In my experience, figuring out where to start is the hardest part about creating a new work of art. I used to absolutely hate it. When I would start considering everything I wanted to do with the piece, I always felt so lost and so overwhelmed. So, (and I’m sure I’m not the only one here) I would skip past this step as quickly as possible – come up with vague idea of what the piece was about and then jump right into choreographing.
However, skipping steps and being vague doesn’t tend to breed quality art. Not only does the artist need to know ‘what the piece is about,’ they also need to know why they are creating the piece. Having a clear and driven purpose is vital to creating a meaningful, powerful work of art. Knowing your purpose will help you make the most impactful creative decisions, communicate with your audience, and ultimately, inspire your audience members.
So how do you find your purpose? First, every artist needs to understand that the purpose of the piece must be created, not found. The artist takes just as much responsibility for the purpose and meaning behind creating the piece as he/she does for the finished product itself, so there is no point to searching for meaning elsewhere. Create meaning and create purpose for your work.
I’ve always found that when a task seems daunting, it’s best to break it down into smaller pieces. That way, you can be more specific and meaningful with your choices. A solid, inspiring purpose can be broken down into three parts: Concept, Message, and Story.
- CONCEPT. This refers to the question that you want to explore with your piece. This question is best asked as a “What if?” question. My personal favorite example of a concept question is “what if we could see into someone else’s mind?” Other concept questions could be “what if I was trapped by something no one else could see?” or “what if two people were actually the same person at different stages in life?” Once you’ve found your question, it becomes a base for your work and you spend the work investigating and answering the question. This serves to unify your piece and make it unique. But the most important thing the concept does is engage your audience because it takes them on a journey to discovering something new.
- MESSAGE. When most people think of the message for their work of art, they tend to think it has to be in-your-face: a strong, clear statement about a social issue, injustice, or other idea. However, the message of the piece doesn’t necessarily need to be combative or have an agenda. Put simply, your message is what the audience takes away from the work. Consider what someone in your audience could get out of your work. What could you give them? A good way to think about this is to answer your concept question and connect it to the real world. For the question “What if two people were actually the same person?” the message would say something like, “(this) is what would happen if two people were actually the same person at different stages of life, and through their relationship I want my audience to know that even if they can’t change their own past, they can help somebody else’s future.”
- STORY. This does not refer to only narratives with casts of characters and dialogues, etc. The story is the journey on which artists take their audience. It is the sequence of events that supports the concept and the message. Deciding on an outline of your story early on in the creative process is so important because it ensures that you won’t contradict your concept and message later down the line. When creating the storyline, ask yourself, “What sequence of events would make my audience realize my message?” Of course the story can grow and change as you flesh out your piece, but always keep in mind whether or not the new events will support the message and concept.
The key when using these three elements is to keep revisiting them and checking back in as you create your piece. You have to make sure that all of the decisions you make support your purpose or all of your hard work in creating your purpose will have gone to waste. Your art is only as meaningful as you make it.