Friday, August 3, 2007

I should've saved "The Art of Fucking It Up" for this one.

A few days ago, prompted by a comment left by Don Hall elswhere, I posited a question as to how exactly an artist can fuck up art. It was half facetious witticism, half rhetorical mulling and half a serious call for others' thoughts. In my mind, it served all three halves quite well. The response was thoughtful and varient (and all Chicago-based, which helped in taking on these perspectives). Now for the results of the rhetorical mulling.

A caveat: I am aware that this conversation is universal and, as a result, endless. This means, of course, that it has been hashed out many times before -- probably on some of these very blogs -- and will be again. This I understand and treat this as a mutually understood fact. If the artist/audience or any similar discussion has been revisited enough times to make you throw up in your mouth a little, I suggest you stop reading now and wait for my next post. I'll even be particularly accomodating and devote some space in that one to a lolcat or two. Now pardon me while I work some shit out.

Since writing my intial post, I've taken to thinking about my creative urge: where it comes from, what it strives for, all that fun interstitial stuff. The regionalism brouhaha and divergent rumblings of 'writing what you know' have also added to the mix. And because it's what I do best, my resultant thoughts are going to come in my typical rambling, half stream-of-conciousness, half who-the-fuck-just-took-over-Paul's-brain style.

I believe in art for art's sake; unapologetically so. Which is to say, I believe in art for the artist, because anyone claiming 'art's sake' is necessarily isolating the position of artist. Which is cool with me. When I create, I do it for me. When I'm writing or directing, I'm writing or directing what I want to see or hear. Self-indulgent? Technically speaking, I suppose so, but I fail to see the point in writing or directing something I don't want to see or hear. A friend of mine once relayed a major paper she had written in college revolving around the thesis that no one at any point in life does anything they do not want to. In essence, that there is no such thing as a selfless act -- charity is done as much or more for the inner feeling of content it provides than for the recipients of the charity. That warm fuzzy feeling that follows random acts of kindness? That's the primary reason for the random act of kindness. We are a people (and by we I am speaking globally) of self-preservation, so we act out of self-interest.

Sound harsh? It's really not. In today's It Takes A Village society, the word selfish has gained a terrible connotation, because it's all or nothing -- either your are selfish or you are selfless. The implication from this dichotomy is that one's own interests do not coincide with the interests of the rest of the world. So we are made to feel guilty for acting out of self-interest, a habit we cannot quit. Why can't we embrace the fact that we can at once have our interests and the interests of others in mind, or even (gasp of gasps!) that acting on our own interests can have a natural benefit for others from time to time? I'm not going to deny that there can be an ugly side to selfishness or that self-obsession is an unfavorable trait, but 'me first' is not synonymous with 'everyone else can fuck off and die'.

In the case of art and the artist, it seems particularly heinous to not play for the audience, because in artistry, as opposed to many other professions, the benefit for the consumer is intangible. If an artist doesn't make a point of stating his intent in helping to make the world a better place, the positive effects of art are much harder to grasp and define than, say, the positive effects that come from a teacher or a doctor. We all realize that they are there, of course, but focusing on them allows us (and those critical of what we do) to have something undeniably positive to cling to. In the first Art of Fucking It Up, Tony mentioned us getting off of our pedestals. I'm not calling him out in particular -- it's a phrase we hear all the time -- but why is creating with ourselves in mind naturally equated with elitism? We don't use that logic in other professions: a doctor who practices out of a love for what he or she does isn't chastised (quite the opposite, in fact). Is it because artists are in the unique position of being as directly affected by their work as the audience? Because in the doctor/patient relationship the doctor doesn't become a patient as well?

And that is the difference in the world of artistry -- my interests are bound to be the same as a portion of my audience. In AFIU pt. 1, Don Hall said:

I've always said that the sign of a good director (playwright, improviser, actor, etc.) is that he can communicate a story worth communicating.

The sign of a great director (playwright, improviser, actor, etc.) is that he can communicate a story worth communicating and that someone else wants to hear and agrees that the story is worth communicating.


I disagree, not with the sentiment, but with the stipulations. There's no difference between the two definitions Mr. Hall has provided. Any story that an artist feels is worthy of communicating will find people that agree. The number of people who agree may be unpredictable, but there will always be someone else. And that unpredictability is exactly why I don't worry about the audience when creating -- I at once am confident that there will be a section of the audience who is with me and confident that I have no idea which section they are or why they agree. I'm not projecting my vision and my ideals onto others, I'm simply throwing them into the ether and seeing who else wants to play with them.

Which seems to lead into the matter of accessibility. Bob Fisher, in his comparison of the artistic process to a conversation, mentioned the 'whole new kind of success' of reaching an audience who thought they weren't invested. He's right, it is a great success, and I'm left wondering where that line is between being accessible and pandering. I think the key is somewhere in that ether. If an artist throws his ideas at an audience, they are going to immediately bounces off of those with different ideas, who have already set up a defense system just for this sort of instance. If an artist tries to handfeed an audience what they want, they're going to turn their heads because they aren't dogs and don't appreciate being treated as such (and the artist probably doesn't know what most of them want anyway). But if an artist simply does what he does and allows the audience to do what they do with it, there's room for both to examine what the other is bringing to the table before any decisions are made.

Art should be a question, not a statement. To be even more effective, a question of a rhetorical nature rather than one aimed at the audience. Of course it's not going to be successful with everyone -- some audience members are only going to want to see what they want to see (just like the narrow-minded artists I just described) and other audience members will come in with an open mind and will examine the artist's wares and will still walk away unsatisfied and/or uninterested. And that's ok, because no art will ever hit everyone.

This is an idea that at once fascinates, frightens, and inspires me. No art will ever be universally liked. And no art will ever be universally disliked. And I'm going to go ahead and bring that to a broader philosophical assumption. There is no such thing as Good Art and Bad Art. Oh, there is art that I think is good and I think is bad, and there is art that Don Hall or Hedy Weiss or my mother think is good and bad, but there is no Good Art. And there is no Bad Art. Pick any work of art that you absolutely love or hate -- Piss Christ or Picasso, the music of Eminem or Mary Chapin Carpenter, the new movie starring The Lohan or L'Avventura, Neil LaBute or Neil Simon -- and someone out there, someone approaching the work earnestly, disagrees. Someone is inspired by what you despise and someone despises what inspires you. And as a result, I tend to answer the question of the day, "How can an artist fuck it up?" with a simple "He can't."

If an artist is only interested in numbers (either heads or dollars) and doesn't get them, he's fucked it up. If an artist doesn't enjoy what he has put on stage, he's fucked it up. But if an artist is doing what he does as a release, a celebration, an exploration and an invitation (none of which require anything from the artist except honesty), there is no wrong answer and no fucking it up.

P.Rekk
2007

29 comments:

danielle wilson said...

I'm going to disagree with your philosophical argument there is no "Good Art" and "Bad Art. I think there is. I think art is objective rather than subjective. Good art points at the capital T Truth.

But I do think you are right that every piece of art will have an audience. The reason is that not everyone is able to see the Truth. Some people go as far as to say that different truths exist. But this just isn't True. :-)

Rob Kozlowski said...

My thought has always been that the line between good art and bad art, the line between being accessible and pandering, is honesty. Are you telling a story you want to tell, or are you telling a story you want to market? Now, how does that account for the honest, yet inept artist? Well...I'm still working on that one.

Anonymous said...

Of course all this honesty and truth as the barometer of taste gets thrown out the window for most people it what you honesty have to say is extremely repugnant to them.

So where does "Honesty" "truth" and "taste/conviction" intersect?

Anyway aside from financial gain, what benefit is there to this idea of "good" versus "bad"?

Is it not a slippery slope?

dv

danielle wilson said...

I think good and bad art is a lot like good and bad food. Both good and bad will sustain you, but you gravitate towards the good. And again, what is considered good differs from person to person and culture to culture.
A truly outstanding dish can be enjoyed by everyone. But there will always be picky eaters.
And there will always be hothouse tomatoes--they look nice but they don't taste like anything and yet people insist on eating them because tomatoes are "good" and "good for you."

I think an honest, yet inept artist can become a good artist with practice. Or they can recognize that they are inept and find someone who can bring their vision to life.

I will never be perfect, but I can choose to serve perfection.

Tony said...

If art is for the artist, why show it to other people?

Paul Rekk said...

"Anyway aside from financial gain, what benefit is there to this idea of "good" versus "bad"?"

I don't know if this was directed towards me or just as a point of discussion, but as a universal idea, I would agree (if I'm reading the sentiment right) that there isn't much benefit to these snap judgments. On the other hand, it's always good to know what I do or do not like... you know, just for my own future reference.

The whole honesty/repugnancy thing is a little tricky. And it's inescapable; there are some people out there just searching for something to offend them. But I do think some of the problem could be solved by focusing less on this insistence of forcing something home for the audience. Instead of saying something repugnant 'to them', can't we just say something and let the ones who find it distasteful leave unimpressed (although I do realize not every offended soul takes things quite so easily. I guess the way I see it, the art is in the creation -- the reception is more sociological than artistic, although just as interesting.

Tony,
That's a good question, and one you'd have to ask the individual artists. Plus, there are many who don't -- we certainly can't deny that Emily Dickinson's poetry is art, and it seems silly to assert that it didn't become art until after she died.

But to answer your question -- for me, it's probably some awkward combination of egoism and a longing for approval. Oddly enough, that same combination is the same reason I don't share my work with others nearly as much as I should.

Don R. Hall said...

First, I reject the idea that I fit into any category with Hedy Weiss. Jesus, talk about a punch in the nuts!

Second, I'm all for art for the sake of the artist's enjoyment. I think it's a wonderful thing for an artist to simply not care enough about an audience's reaction to create an unfiltered, untainted representation of his voice.

As soon as I pay money to see it? Then it better be something I can get into or I want my two fucking hours back. Keep the dough - I want my time back.

I agree with the idea that art is a question but I also agree with Bob that it is a conversation - a dialogue between artist and audience. Without that dialogue, the artist is just another know-it-all shithead who believes strongly that his point of view is worth listening to without opening himself up for discussion.

My wife once had us do an exercise - we all brought three things that "meant something to us." I brought my trumpet, my grandfather's WWII Zippo, and a one-of-a-kind wooden pen made by a friend for my birthday. Jen had us partner up and describe each object we brought and what it meant to us. Then she instructed us to give (not loan - give) one of the objects to our partner with the understanding that we would never get it back. (For the record, I gave up the pen).

The point? In theater, we invite people into our circle and give them something of ourselves that we can never get back. There is power and grace in this sort of sharing and without it, art has no purpose or value.

Bil said...

I hope it's not all over, because I only just now read this entry...

Here is my two and a half cents: there IS good art and bad art at a purely subjective level, much like food, AND there ISN'T good art and bad art when there is more than one point of view. Once you allow another opinion to matter at all, then you've pretty much opened the portal to the opinions of the rest of the universe, and like the dude said, there is no such thing as a universally loved (or despised) work of art. It's as good as impossible.

Now, I don't know much about economics, but I do know this: when I'm creating art, it's for me -- as much as I want other people to enjoy it, I want them to enjoy it for my sake. When I'm observing art, it's for me -- I don't give a crap's ass why the artist made it if I have my own opinion. If I happen to know the artist's intention and happen to agree, then hey, great, bonus. If I disagree with an intention but still enjoy the work, that's fine too.

I also don't think that art, good or bad, necessarily always points to truth. That would be art for truth's sake, not art for art's sake. I don't even think that art necessarily always points. Sometimes art just is, and every individual takes from it what they want.

As far as giving something of myself that I can never get back -- I can't think of any instance in my life when that's what I did with art. It's something I've never done. I can always write more words and draw more pictures and speak more lines onstage in front of an audience. Don't get me wrong -- I don't pretend to have been at that workshop, and I certainly couldn't fault anyone who does give a piece of themselves for their art. But personally, I wouldn't do art if I had to give away something of myself that I loved that I could never get back. When I do art, I give away stuff that I love but have an infinite supply of.

I apologize for the tone -- I just re-read that paragraph. It comes across badly. But I stand by it.

As for art as a dialogue, I agree very much. Sometimes the dialogue is more like a one-sided conversation, though, where the artist is just talking and anyone who sees this art is just eavesdropping. I think that still counts as a conversation.

Lastly, I want to say this: you can fuck up your own art, again, on a purely subjective level. If you try to draw a square and accidentally draw a triangle, you've fucked up. But once you show your triangle-square to someone else, then it becomes a question of good art vs. bad art, which I maintain does not exist.

Now, I guess the question for myself is, "What do I do with all these opinions I hold? Where do I go from here?"

Don R. Hall said...

I think the belief that there is no bad art or good art is a dodge and a cop out. The relativist perspective that all art is either good or bad dependent upon the viewer of that art doesn't reconcile with your perspective that the audience for the art is unimportant. If the determining factor of quality (good or bad) is the reaction of the audience, then the audience has the final say.

Further, intent does not ensure quality of any kind when it comes to art. I can dress up a turd in a Starbucks cupsleeve, put a placard next to it explaining it's cultural significance, and place it in an art gallery and call it art. This, however, does not make it good art - it's still a dressed up piece of shit.

When I do art, I give away stuff that I love but have an infinite supply of.

Which automatically lessens its value to both you and your audience. A gift that has little value bears little return.

Tony said...

Paul, good point about Emily Dickinson. There are also painters and sculptors who create art that is not shown immediately upon creation as well. This is where theatre is unique in my mind.

There is a difference between rehearsal and performance, I've never heard anyone ague the contrary. In fact I know many (Peter Brook is among the most prominent) who would say without an audience, theatre does not exist; that theatre only requires--in its most elemental form--an actor and an audience.

I could argue the art of theatre is in performance. So rehearsal is exploring, searching, creating, but most of all preparing us for the "art."

The difference between creating art and rehearsal (in theatre) is having an audience. And once we charge money, we have created a product. (This is not necessarily a bad thing. There are many products that are central to our existence.)

Acknowledging this does not automatically translate into pandering. Ignoring this is what I find problematic.

Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

(Note when I say 'you' below...it is the royal 'you' winkwink. So please Paul nor anyone of the commentators dont take as an attack)

There is also the metaphorical notion of artist as scientist. The artist who like a scientist creates a hypothesis about the outcome of a combo of elements and then tests the theory.

Any artist is free to do this, but my issue is that if you treat the audience as an element of the experiment, and they sense that they are tools for the sole edification of the artist, again they feel used, manipulated, and walk out the door...this is why so many lay people have an immediate distain for anything labelled "experimental theatre". For them this term is code for self serving art or artists who aren't interested in talking to them dialoguing with them, but rather in utilzing them as a tool for artist's personal catharsis regardless of the audiences' presense. The audience becomes an element in the experiment rather than a party to the dialogue. From a sematics point fo view, I think many lay people equate this sort of "experimental theatre" with "art for art's sake" and even the term "auteur" and "avant-garde".

Personally, when it comes to what I want to see on stage, I have one rule..."Don't bore me!"

it can be "art for art's sake" or "experimental" or whatever label you first fell in love with when you realized that theatre could be more than an autobiographical Neil Simon play...but if you bore me, I'm going to be meditating on the movement of the minute hand on my watch rather than taking in anything that you have to say as an artist. And, then what is the point? You can say 'Well, I make art for me", but that is only half an answer...becuase unless you can actually dialogue with the audience then unfortunately you'll be right and that art will be only for you, put up in an empty black box somewhere with only your Mom in attendence, and you will despite yourself despise those whom you claim you were never attempting to pander to in the first place, or you will curse the bad luck you had in getting a reviewer who doesn't get your message, or you will say things like people would only get it if you had the money to produce. Either that or you will finally recognize your work isn't speaking to the audience and as a result is completely irrelevant regardless of how long it keps you up at night patting yourself on the back for your stillborn creation.

-dv

Anonymous said...

I dont buy the Emily Dickenson comparison to theatre discussion unless we are talking about theatre as literature. I think Tony does a good job of talking about Theatre as a form requiring audience.

Paul, what about Film? Does Film do anything for you? If you made videos or what not then you could conceivably use the Dickenson model.

-dv

danielle wilson said...

Yes, I think art and especially theater, has to have an audience.
And the audience varies with the work of art.
Emily Dickinson intended the audience for her poems to be herself otherwise she would have shared them while she was alive, and unknown others otherwise she wouldn't have written them at all or would have destroyed them rather than just hiding them.

My current favorite work of art is no more. I live in a small community outside Columbia, SC called Red Bank. A few months ago "Welcome to Red Bank" was spraypainted in red on the abandoned trailer by the side of the road. It was exactly where a fancy government sign would have been put had the government thought small community warranted a "welcome to red bank" sign. Brilliant. The artist knew the community and wanted them to see the art. The paper of the next town over noticed and dubbed the trailer the Red Bank Welcome Center. Those words appeared in the same handwriting on the other side of the trailer a few days later. And then a few weeks after that somebody painted over all the spraypaint.

Now, this might sound close to Don's example of the dressed up turd, but I think the paint was art. In this case, the artist knew his audience, had something to say to them, and picked the perfect medium. I laughed every time I went past that trailer which I suspect, was the intent.

Theater is unique in that the audience changes a bit every performance and the art changes a bit every performance.

Anonymous said...

"Emily Dickinson intended the audience for her poems to be herself otherwise she would have shared them while she was alive,"

How familiar are you with Dickeson's biography. The truth is she tried to get her work published and there were no takers during her lifetime except for about ten of the poems.

There are a few letters that were addressed to an anonymous object of affection, but she tried to get Thomas W Higginson to assist her in publication.

I don't mean to take on an attacking tone, but I don't believe your comments about Dickenson's intent are valid.

I mean that might be your intent with your own work, which is all well and good, but the history I have read on her doesn't back her up as an exmaple of one who decided that reclusion was the best path during life.

-dv

danielle wilson said...

dv--

thanks. obviously not very familiar. I was forced to read some Dickenson in high school and was never very interested in her. Just remembered she, like a number of other artists throughout history, wasn't famous until long after she died and I thought I remembered her being reclusive. Or maybe I'm just remembering the loneliness in the poetry.
Anyway, the point was that all artists make art for an audience. An audience can consist of oneself, or it can be an known entity, or it can be "posterity". If you create it for yourself it's art. If you keep it, you're keeping it so that someone else can find out it's art. Even if that someone else doesn't find it until long after you're gone, they are still part of your original intended audience.

Devilvet said...

Danielle,
(tangent)
It was a shame you were forced too read Dickenson (btw -maybe my favorite poet) You should give her another try nobody in her time wrote better wbout Death, Longing, Fear, Sex...try her again, you might like her. She is so much interesting then the "narrow felloe in the grass" we are were made to read back in grade school.

I get your point...I would just hope that artists our age (i'm assuming here...) ok let me rephrase just in case...I would only hope that this notion of possible audience in the posterity wouldnt slow down or stagnate an artist's ablility to speak to an audience of his or her own time.

I'm afraid that this notion of art for art sake or maybe they'll get it after i'm dead...becomes for some people an excuse for not striving to communicate at all.

In the world of art, I can not applaud someone who is primarily only interested in communicating with themself.

If it is deeply felt by the artist in a sort of "Howard Roark" (Fountainhead, have you read it?)kind of way...well then bully for them, but I think that just as often or more often than not, this notion that one as an artist (especially a theatrical artist) doesn;t have to speak to an audience is just a self defense mechanism on the part of the artist justifying there lack of spectators.

Paul Rekk said...

Oh goodness, where do I start from here?

I'm going to try my best to answer questions and address points and generally make my side of things a little clearer, but this is far beyond a two-sided conversation. Were this a discussion on religion, I believe it would be more akin to a Christian/Hindu talk than a Christian/atheist talk, if that makes any sense. So basically, if I don't answer to anyone's satisfaction, please let me know, but realize that I'm not evading -- I just don't see things through the same prism as some of those commenting.

Don: First of all, apologies, but it was merely for contrast's sake; you're in there with my mom, too, and she's cool beans!

In regards to sharing something with our audience (especially if we consider it something we don't get back), what if they don't want it? Speaking from a writer's perspective, that something that I am parting with is on the chopping block a long time before anyone has a chance to take it. If the show is hugely panned and the audience leave uninterested in the piece of me I have sacrificed, was that sacrifice a waste -- have I given up a part of myself for absolutely nothing? If art cannot exist without a receptive audience, it would appear that way. I just don't know if I would be able to place a part of myself that I will never get back into the world knowing that whether it lives or dies is based solely on the whim of a random smattering of people on any given night. I have to believe that it lives regardless of who it lives with/in.

And also, if the point is sharing, don't both sides have to play? If the artists are bearing their deep, dark innards and the audience is just there to be entertained, it's no better than artists condescending to an audience eager to converse. In 'art for the audience', the artist bears the load of having to foresee what the audience is going to want, need, desire, etc. That's an impossible task anyway, but even if it were possible, an audience is so diverse in each of these aspects that you couldn't possibly engage them all.

And merely from a philosophical standpoint, Don, I do take issue with you associating scarcity with value. I understand the point of Jen's exercise, but what we give of ourselves in art is not of the physical world, and the greatest part of that is whether you see the conception of art from the emotional, mental, and/or the spiritual standpoint, all are inexhaustable resources. Unlike a pen, you can't run out of love, thought, soul, or whatever you want to call what you sacrifice.

Bil: I think you and I are the closest thing to on the same page here -- your comment rang pretty dead true for me. I especially liked the realization that art always seems to be for my sake, whether I'm the artist or the audience. It ties in very well to the selfish/selfless thoughts I kicked this whole thing off with, and above all, it's true (for me at least.) When I'm in the audience, I take the same "don't waste my time or money" attitude as Don. And if I feel my time and money have been wasted, I'll acknowledge the fact and the natural next step that I see it as 'bad art'. But just as I am set in my vision of the piece, I won't be able to denigrate the work for someone who sees it as 'good art'.

Tony: Thanks for expanding your thoughts. And you make some great (and tough) points. I know there are artists who consider the creation process the art and are rather unconcerned with the final product, at which time it becomes a product pure and simple (one that hopefully helps fund future creation processes). I don't know that I necessarily agree with that stance, although it does appeal on some very basic levels.

Frankly, I just don't know that I can provide a satisfactory answer for you right now, Tony. I really need to think about the different states that rehearsal and performance embody for me before I say anything that I may later want to turn back on.

DV: Good thoughts on the current perception (and reasons behind them) of experimental theatre. And it's quite fitting, because the whole Per Diem/Anti-Anticipation thing definitely qualifies as experimental. I am without a doubt an experimental artist, and this post has been helpful in discovering the reasons for that as well. My interests (and some of my work) often include transgressive art, and I get called on that by my peers relatively frequently: questioning me on my intent and what the point is of chasing an audience away or treating them with disdain. I hadn't been able to come up with a good answer until getting all of this discussion down, but now I realize that it's not out of disdain or a desire to chase them away. This is art that I want to see, either as an artist or an audience member. Transgressive or other forms of experimental art don't alienate me because they don't bore me -- in fact, quite the opposite, and as you put it so well, that's really the bottom line.

Problem is, I'm in the vast minority. Most people don't want to be fucked with as an audience member. I love it. So how can I rectify this? If I create for the (majority of) the audience, I'm avoiding what I would want to watch, which is already scarce as hell. If I create what I would want to watch, I'm chasing away (the majority of) the audience.

I'm trying to find a good balance between the two, but art for art's sake isn't (at least in my usage) a justification for a lack of spectators. I know exactly why there is a potential lack of spectators. I have minority tastes. If I want more spectators, I have to abandon some of those tastes -- and it's a constant struggle to decide how far to either side I am able to push that compromise and still feel all right with my output.

But on the other hand, experimental theatre of any sort should never be used as an excuse for a heartless technical exercise. I was having a discussion with a (traditionalist) friend on Saturday night about some of my more experimental ideas, and we started to drift to thoughts on what makes successful theatre. He mentioned that not everything has to be groundbreaking to be successful, and I agreed, saying, "Being groundbreaking isn't essential; the only thing that is essential is that it's fucking good."

As impossible as it is to define, I stand by that. Whether I'm creating or watching theatre, my only concern is that I think it's fucking good. And while I believe in the relativist stance on good and bad, as a human with an normal to slightly healthy ego, I assume my idea of good is the right one. If my audience disagrees completely, I can't fault them, but I doubt we'll ever see eye to eye. If they agree completely, bully for them, I'm glad I could provide what they were looking for. If they're stuck in the middle, they're the people I'm looking for, because that's where the true dialogue takes place.

Tony said...

I guess one (possibly overly simplified) way to think about it, is similar to a set, when you're rehearsing in a different space than where you're performing.

If you know there's going to be two huge platforms on the set once you move into the space--you rehearse with an awareness that they will be there, but you probably don't create the show in rehearsal solely to fit the two huge platforms.

In a similar way, for me at least, I rehearse with an awareness that there will be an audience, but I don't create to pander to the people who (hopefully) will watch it.

I'll admit it's a very fine line to walk, and complete perfection is unattainable, but it doesn't stop me from trying.

And I don't think you can ever change the fact that a lot of people come just to be entertained. That doesn't mean they have to leave being just entertained.

Like Don says "As soon as I pay money to see it? Then it better be something I can get into or I want my two fucking hours back. Keep the dough - I want my time back." For me that is what I ask my self when working on something. And maybe awareness is not the best term, but I try to stand back and ask myself, If I saw this from the seats, would I want my time/money back?

(Meanwhile, I need to do something about my addiction to commas and parentheses.)

danielle wilson said...

"I have minority tastes. If I want more spectators, I have to abandon some of those tastes -- and it's a constant struggle to decide how far to either side I am able to push that compromise and still feel all right with my output."

I'm having a hard time with this statement. Everything in me screams "oh no! don't compromise taste! we can't be artists with compromising tastes!" but I also know the realities of having to have an audience to fund the project.

I suppose if you know you are marketing to a really small segment of the population, then you just have to go find the really small segment in more places (ie touring). Or maybe you market to a really large section of the population and realize that only a small section will appreciate what you're doing. That way the compromise becomes the marketing/ production rather than the subject matter.

It is really difficult. I live in a place where I don't see a whole lot of theater (and there is a fairly active community theater scene) because the theaters that have good production values are primarily producing musicals which I'm not really interested in, and the theaters that are producing the things I'm interested in have pretty mediocre production values.

Tony said...

Doesn't production values really just mean budget?

Paul Rekk said...

Tony, never fear, as I've probably illustrated before, I'm a parenthetical fiend, and my comma, dash, and ellipse use could hardly be called conservative (or correct, for that matter). You've nothing to worry about here.

I had a brief meeting of the minds revelation when I read your comment earlier, now let's see if I can recreate it properly. It hit with this sentence: "And maybe awareness is not the best term, but I try to stand back and ask myself, If I saw this from the seats, would I want my time/money back?"

I think the key to some of our semantic differences are hiding in there, because I try to do the same thing, except that's exactly what I am referring to as art for the artist. I am trying to create art that I would want to see. So naturally, if an audience has the same tastes as myself, it's going to scan for them as well. For the ones that don't, it doesn't matter how much interest I would have in seeing what I have created, they (for the most part) just won't agree.

Not that I'm trying to tell you that you can't see that approach as 'art for the audience' -- looking back on it, I can understand that interpretation completely. But it still seems to be dead on art for the artist to me, despite the fact that we're talking about the exact same thing.

Ack. This is the sort of problem that sends me packing to Artaud-ville. How can we possibly come any closer to greater understanding through the potholes created by the written word? Because I suspect everyone in this comments section is to a certain degree talking about the exact same thing, but each through his/her own spectrum.

Danielle, I'm going to address you now, because I want to get off that line of thought, since it could lead anywhere, and anywhere's a scary place when I'm feeling punchy in my cubicle because I really need a siesta.

You're very right about the two options I've got on my hands, and I've thought about and am keen on projects that work within both frames. Part of the problem (although I don't really know if it's absolutely a problem per se) is that the second one -- marketing to a large group knowing that only a small group will be engaged -- is partly where my whole reasoning for this post originated. That's the sort of approach (one which I indeed kinda sorta love) that results in a mob of angry people decrying the artist for being self-indulgent and unconcerned with the audience. Which isn't the case at all. They just didn't happen to be the right audience for the piece.

Is there anyway to circumvent this dilemma or at least use it to one's advantage? Is it even worth worrying about? In some sense, isn't this the sort of tactic that is going to eventually bring out the sympathetic (eww, bad word choice) audience in (albeit limited) droves?

And as far as your theatre-going situation is concerned, I'm going to plead on behalf of those companies with smaller production values. Even if you don't have the time or money to throw their way outside of buying a ticket, at least do that. The only way they are going to be able to increase their production values (both financially and otherwise) is with the support of patrons who earnestly want to see them succeed and graduate to better things.

danielle wilson said...

Tony & Paul--

What I mean by production values seems pretty close to your "is it theater I want to see." It's not about budget at all. It's about the quality of the production as a whole.

Take _Our Town_. While it can be done with a huge set, it can also be done with no set. And no matter what kind of set it has, an _Our Town_ that has good production values will have the audience crying because of the beauty of the piece.

Anonymous said...

Danielle,

I think you underestimate the power of a really bad production of "Our Town"

(wink)

for me production value can mean things like seemless, unity, design, craft of the artists involved. It doesnt have to mean budget. But to most people in the art I think it does. For example, lets say one of the big chicago theatres did a bare bones no frills simple front lit production of a great August Wilson play or chekov and the actors were transcendent...the papers wouldnt be talking bout the great production values, they would be talking about how great plays can work even without great production value.

-dv

Don R. Hall said...

Paul,

Just a question.

If the art you create is for you alone and with no concern whether or not anyone else will be into it, why market to anyone?

Anonymous said...

"You can't have the argument both ways. If the prisoner is happy, why lock him in? If he is not, why pretend that he is?" G.B.Shaw Although Shaw was speaking about marriage, the same principle may be applied to the marriage between artist and audience. Sometimes, quite often in fact, you just don't get it all. Pay your dime; make your choice; live with your decision. A new day brings new choices. Life. The alternative sucks. ...but you can always go "Camus" and just ask for the check.

Devilvet said...

"You can't have the argument both ways. If the prisoner is happy, why lock him in? If he is not, why pretend that he is?" G.B.Shaw Although Shaw was speaking about marriage, the same principle may be applied to the marriage between artist and audience. Sometimes, quite often in fact, you just don't get it all. Pay your dime; make your choice; live with your decision. A new day brings new choices. Life. The alternative sucks. ...but you can always go "Camus" and just ask for the check.

as charming as this retort is, it is also a bit of an evasion. For sake of clarity please show me how the audience and the artist is a marriage. Please explain how the commitment to one life partner relates in any way shape of form to the commitment of audience to art. I would argue that the audience does not have a relationship to the artist but more so to the artist's product. Only after having had a multitude of satisfying experiences with the artist's product does the audience develop a sort of relationship.

Audience to artist has more in common with the consumer to the shopkeeper than marriage.

Paul Rekk said...

Don, my art isn't for me alone, it's just for me first and foremost. Naturally, I want my art to be loved by both myself and my audience, but if push comes to shove, I'm going to choose art that I love and the audience doesn't over art that the audience loves and I don't. I know what I love, but as far as the audience goes, there's only one way to find out. Thus, to market we go.

That's really all I mean by 'art for the artist', I suppose: my tastes and my interests are priority number one when I'm creating. That doesn't mean I'm the only priority, but if I don't love the art I create, what's the point?

Don R. Hall said...

Ah!

Well, then, sir: we are in complete agreement on that issue.

Devilvet said...

I ditto don, I think what you're saying now though is an evolution upon the notion of "Art for Art sake" rather than a subsistutive (sp?) reading of "art for art sake"

And that realization is a step in one's personal evolution not just as an artist but also as a human being.

But, hell don;t ever forget that I'm an old jaded cynic and Don...well...snickersnickersnicker

If you got a manifesto or a vision or a dream and a complusion and venue in which to present it, regardless of it's mass appeal reception...when life gives a green light I say go!