Theater and Visual Art: Philip Seymour Hoffman

I was teaching my Long Pose Portrait Drawing class at SMFA yesterday, and I was talking to one of the models I work with during one of the breaks. She’s a stage actress who performs regularly in the Boston area, and so when she’s working for classes we’ll chat about the show she’s working on and about acting. Theater and Dance are both art forms which for me are complete enigmas; I can appreciate and admire them, but in terms of the process I’m completely in the dark. Because I’m a musician, I’ve never had trouble making distinct correlations between art and music despite how vastly different they can appear at times. That said, I’m always really interested to hear about the theater scene and techniques used by actors in their profession. It’s amazing the similarities that exist between the two art forms.

So yesterday during a break she was telling me about Philip Seymour Hoffman and how she heard him once say “Always do your best work.” It’s a saying I’ve heard before in various forms, but it’s one of those statements which all of us can benefit from hearing regularly. He gave a specific example: even if you’re doing a poetry reading and there are only three people in the audience, make it the best work you’re possibly capable of because you never know who might be listening.

It’s the exact same scenario as a visual artist: always present yourself and your work to the highest possible level of quality, because you never know who might be there to see it. I’ve always believed that poor presentation of one’s work is another way of telling your audience that you don’t respect yourself enough to bother. An example is when I did a visiting artist critique a few years back and at the critique, one student had her work hung crooked on the wall so that all of her piees were overlapping, making it impossible to see the individual pieces clearly. Right off the bat, the bad presentation was impossible to ignore, making the work itself practically invisible.

Hoffman’s statement is a very simple one, but it’s amazing how tough it is to follow through on it. It’s a great reminder for all of us, myself included that we can make any viewing of our work important, no matter how insignificant it may seem at times.

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