–The Grace of Mary Traverse, Timberlake WertenbakerThere are so many marvelous lines and stunning passages in this script, I hesitate to pull out one bit to represent. Put this on your reading list. Better yet, stage the thing. Especially recommended for feminists and women’s studies scholars.
Just as fast as possible we have to find the Pussy Riot of our own culture. This is not celebrity or international personality consumerism – the Pussy Riot women carry meaning. The fact that they are so striking a presence is a lesson for us. Commercial artists are now an obscure oxymoron. Beyonce, Gaga, Bieber etc. dare us with meaninglessness. All the smooth-skinned human products persuade us that fame for its own sake, product for the sake of selling – is harmless. No, this approach to culture, which infects the fine arts as well as Hollywood and Broadway, must be slain by the meaning they have left behind. The price that is being paid by all of us for these years of culture with no meaning can be seen in our inability to prevent wars, climate disruption, and the extinction of life. The arts should be leading the way toward a new way of living. At this point, because of how meaningless depoliticized culture is locked in place – the artists of the future, like Pussy Riot, must be revolutionary. Must deliver freedom. Must make the cossacks and cowboys, czars and CEO’s show their crazy violence. -rev
Is this where we are now? Intriguing essay on the general public’s mass perception of the artist.
We’ve done away with the ridiculous Outsider Saint. But we’ve replaced him with a Servant whose primary task is to make us feel good about ourselves, either through the work itself, or through the way the work (or the artist’s personal life) allows us to grandstand. She must make art that reifies our core assumptions about the world, lest it be found problematic, and thus bad. He must not leave questions unanswered or uncomfortable realities uncomforted, lest the work’s unsettling nature be taken as a formal weakness. And if she stands up for being paid for her work and/or treated with a modicum of decency, she is, of course, “difficult.”
I’ve felt a degree of this most recently after stepping down from a position this summer in which I essentially worked for free for the theater community for five years. And perhaps I am imagining it all and projecting false convictions. But it seems there has been a subtle level of rejection in the wake of that work. A feeling that the contribution was not enough. That moving on to other work now might be a failure of sorts. I was only worthy, only valuable, as long as I kept giving selflessly, with no concerns for my own artistic interests.
Art doesn’t have to be about the community, but it’s always better when it matters to them, when it has some universality in its appeal. A project I’m drafting a plan for right now is about making art ordinary. Not unlike kids putting on a show in the back yard… a neighborhood happening “marketed” door to door like politicians and restaurants that deliver that will bring people outdoors to an abandoned lot or other open space in which they can share an arts experience, a creative event, and hopefully a positive one, rather than fighting over parking spots, shoveling snow, or watching an ambulance take a neighbor/stranger away.
It’s not about me and it is, to a degree, about public service. Hopefully I will be able to find others willing to sacrifice themselves to such an experiment. 😉
I spend a significant amount of time at my day job procuring artists statements and trying to make sense of them for laypeople who didn’t go to art school and are perhaps intimidated by art because they think they have to know something they don’t already know in order to have a valid reaction to it.
This is a welcome article and an interesting introduction to a history of the awkward form.
p.s. I’m partial to the artybollocks generator, btw.
For everyone’s sake—artists and the people and institutions working to support them—it would be better to welcome sense and nonsense, coherence and paradox, philosophy, poetry, and maybe even a little more than a page, all of which might truly represent, rather than reduce, artists and their art.
Art is not a commodity to be capitalized, as DWYL might suggest, but a life that has to be lived.
I can see both sides of this debate. Artists should be acknowledged as professionals with a valuable talent and compensated for their contribution to society just like anyone else. Because art is valuable to society.
However, I don’t personally feel that my “success” as a playwright, for example, should be determined by much money I’ve made because that’s not what motivates my work. I get it – there’s not a big market for new original scripts. But I am going to continue to construct plays because that is who I am. I am a person who processes my life’s experience in the form of theatre. The fact that I’ve chosen a life in Scranton may ultimately make my writing more unique, more universal, or at least less compromised. Don’t I want to share it with as many people as possible? Well yeah, but it’s not all about numbers. I don’t need a stamp of approval from someone with an opinion who other people have decided must be important.
Had it not been for my children, I probably would have focused my career more sharply on making plays. But fortunately I was given the opportunity to raise children and resort to a more reliable income in order to support them. This has given me a broader experience of life and its diverse struggles and complications than had I been able to isolate myself in the academic and artistic hierarchies that support playwriting as a profession. (Of course most of those writers are working in film and television to support their theatre habits, so perhaps there is no purity.)
What I do want is to keep getting better. To not give up no matter how impossible it seems to get my work staged the way I see it in my mind. I want to keep writing until I’m so old and impaired someone has to help me. And I want to keep believing that even if my contribution matters or makes a difference to only one person that it will have played its part and been worth it.
Students are being deprived of the opportunity to discuss the world as it is in all its glory and tragedy. They grow up not knowing how to talk about controversial topics, how to listen respectfully to differing opinions, how to live in peaceful tolerance in a world that is messy and does not remove sources of conflict to put the sensitive at ease. When we simply pretend the complicated does not exist, we are damaging the healthy growth of our young people. Art is the best way to introduce these necessary topics in all their confusing complexity into conversation.
To shelter students from the “real” goings on of the world is simply illogical. High school is a tumultuous time driven by hormones, mixed with anxieties and confusion. The last thing any of us in high school can relate to is The King and I, which, might I add, couldn’t be more outdated and racist, but still we do it. High school should be a time when we push students outside their comfort zones.
Good article by Terry Teachout, of the WSJ.
Unlike film and TV, theater is a luxury object, but one that ordinary middle-class people can still afford. Above all, it isnt a mass medium: Live theater is a small-scale, handmade art form. Intimacy is what makes it special. So lets revel in that specialness—and sell it.
When you look at a flower or at a face, a certain energy is being thrown ? your look is energy. And you are not aware that when you look, you are investing some energy, you are throwing some energy. A certain quantity of your energy, of your life energy, is being thrown. That’s why you feel exhausted after looking in the street the whole day: people passing, advertisements, the crowd, the shops. Looking at everything you feel exhausted and then you want to close your eyes to relax. What has happened? Why are you feeling so exhausted? You have been throwing energy.
To be an active artist, to showcase adventurous artists, and to celebrate the power of critical mass through cross-cultural, genre, and generational exchange has forged a path for me to understand what it means to cultivate a life in art instead of a decidedly singular career trajectory.