the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

stephen nachmanovitch on artistic editing

Posted by rigorousm on November 9, 2014

The muse presents raw bursts of inspiration, flashes, and improvisatory moments in which the art jus flows out. But she also presents the technical, organizational job of taking what we have generated, then filing and fitting and playing with the pieces until they line up. … The play of revision and editing transforms the raw into the cooked. This is a whole art unto itself, of vision and revision, playing again with the half-baked products of our prior play.

It is essential to perform that secretarial labor in a way that is not mechanical. Editing must come from the same inspired joy and abandon as free improvisation. Stravinsky tells us, “The idea of work to be done is for me so closely bound up with the idea of the arranging of materials and of the pleasure that the actual doing of the work affords us that, should the impossible happen and my work suddenly be given to me in a perfectly completed form, I should be embarrassed and nonplussed by it, as by a hoax.”

…Some elements of artistic editing: (1) deep feeling for the intentions beneath the surface; (2) sensual love of the language; (3) sense of elegance; (4) ruthlessness. The first three can perhaps be summarized under the category of good taste, which involves sensation, sense of balance, and knowledge of the medium, leavened with an appropriate sense of outrageousness. Ruthlessness is necessary in order to keep the artwork clear and simple — but note that there is a gigantic difference between simplicity and insipidity! The simple formulation of our vision may be far from easy; it may be challenging and disturbing and demand a great deal of work.

In the tricky business of fitting the pieces together, we work from a double point of view, moving deductively from our original inspiration of the whole and inductively from our particular inspirations of detail. Sometimes what’s needed is to cruedly smash through the confusions and obstacles; sometimes the most delicate, patient, intermittent massaging of the problem. … Sometimes the pieces we love most of the ones that end up on the cutting room floor. They may be some of the first-born images upon which the whole work was built. But when a building is completed, the scaffolding must come down.

— Stephen Nachmanovitch, “Form Unfolding” in Free Play: improvisation in life and art, pp 108-110.


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