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Reflections September

The Art of the Edit

Illustration by Frank T. Merrill
Illustration by Frank T. Merrill

Editing, while an art unto itself, seems to be the secret ingredient of most forms of art. Writing, photography, and filmmaking all benefit from skillful editing, each in similar ways. The rhythm and pace of writing is transformed just as a film is reshaped by how much is left and how much is taken away. Perhaps editing is the art of “taking away” with the purpose of bettering that which is left behind.

I was interested by the detail that shot length has decreased over the years. Trends in editing might point to changes in society. To me this seems connected to the trend of minimalism, which could be summarized as the art of editing one’s life. The excess in personal belongings is taken away so that the necessary items can be enjoyed fully. Of course, like most things, there is a benefit and weakness in this philosophy. The warmth that comes from a home decorated with details and filled with mementos might become a thing of the past if the trend in minimalism continues.

When my grandmother passed away I was tasked with helping my grandfather go through their home and pack it all into just a few boxes. While I was cleaning out my grandmother’s desk I was taken back by all of the little traces of her character – notes to herself, photos of a great-grandchild tucked away behind cook books, cough drops stashed in a corner of the drawer. I believe there’s a fine line between clutter and humanity. Take all of the excess away and life has been sterilized of its humaneness.

Another consideration about editing: I’ve long forgotten whose quote this is, but my older sister would always remind me that one cannot freely create and edit at the same time. There’s a time for indulging in the excess – filling the drawers with cough drops – and there’s a time for throwing out all but two or three. Life is about balance. I imagine editing is, too.

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