the starting measure, of how these problems must be solved is by gauging whether or not a given solution is adequate to solving the problem.  There are usually more than one seemingly equally adequate means a particular creative problem can be solved.  What will one decide when presented with, say, ten equally adequate solutions to a given creative problem?

Taste becomes the measuring point by which a critical creative decision will be made.  Taste – in congruence with the “higher” creative missions of the whole endeavor – is how a particular solution to any creative problem is determined.

If I am on set and a window needs covering I might determine that drapes are the necessary solution.  I still must determine what color drapes.  Well, my mind might turn to Kandinsky’s writings on color or it might turn to Storaro’s wavelength theory of color – but ultimately my decision is between essentially equal options.  I must make a decision that is ultimately a result of my tastes.  When you begin making decisions like these on a large scale, seemingly millions of times a day, you begin to simply use your intuition to solve these problems.

Surprisingly, the result shocked me.  I was amazed after having have completed a short film where many of the decisions were questions of taste and made primarily with intuition rather than conditioned reasoned methodology.

There was a unity and congruency to the “style” of the film.  It was something that I could only call voice.  And I recognized it as my own.  The amalgamation of all my decisions of “taste” on seemingly meaningless individual choices (some more meaningful than others, such as questions of composition, blocking, and subtext) came to form a unified whole.

As one submerges oneself in thousands of different styles, voices – books, movies, philosophers, friends, two A.M. conversations over obscure topics – one cultivates a certain passion for a particular through-line in human endeavors.

This through-line is the most valuable of things.  Don’t ever lose your grasp on it.  You don’t necessarily need to completely understand or be able to perfectly defend your acquisition of it.  It is yours and yours alone.  It cannot be purchased by any person, it cannot be taught, it is something acquired over the passage of decades rather than years.  It is the most essential feature by which you will make your most creative determinations and ultimately arrive at something that people may call style.

From your tastes emerges your voice.  It is the living embodiment of your tastes on a million different topics – put into the service of solving creative problems and making final creative determinations about the shape of the details.

This is not to say that all creative choices are somehow frivolous.  I am a big believer in methodology and principles in craft.  But if those things are the organs, the bones, the blood, and skin of a person’s mastery – then the tastes (in the form of voice and style) are most certainly the clothes that the fully formed person selects to wear.  They will come to define the look and feel of the unified whole.

I also believe very strongly that tastes must be cultivated.  A person who carelessly determines the shape and nature of their tastes will arrive at something clearly mal-formed.  Their tastes will be useless in productively directing their creative choices.  It will lead them to make decisions that lack unity and lack congruency as a whole.

The cultivation of tastes gives us an avenue by which we can always be expanding and growing as artists and craftsman.  We may each day commit ourselves to further explore the world and the universe of ideas, aesthetics, and creative choice.

The first step is realizing, and owning, how critically important our tastes really are.

Harder still, you must also learn to trust them.