Archive for December, 2010

The Levels of Craftsmanship

From A Writer’s Year by Sally J. Walker

December 29

“The Levels of Craftsmanship”

I believe there are four levels of craftsmanship in any art form, be it visual art, weaving, composing music, writing or . . . whatever task requires structure, skill and creativity.

The first level is POORLY CRAFTED. This is where the beginner is first dabbling and trying to immolate someone else’s work or an instructor’s directives. Yes, the craftsman may show promise and may demonstrate some rudimentary skill, but the end product is crude and not executed with any depth of awareness of the craft’s full scope of guidelines. This is comparable to the work of school children. Hack writing is where rudimentary stories or teleplays are produced under pressure without careful attention to the fullest potential of the work.

At the second level of SIMPLY CRAFTED, the craftsman has learned the fundamentals and strives to create a work that at least meets the minimal requirements of the art form. The work is a tad more sophisticated, more promising, yet still lacks creative depth and the ability to move the audience. At this level critics may recognize an under-developed talent. In writing that criticism may say the poetry weakly mimics or screenplays are not quite satisfying in characterization or story or a novel shallowly skims interesting but troublesome emotions to get on with a predictable plot.

The majority of long-suffering, studious craftsman I believe function at the WELL-CRAFTED level. These are the folks who have moved beyond fundamentals and can incorporate sophisticated, intelligent nuances. Their work repeatedly demonstrates a solid grasp of the required structure and evokes emotion in the recipients. These craftsmen push their work as far as their creativity can take them. They are the people who have evolved a depth of self-confidence to the point that they can ignore critics and produce craft THEY want to work on. Most commonly, the fact that the creator is pleased is mirrored in the pleasure of the audience.

The final level is probably much more open to interpretation. I believe it is the highest level that can be attained, FINE ART. I do not believe that renowned critics can pronounce that so-and-so has produced fine art. No, each individual makes that discovery for himself or herself when the work of art is experienced. Why the individual rather than the expert? Because I believe that fine art is the result of a higher power touching the imagination of the artist who in turn creates a work of art depicting a sublime, rapt, soul-shattering insight into some aspect of the human condition, a depiction that reaches into the heart, mind, soul of the beholder and CHANGES the awareness of life. That rare work is executed with deliberate perfection and purpose above and beyond mere well-crafted guidelines. No one expert or group can explain that experience to an individual. It is solely between the artist and the beholder.

Now, can a child prodigy produce fine art? Of course. Mozart and a cascade of young artists through the ages have proven it. BUT I also believe the rich experiences of a long life provide more opportunity for awareness of “life lessons” as well as the opportunity for any craftsman to move up the levels of their chosen field through practice, practice, practice.

I am working very hard to be considered at the well-crafted level. Perhaps I will be fortunate enough to once or twice have the opportunity to produce a piece of writing that someone considers fine art.

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From A Writer’s Year by Sally J. Walker

December 14

“Critique per the Golden Rule”

The end of the year puts me into the planning mode, especially figuring out my first round of submissions in the coming year. That mindset can create trepidation for some writers, but not for me. Nope, submitting material is easy compared to presenting my work to a peer. The editor, agent, studio reader or producer I send my work to is essentially a faceless entity. Yes, I have met some face-to-face but I do not KNOW them personally and vice versa.

On the other hand, when I share a piece of work with a peer it is almost always someone I know and trust. I have a pretty good idea of this person’s background, area of expertise and expectations. I do not put my work before them as a piece of perfection, rather as a work-in-progress that needs to change and grow. I am just too close to see its faults, where it sounds wrong, where it doesn’t connect. So I lay the work of my heart out there asking for someone else’s opinion, asking this person to tear it apart and find its specific faults. Ouch! Much riskier business than the generalized evaluation of that editor, agent, studio reader or producer!

I believe one of the hardest critique foibles to overcome is the “Comparison Syndrome” of “I would have said it this way.” That kind of feedback merely tells me the person giving feedback felt the need to say SOMETHING rather than to truly assess what wasn’t working and WHY it wasn’t working. I never want MY words in my poetry, fiction or scripts to be rearranged to match someone else’s manner of expression. I want to tell my story using my own voice. The most valued feedback can be as simple as “What are you trying to say here? I don’t get it.” Or just a simple question mark beside the point of confusion works, too. That is a thought-provoking flag for a writer, not a mean criticism.

I do not expect cruel judgment of worth, but rather motivational words, directions for what I need to think about and possibly revise. Neither do I expect patronization or groveling praise that does not specifically tell me what I am doing right and thus need to keep doing. Peer evaluation is truly a matter of practicing the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Believe me, those faceless professional acquisition people out there rarely have the luxury of being that kind of friend.

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