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Swing Analogies: The Artist and the Tool-Maker

November 29, 2012

Most artists’s primary job is to perform their art. Think of a painter — they pick up their brush, they pick up their palette, they stare at the canvas and then…begin.

A dancer, however, is not just an artist. A dancer is both an artist and a tool-maker. For, just as a painter has brushes, paints, and canvas, a dancer creates their art with balance, rhythm, and body awareness. But whereas a painter can buy their desired tools, a dancer has absolutely no choice but to make their own.

And here’s the thing: The tool-maker job is not only as-important as the artist’s job, it’s fundamentally tied to it. The better your balance, the better your rhythm, the more you can do as a dancer. Not only that, but you will automatically do more as a dancer without even trying. This is why, when I practice, I spend a lot of time not working on creativity, but making my tools better — it sounds contradictory, but that’s when I really start expressing myself.


Note: Following a comment below, I realized I had gotten a little sloppy in my analogy, which might have lead to some misleading thoughts and faulty connections. Here is my clarification:

I think there’s a small but important difference between “tools” and “techniques.” Reading over the post again, I confused my own analogy a bit by making this distinction a little sketchy in my own post.

An artist needs a brush to put paint on a canvas. The brush is the tool. The way they handle that brush is their technique in doing so. The picture they decide to paint is their creativity.

A dancer uses their body and the movement of that body to paint a picture. That body and that movement (as well as their shoes and dance floor, as you mentioned) are their tools. (Balance and Rhythm are their tools of movement.) Tools: Good balance. Technique: Mastering the art of manipulating that balance. Tools: Good Rhythm, Technique: Mastering the art of manipulating that rhythm.

(I realize we’re getting into tricky ground here, because the art of working on technique is in a sense getting better tools.)

In hindsight, had a waited a little longer and went back in a day or two to look over my post, I probably would have seen that what I had was two different points:

(1) An dancer has to hone their Tools, Technique, and Creativity. Dancers are a little different in having almost all their tools being a part of themselves physically and mentally.

(2) A dancer should working on making their tools AND technique better to inspire creativity.

Thanks, Sigga!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Sigga permalink
    November 29, 2012 6:41 pm

    I think all artists are both artists and tool makers the way you refer to it. Musicians have to work on their technique, painters need to work on their visualisation skills and hand-eye coordination etc. I don’t think the push-pull of technique and creativity is unique to dancers.

    Sure there are external tools for us all (instruments, shoes, paint, music, a dance floor and pencils) but having to build up technique to be able to be more easily creative is really common.

    I’m a very new dancer (still in the bright eyed and bushy tailed, oh wow this is amazing! stage) but I’ve played violin for a long time and everything you said about working on technique in order to basically more easily play the music rather than just the notes completely rings true over there too. Also the technical practice gives you the ability to play more involved songs and sink deeper into the music. There’s a reason even the most world class concert violinists never stop practicing their scales, in fact if they’re very short on time a lot of them will drop everything but scales from their daily practice.

    Basically I don’t think you’re wrong but you’re underselling non-dancer artists a bit.

    • Bobby permalink*
      November 29, 2012 7:34 pm

      I had no intention whatsoever of underselling musicians and other artists, and yes, ALL Artist build their creativity upon basic techniques.

      I think there’s a small but important difference between “tools” and “techniques.” In hindsite, I agree I confused my own analogy a bit by making this distinction a little sketchy in my own post.

      An artist needs a brush to put paint on a canvas. The brush is the tool. The way they handle that brush is their technique in doing so. The picture they decide to paint is their creativity.

      A dancer uses their body and the movement of that body to paint a picture. That body and that movement (as well as their shoes and dance floor, as you mentioned) are their tools. (Balance and Rhythm are their tools of movement.) Tools: Good balance. Technique: Mastering the art of manipulating that balance. Tools: Good Rhythm, Technique: Mastering the art of manipulating that rhythm.

      (I realize we’re getting into tricky ground here, because the art of working on technique is in a sense getting better tools)

      In hindsite, had a waited a little longer and went back in a day or two to look over my post, I probably would have seen that what I had was two different points:

      (1) A dancer has to hone their Tools, Technique, and Creativity. Dancers are special in having almost all their tools being a part of themselves physically and mentally.

      (2) A dancer should working on making their tools AND technique better to inspire creativity.

      (I have added a note above to serve as a clarification)

  2. November 30, 2012 1:59 am

    Have I recommended “Understanding Comics” to you? I’m surprised if I haven’t, since I talk about it so much. There’s a section in there that I think anyone trying to understand any sort of art should read.

  3. superheidi permalink
    November 30, 2012 11:20 pm

    Tricky anology, but I think I get your point. I’m just a bit puzzled about the limited definition of an artist/traditional painter. Art (creatively) stretched its definition pretty far beyond craftmanship.

    You can dance without shoes, a painter can paint without brushes. Tools may be enhancing or freeing when abandoned. But paint is the material of choice for a painter to work with. What about the body of a dancer?

  4. December 4, 2012 7:28 pm

    isn’t our body our brush…so a painter can maybe get a better brush (or even start doing video..) whereas were kind of stuck with the body we were born with…but our body is also part of the actual piece of art…whereas nobody will see the brush…I like the metaphor I think but it’s not as easy as it seemed in the beginning…

    • superheidi permalink
      December 5, 2012 6:39 pm

      That’s why I thought the body is not the tool, but “material”. A brush is a tool to apply material, like paint. Any material has its properties, think of wood, paper, sand, bronze, hair, bone, blood, plant, body, thought, movement, word, sound, light, it’s all been used. But it’s about how you work with the material, how you use it, shape it, bend it, form it, or let it be. The tools are not part of the end product. But the material is, or the remnants of the material are, it seems essential.
      That makes me wonder about dancers and choreographers and their roles when this art analogy is applied.

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