You: The Artist
Freeman Tilden in his third principle of interpretation wrote:
Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical or architectural. Any art is in some degree teachable.
This is one of my favorites of the Tilden principles. Tilden must have thought it pretty important because he listed it third – after relate and reveal, but before provoke. That’s a pretty prestigious spot in THE list. Yet this prestigious #3 is usually skimmed over pretty quickly in training and discussions of interpretation. There seems to be a lot of confusion about this third principle. When it is discussed I often hear remarks about using ‘arts and crafts’ in programs or that we should use more art in programs. The former is way off; the latter is a very fine idea, but, too, is, in my opinion, off Mr. Tilden’s mark.
I do like using the arts in interpretation, and love the Hudson Valley School, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Ferde Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite,” Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” and Smetana’s great symphony celebrating the mighty river: ‘The Moldau.” All these enrich the perception of place through the eyes, ears and hearts of the greatest of artists and open our hearts to new heights of awareness and inspiration. Yet, that was not exactly what Tilden wrote.
In my interpretation of Tilden (the artist, playwright, author) he is adding to the definition of interpretation itself. He is describing what interpretation IS, rather than what it does or how it is pursued. And he is addressing the interpreter directly – the interpreter can LEARN this skill. It’s not a concept or an axiom or a philosophy to be memorized and recited, but a practice to be learned, an active act of interpretation that the best interpreters master.
I believe his intent is clear and direct. He was defining the person of the interpreter. The best interpreter is an artist. The best pianists practice daily, the best artists paint constantly, and with each their quality of performance changes, grows, and improves throughout their lifetime. To be the best interpreter you study the art of interpretation and constantly improve your artistic skills. You get better and your art gets better, with practice. Your selection of color and balance, light and shadow, your nuances, your ability to bring your audience with you, your ability to use the best phrase, the right prop, and the perfect gesture, your ability to bring your audience to the edge of awe, then stand silently and let the awakening awareness of self-actualization overtake them … .These are all part of the art of interpretation created by you, the artist interpreter. These beautiful interpretive arts are not learned in the classroom or through reading a book or a blog, but, like any art, they are learned through practice, sensitivity and awareness—awareness that you, the interpreter, are the artist.
Interpretation is an art …