Wednesday, 20 January 2010


From Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, by Keith Johnstone:

Most schools encourage children to be
unimaginative. The research so far shows that imaginative children are disliked by their teachers. (p 76)

We see the artist as a wild and aberrant figure. Maybe our artists are the people who have been constitutionally unable to conform to the demands of the teachers. Pavlov found that there were some dogs that he couldn’t ‘brainwash’ until he’d castrated them, and starved them for three weeks. If teachers could do that to us, then maybe they’d achieve Plato’s dream of a republic in which there are no artists left at all.

Many teachers think of children as immature adults. It might lead to better and more’respectful’ teaching, if we thought of adults as atrophied children. Many ‘well adjusted’ adults are bitter, uncreative frightened, unimaginative, and rather hostile people. Instead of assuming they were born that way, or that’s what being an adult entails, we might consider them as people damaged by their education and upbringing. (p 78)

We have an idea that art is self-expression – which historically is
weird. An artist used to be seen as a medium through which something else operated. He was a servant of the God. Maybe a mask-maker would have fasted and prayed for a week before he had a vision of the Mask he was to carve, because no one wanted to see his Mask, they wanted to see the God’s... Once we believe that art is self-expression, then the individual can be criticised not only for his skill or lack of skill, but simply for being what he is. (pp 78-9)

At school... I learned that the first idea was unsatisfactory because it was (1) psychotic; (2) obscene; (3) unoriginal.

The truth is that the
best ideas are often psychotic, obscene and unoriginal. (pp 82-3)

An artist who is inspired is being
obvious. He’s not making any decisions, he’s not weighing one idea against another. He’s accepting his first thoughts... Striving after originality takes you far away from your true self, and makes your work mediocre. (p 88)

Nothing much for me to add, and there are endlessly quotable bits in this book, but here is another one that jumps out:

People with dull lives often think that their lives are dull by chance. In reality everyone chooses more or less what kind of events will happen to them by their conscious patterns of blocking and yielding. A student objected to this view by saying, ‘But you don’t choose your life. Sometimes you are at the mercy of people who push you around.’ I said, ‘Do you avoid such people?’ ‘Oh!’ she said, ‘I see what you mean.’ (p 100)

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