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The Artist's Perspective - Memory

photo of an elephant
Elephants have amazing memories.

There I was, watching an old Youtube video of Barbra Streisand so passionately singing Andrew Loyd Webber’s show tune “Memory," from the musical Cats. In this HD version from 1981, Streisand is singing the character Grizabella’s story as if it was her own. Yet she is relying on Trevor Nunn’s lyrics lying on a stand right in front of her.

The Irony of it all, the song’s title is “Memory." Elvis also once sung the song “Memories," with its first two opening lines, Memories - pressed between the pages of my mind…Memories - sweeten through the ages just like wine.

Memory and memories are important parts of the creative process. They are not just a tool, but a necessity. Take for instance performance art and artists. Actors must remember their lines, and even those in part of their fellow actors, while possibly doing specific movements in the process. Actors must also not only remember a line; they must do so as if the line was a spontaneous part of them in the light of the character they portray. So actors are not only remembering lines, they are remembering songs, movement, cues from fellow actors, all while having to feed off their audience. To fall short of this is to fall short of mastering their craft. My, my, the respect I have for the artists who can do this in a believable fashion, and their memories!

Singers or musicians too, have to have amazing memory banks, capable of holding endless amounts of words, phrases, notes, and cords. They need to not only memorize it but again like the actor, be capable of knowing it to the point of being comfortable and even putting their own spin on things. Even being able to introduce improvisational elements along the way. Remembering the original artist and how they presented a tune originally, allows the musician covering the song to change its tempo, draw a line out, or to simply get creative. This helps make something they didn’t write, or experience, their own.

Dancers don’t just dance. Dancers feel, they portray mood and tell us a story through movement. Sure, some of this is improvisational, but much of it is choreographed. Imagine creating movements step-by-step. Then imagine bringing each step-by-step to life. The fluidity and accuracy of doing so only comes by enforcing it with practice. But I’m convinced the best dancers have also mastered memory. They have through time and experience found ways to memorize quickly and effectively, and it shows in their performance.

I’m honestly amazed in witnessing some of the “so-called” disabled actors at the organization - A Place To Be, in Middleburg. Known for work in music therapy, almost all of their clients have a different set of challenges than you or me. Yet to see a young person with autism so freely remember dialog, I’m honestly envious of their ability to do so. I have a hard time remembering names. My memory is very visual and especially spatial, so I know my issue is not visualizing those names. It can be a challenge though. But with things like remembering roads, visualizing direction, or the size of things and how they might fit into a space, I seem to excel.

While painters, sculptors, potters and jewelry makers don’t do as much in the way of performance memory, they still have to retain a real sense of what they create or in many cases, recreate. If an apple is right in front of you and you paint it, you will re-create it. But if you also have the memory of tasting and eating an apple, you will more easily have an intimate connection with it. That flavored perception will be portrayed in how you paint the surface. It will be much more than just an object with a shape, a hue, and a value. It will have been a memorable experience to not only tap into as you re-create it with paint.

It could be an interesting experiment to see two painters paint fruit, with one of the two never having tasted fruit. Or hearing the differences in singers singing about making love, but with one not having experienced it. I see this sometimes with child singers imitating a powerful singer. Their little voices are strong, but their feeling is somewhat hollow in their lack of honestly grasping the message of the song. It happens a lot with blues singers too. There's a difference between those who sing the blues and those who have actually lived the blues and sing about it. One is a performance, the other is a reality.

Memories from experiences fill our reference library. Memories fill our brain bank with deposits and allow us to randomly make withdraws when needed. Memories are like mental currency and help us make skilled decisions. As far as artists go, memories keep us authentic and creatively abundant. So exercise your memory!

Live an artful life,


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