Why Every Artist Needs a Notebook

Why Every Artist Needs a Notebook
December 20, 2016 Andrea Muhlbauer

Every artist needs a notebook.

Well… the actual ‘notebook’ is negotiable. It could be a laptop, the notepad on your phone, a voice recorder, or any number of things. Anything that can transform the ideas in your head into something that another person can understand.

What could be SO important about all of these seemingly random things, that I’m outright declaring that an artist NEEDS to have at least one of them? Here’s the thing. Artistic ideas are INCREDIBLY difficult to articulate. They’re abstract, they’re usually messy, and they’re specific to the individual artist. BUT there comes a time in an artist’s life where their creative ideas MUST be not only articulated, but communicated: in collaboration.

I’ve talked a lot about collaboration in the past – if you’ve heard me say anything about collaboration, you know it’s all about communication. Communication is the one thing that can get every artist on the same page and working toward a common goal. No artist wants to be the one to hold up an entire project just because they don’t know how to articulate themselves. Frankly, it’s just unfair to the other artists working on the project who already know how to do articulate themselves.

This is where the notebook comes in. As an artist, you will have infinite opportunities to create work on your own, and fewer opportunities to create work with a collaborator. Instead of wasting your time when you’re working alone and then proceeding to waste your collaborator’s time because you can’t articulate your own ideas, practice articulating on your own. The pressure’s off – no one is waiting on you but yourself, and your notebook is the only one that will hear any of your fumbles.

So now I’ve put out this idea of something to work on: articulating your artistic ideas. But how do you actually practice that? I’ve found that the best way to do that is to write almost EVERYTHING down. Justify every decision you make in writing. Here are some different things you can practice articulating in your notebook (from a choreographer’s perspective):

  • The purpose for your piece (the concept, the message, the story)
  • A breakdown of the music into sections, phrases, beats, counts, etc.
  • Why you decided to place each section where you did & what each section means
  • The actual choreographed movement
  • The motivation for each movement
  • Every revision you want to make and why it’s necessary
  • A reflection on the success of the piece

These (and more) are all things that will eventually need to be communicated in a collaboration. And they’re INCREDIBLY difficult to articulate. So get out your notebook (or make it fun and go buy a new one) and start practicing.


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