Solely for the sake of giving you kind readers a sense of background and context, I should confess here that, before I became a professional actor and writer, I was a professional lawyer. I’ve found that there isn’t a tremendous difference between being a trial lawyer and being an actor: both stand up in front of a group of people and tell a story, attempting to compel the people emotionally and intellectually.
There is an old adage describing each of the three years of law school: First they scare you to death; then they work you to death; and finally, they bore you to death. My experience of law school provides further evidence of the truth of that description.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of attending law school, professors there utilize what is called “the Socratic method,” named, to state the obvious, after our old pal, Socrates. The Socratic method is a Grecian formula that Socrates applied in teaching his own students, and it relies on the use of questions by the teacher to challenge students’ assumptions and to guide them in critical thought toward discovery of the truth. Basically, under this method, a teacher asks a question, and the student states what he thinks the answer is. Rather than immediately agreeing or disagreeing, the teacher then continues to pose other questions that challenge his student’s assumptions. At the end of this process, the student (if he is committed to intellectual honesty) will arrive at the truth – not because he is given answers, but because he is given more questions.
Socrates (and all good law professors thereafter) found that posing more questions, rather than just giving answers, is the more effective way of getting students to learn, not only because it challenges assumptions and promotes critical thinking, but because the student is receptive to the truth because he discovers it himself.
As artists, our job is similar, or at least it should be. Too many times we try to communicate some truth to our audience members by simply handing them the answer. Giving a person the right answer is useless if he doesn’t know what the right question is.
So it is with art. I increasingly find that those artists who spend more time asking questions than giving answers are the ones who are most intriguing and, more often than not, lead me to discover deep truths. They challenge my intellectual and emotional assumptions. In the end, the most fascinating and enduring artists are the ones with the most fascinating and enduring questions.
One of the main reasons that some works of art, including a large majority of modern faith-based art, seem to be so lacking is that the artists who conjure up these works are so intent on giving answers that they never stop to wonder what the questions are.
Here’s an example, and it’s one that may rile you up at first, unless you stop to think about it: There’s an old song that asserts “Jesus is the answer for the world today...” This is a good song, but it may no longer be correct. Jesus, in fact, may not be the answer if the world today is asking the wrong questions. It would be incorrect to say that Jesus is the right answer to questions like How do I crush my business competition? or How do I become wealthier than anyone else? or How can I become famous so I can feel significant? – all questions the world is asking today. Jesus is not the answer to those questions, in spite of how some may twist or dilute their theology to make Him so. You could put it this way: the right answer to the wrong question is the wrong answer.
The duty of artists is to get the world to ask the right questions. We start this process by asking the right questions ourselves, questioning our assumptions, wrestling with thoughts we’ve previously taken for granted. Whether you are a writer, actor, filmmaker, or some other type of artist, are you asking questions in your art or are you just giving answers?
You usually will find that a person will resist an answer if you try to impose it upon him, but if you provide that same person with the question and help him to struggle with it, he will open up to the process of discovering and exploring the truth.
Consider adding more questions to your creative work. For most artistic questions, the answer is to have more questions.
All my best,