Confessions of a Methodist (Art Theory)

by dschapman

When it is clearly understood that the Method is only a path, a means of discovering truth and honesty and then being able to apply it, the need for a method will be equally comprehensible.

Let us be clear about this: the world is a method of being. All universals are the same, the substance of art and of math and humanity, of the way the forces move and undulate. The honorable man is multitudinous beyond all conciliation. The intelligent man is universal, and unable to distinguish cleanly between beauty, logic, nature, and even the basest of animal instincts. Fires are set aside for the sole purpose of burning, producing heat; but other fires rage, highly mobile, and ravage the forests and boil the ponds. All methods are the made of the same different pieces, the same language of the religious gestalt; perfect truths, innate aligning of the senses; compulsions, desires, intense dissatisfaction. The wise men in the desert have hallucinated the method; the fat men in the East have divined it for themselves; the ancients knew it, alcoholics anonymous knows it, self-help guides know it. It is the commonality, bare though beautiful, between Arthur Rimbaud and James Dean, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Miyamoto Musashi.

“This,” said Strasberg, “is why acting is an art. For it is when we are able to create reality, truth, and beauty out of such seemingly adverse conditions, out of a void so to speak, and to do it with just the basic implements of life around us, with just ourselves and nothing else to work with, then and only then, have we transformed the theatre and its works into an art form.”

The Method is the naturalization of art, intelligence, and sensory experience, the humanist feat; a perfect game of chess, a sword duel or a draw, a conversation, a performance, a recital, an elegant theory; trans-substantiation, the blood and the body of Christ; an existential inference, of the highest, most sensitive order. It is the method of civilization; the animal dances and battles and rituals; the formula and the intuition of world-views, bearing the weight of the world on two sensitive shoulders.

An actor’s instrument is his whole self. It is his body, his mind and being, complete with thoughts, emotions, sensitivity, imagination, honesty, and awareness. More will be said later concerning its functions and subsequent training, but for now try to imagine the the actor’s instrument in much the same way you picture the musician and his violin, the artist and his canvas, paints, and brushes. Think of them as one and inseparable. Just as the musician practices daily on his instrument, always perfecting its response to his will through training, and the artist mixes his paints, brushing them on with the precision and beauty accrued only by drill, so must the actor be concerned with the training and development of his instrument and its responses to his commands.

My central problem, I think, is that I am hyper sensitive, and I have battled my sensitivities by steeping myself in a reluctant delusion, and now I am mired in a deluded and hyper sensitive confusion. I know about the hands and the tables and the monkeys and the coffee, and I’ve read all the books about all of the ways of the world. I see the science on the blackboard and I think, yes, that is beautiful, now what? Because despite the consistencies, the world is inconsistent, and the truth, so spoken of, does not exist; it is a lie, created by those who are capable of lying, who understand better than anyone else the substance – the truth – of the beautiful lie. The human condition pulses and strives and civilizations contract and expand. My awareness stays the same – hyper sensitive. I know what tools are, and I know my tools, and I use them as well as I can. I am my body, my mind and being, completely with my thoughts, my emotions, my sensitivities, my imagination, my honesty, my awareness – that goddamn awareness, awareness is what pushes us to our perfect performance, scared out of our mind, frozen at the edge of space, is what makes me move, with great deliberation, my hands as I move them, or express with my face my expressions. I am careful; I calculate; I practice the way I exist. It is not a study, or a hobby; it is a consumption. It never leaves me; I cannot step out of my roles, and the roles I could be, or have been.

Whether it be personal introspection, surveillance of life around him, appreciation of nature and her laws, awareness of people and their problems, or trying to wake up in the morning as the character he is playing, the actor must continually strive for perceptivity. For by seeing deeper than the surface aspects of life, he is able to broaden his own scope of any character he portrays. The depth of his art will depend greatly upon his perceptiveness.

I am a carpenter, an artist, and an intellectual, and I am the scum of the earth. I am more perceptive than most people, and I only suffer more than most for it. Listen to me, how I rail – you must be getting tired! So is the rat in the valley of death, tired of seeing the reaper. A season in hell… Do you know what that means? Have you considered that phrase, with your heart and your eyes full of water, a cold recognition, resounding, inside you, the way that you feel at those words – A season in hell!  “One evening I took Beauty in my arms – and I thought her bitter – and I insulted her.” And I was not a better man, and the man I could have been… It doesn’t matter if you’re smart, it doesn’t matter if you’re powerful, it doesn’t matter if you’re deluded or genuine, authentic or false, aware or oblivious; the world is the same, and the world is all that is the case…

“There is no beginning and no end to learning.”

But if I’m so smart… then what the hell am I doing here? If a genius – then a failure.