The Critic & The Well
Talking with my good friend and ‘artist date’, Alia Thabit, I found myself spouting vehemently about the three aspects of daily practice, which she titled three prongs. I love that word—prong. Here is how I see it. This applies to artists but can easily be configured for other disciplines, and is really about how we perform to the world.
Technique and Rehearsal
To train a dancer there are, for most art schools, two daily necessities: technique and rehearsal. Technique is making building blocks. Rehearsal is arranging the blocks. Technique means going to a daily class where the dancer refines the body through specific exercises that strengthen and increase the range of motion, as well as entrain a specific vocabulary or set of movements (think of steps.) Just like being an athlete, a dancer has to be good at kicking the leg up, and jumping, and pointing the toes if s/he is training in ballet, for instance. If s/he is a bellydancer, shimmy and undulate. In rehearsal, the dancer takes the movements and puts them in configurations of expression for an audience to see. Rehearsal involves making these arrangements of steps or movements as well as practicing them until they are ready for an audience’s eye.
Both technique and rehearsal are children of the Critic. The Critic is what makes great artists great. Or at least capable professionals. The Critic energizes and pushes both talented and untalented people to reach farther than the edge of their native gift, to suffer discomfort or pain, to achieve a condition beyond average or ordinary. Most of being a great artist is diligent work, or as one friend said “dogged persistence”, and it is fired by the whip hand of Critic.
Being under the control of the Critic is all zing and fatigue. It is a thrill to have the Critic flogging you. The masochist/perfectionist is particularly delighted with this state of affairs. A pig in shit! But the Critic can use you up, burn your life force candle down. The Critic will turn the artist into a Hungry Ghost—empty, unfill-able, narcissistic, sad, frightened. And it is important to be aware that the Critic is heartless. It doesn’t care. The Critic will abandon its host.
The only remedy is to go to the Well—that Endless Font of Inspiration and Nurture—and be filled. The Well does not accept the Critic and as long as the Critic is in attendance, the water of the Well will not flow. The Well has other criteria. For it to heal and inspire, The Well requires that the dancer ungrip, untie, close the eyes, go in, feel, stop producing, stop performing.
For me, the high purpose and real role of Art, is to illuminate our full human condition, which includes our spiritual, non-ego reality. This means being able to go to The Well. The shallow role of Art is to be a puppet of appetites.
I reflect on my own Path with Art and see the 20 years I spent full-time working with the Critic, and now the more than 20 years working with the Well. I know them both intimately. The Well gives and heals and inspires and sustains me. The Critic is still there and works its magic but, since it can get easily crazed, I keep it on a tight leash.
Art: Three Prongs of Practice
Technique – refine your instrument
Rehearsal – refine your expression to others
Refine true self-connection, and beyond-self Communion
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