Saturday, 21 January 2012

When is a drawing of Myrtle Morrison not a drawing of Myrtle Morrison?

When it's the basis for a lot of angsting about archetypes.

Playing about with character concepts last night. Should have been drawing invisible friends (bit ironic, that) ... but ended up reading over the future scripts for The Peckham Invalids again and started thinking about this gal, Myrtle. I'm just her colourist ... but I thought I'd give my tablet a spin and see what my take on her would be. Preemptive fan art if you will.

So she's a middle-aged lady of a certain social standing by the time we get to her in TPI ... but she would have been young once. I've been trying to decide if she was ever nice or just a bitch from the get-go. I suspect she's always been a bitch. Girlfriend knows that to succeed in this world you've got to crush a few fingers underfoot. Yikes.

This was brought about in part by an impromptu evening at Queen Elizabeth Hall watching the NoFit State Circus performing as part of the International Mime Festival that's been going on over the last couple of weeks.

I'd sort of gone along to go draw people doing stuff I don't normally get a chance to see (despite what you may have heard, my life doesn't usually involve people swinging on trapezes and dancing on tightropes). I sort of forgot about that and spent the whole time gawping at how beautiful the whole thing was. How the artists managed to convey so much without saying anything, so much character, subtle emotion and humour. Ritualised, abstracted symbols of the everyday comings and goings of the relationships we have with other people. Lovely.

Anyway. As I was sitting there, scribbling the odd note down, it sort of struck me, as it always does, how much of this use of body language, and costume to convey character traits can be echoed in illustration/written work (even amplified - you're not constrained by the laws of physics on a page). A lot of that is old knowledge ... using character archetypes is nothing new (Commedia dell'arte, anyone? What about the pantheon of Greek gods?) but if you accept that and use it knowingly I'd guess you can put it to shockingly affective use. I mean, no one expects you to invent a new alphabet every time you sit down to write a short story ... so keeping this in mind when you're using representative imagery is probably a good thing.

Of course it also means that whatever it is you're trying to say with the thing you're making runs deeper than the drawing itself and/or the words ... so I think that leads me onto the next little thing I've been thinking about recently ... which is how to go about feeding your (or, well, 'my' - this is turning into a bit of an introspective ramble after all) imagination.

You see ... from a 'craft' point of view I think it's great - if you're a wannabe story-maker like me- to go watch films, read pop-fiction, devour comics ... whatever. It's nice seeing how other people have looked at life and said stuff about it. It's going to help improve the eloquence of what you say, move it towards an established benchmark of what is acceptable or, arguably, what is more legible.

Problem with that is that it doesn't necessarily generate any new fodder for you to actually talk about or reveal any particularly unique or personal ways of talking about what you want to talk about. It's kind of learning about grammar, syntax, punctuation, or about music theory, and putting it into use is more akin to practising scales or set pieces than actual composition itself. If you're only looking at art forms for inspiration, would it be wrong of me to surmise that the best thing you can come up with would be a medley rather than your own melody?

It's troubling. Sometimes I wonder how much is left unsaid because the shared alphabets and symbols we use to make ourselves understood don't quite cover the area that you're trying to babble about. I wonder if this is why artists go round and round in circles for years over the same subject.

I don't know exactly where this ramble is going ... quick. Let's find a point. Oh, I know: I am currently wondering if the job of an artist (writer, painter, sculptor, sousaphonist, whatever) is to try and strike a balance between giving people something they already feel like they understand/read using a pre-understood medium (let's call that entertainment) and dredging that instinctive, unintelligible wordless pit of weird that makes people want to make things instead of just working in a call centre or as a cop. Or is all this navel-gazing counter-productive and should we focus our artistic shenanigans on more tangible research, like a scientist? Okay, that's not much of a point, but it's all I've got right now.

Look, I'm not the only one that gets upset by this stuff either. Charlie Kaufman is clearly more bothered about it than I am. He's such a bloody badass.

Okay. I'm just going to trail off and go back to writing about non-invisible invisible friends, otherwise I'm going to be worrying about this particular thinkhole all evening. Best way to thwart a thinkhole is to do the thing it's trying to swallow. I think.

P.S. I hope you like the drawing.

P.P.S Here's a detail view so you can see her snobby little face:

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