[GUEST BLOG] A Juilliard professor defines “Art” and NOT the way you think.

When I was twenty, I was afraid to meet new people.

When I was thirty, I realized meeting new people was the way to learn new things.

When I was forty, I finally got up the courage to make it a part of my daily practice.

And boy did my life change after that. 

And now, my NEW daily practice is that when I meet someone new who inspires or educates me, I share it with you.

Enter Jessica Blank, Juilliard and NYU Tisch Grad Film professor, not to mention writer of TV, film, and the theater (she created The Exonerated, a docu-drama that still gives me chills to this day.)

After just a couple convos with Jessica, I interrupted her insights and asked, “Can you write something for my audience?”

Thankfully, her mission of educating and inspiring TheaterMakers is as strong of mine.

So, without further ado, please enjoy this guest article by Jessica Blank (and make sure you read to the end to hear how Jessica can help you specifically):

Art Vs Craft by Jessica Blank

Let’s talk about this word: art. There’s a lot of mystery around it. A lot of romance.  And a lot of stuff we project onto it:  

That it’s only created by geniuses.  That it’s dependent on another mysterious thing called ‘inspiration.’  That it requires “talent.”   That it comes out fully formed, already brilliant.  That it’s channeled from another plane, through processes we don’t have control over, that we’re either born with access to or not.

None of that is true.

As a creator, coach, and teacher, I deal in story. So when I talk about “art” that’s the pocket of artmaking that I’m talking about. Scripts, novels, movies, TV series, plays–where you suspend disbelief, go on a journey with a character and come out the other side moved, transformed and changed.  

It turns out, when you’re working with story, there’s a tangible, concrete thing that causes the “moved, transformed and changed” part: universal story structure.  Anyone out there working in story is working with this structure, whether intentionally or intuitively.  

The components of it can be defined, they can be practiced, and they can be learned.

That’s craft.

The “art” part—your particular vision, passion, spirit, and emotional life, and how you translate it into your characters and their journey–that’s a different matter.  That takes deep inner excavation, it takes heart, and it takes courage.  The most impactful stories are the ones that unify art and craft.

But when we talk about creative work, we put the art part up on a pedestal, and we totally neglect the craft. We act like it’s this mysterious “inspiration” thing that makes the work powerful.  When really, it’s the craft of storytelling itself that carries the magic.

Inspiration, passion, emotion, synchronicity, resonance–all of these SHOW UP when you create a container for them and work your butt off honing, refining and sculpting that container.  

Think about nature: the structure of a cell isn’t life itself.  But that structure has to exist for life to move through. All art forms have their own inherent structures–music has scales and chord patterns, visual art has composition, color, and geometry–and character-based story has universal story structure.  

If you dedicate yourself to learning to work skillfully with these structures, the art will show up.

This is the reverse of what we’re usually taught. We’re taught that the inspiration, the ineffable magic, the genius, has to come first, and somehow that will create the conditions where structure will just naturally emerge.

And then we beat ourselves up wondering why we aren’t “talented” enough to just immediately and spontaneously create that structure.

We’ve got the whole thing backwards. 

We invite the art by creating the craft.

As storytellers, our job is to look at the narrative structure that is already patterning itself in all the story, all around us–and learn to work with that.  To trust that this pattern has shown up in all human cultures all over the world since the beginning of time for a reason.  Because it supports life.  Because it invites art.  Because it works.   

The invitation to magic is craft. 

And it can be learned.

– – – – –

I hope you enjoyed this guest article. I’ll bring you some others if you’d like?

And hey – if you want to learn more from Jessica? Check out her course on Story Structure:  The Secret to Radically Impactful Storytelling. Entirely online. And entirely transformational. I should know. I took it.  🙂

She only opens it up a few times a year, and she JUST closed it last week. But because she’s a friend of our TheaterMakin’ court, I asked to reopen it JUST for my readers. 

So, click here. FYI, this is only open until THIS SUNDAY, January, 23rd. And then, the offer goes away.

P.S. If you’re ready to speed things up but know you need some help, get on a call with my team. They’ll give you an honest assessment of where you are and if you’re ready to go to the next stage. Click here.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.