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September 10, 2012

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Jeffrey Paul Bobrick

Good points. As John Donne famously wrote "No man is an island, Entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, A part of the main." It does take a village to create anything and we are all shaped by our influences, as is our art.

As a singer-songwriter, I'd say the biggest personal myth is the idea that I need to be in some kind of "zone," or rather, that it takes time to get into some kind of "zone," for me to be creative. I think, rather, at any moment, if I am open, I can change my state into one of creativity.

Jeffrey Paul Bobrick
Singer and Songwriter
http://www.ilovejpb.com

Elizabeth Spreen

I totally see this as a valid point. At the same time, if you look at the machinery of theater production (the current producing model) - the individual artist (playwrights especially) are left out. Hard to get funding as an individual artist. Everything is set up for commission with theaters (or at least that's my experience). Even hard to attend some conferences as an individual artist. Maybe this feeling of scarcity comes from not only the need to exert creative authority, but also the sense that we're essentially without a home/place. We're outside of the the daily workings of the theater.

Jon Pennington

There's a book by the sociologist Howard Becker called Art Worlds that makes a very similar point. It begins with anecdote about a servant who brought out a cup of tea to the writer Anthony Trollope every day so that Trollope could go through his morning routine and begin writing his novels. The point is that the servant was, in some small way, just as essential to the book being finished as Trollope was. In fact, if you want to find an artist who fits a purely individualist model, you're more likely to find it among "outsider artists" who have some mental illness that completely sets them apart from the rest of society. (Becker used Simon Rodia's Watts Towers as an example of this. Before the Watts Towers were hailed as art, L.A. tried to tear them down by getting tow trucks to yank them out of their foundation. But the towers were too structurally sound, and now they are recognized as the artistic landmark they are today.)

Karl

A timely thesis on many fronts! Kusner's afterward to Perestoika is worth reading again.
You've touched on this before, but the Myth of the Starving Artist is one I've had to confront lately. We are still beholden to what Marx called "the reserve army of the unemployed". At the end of the day, I'm still too easily replaceable to deserve a living wage.

Ken

Isaac,
Artistic innovation isn't everything? What would you replace it with? You can make a case for collective creativity versus the cult of the individual artist on anti-elitist grounds, but when you say that the desire for innovation is another by-product of this tired, old-fashioned thinking, what are you seeing as the remedy? Mediocrity? Knock-offs of everything that came before? I'm seriously asking. Or are you saying that the fetish for "originality" is essentially a late 19th century-early 20th century invention (concomitant with the rise to dominance of capitalism)? I do know that in centuries past, artists trained at the feet of older artists and would start off their careers doing work "in the style of" their mentor (I'm thinking of painters mainly, but I think the process existed across all disciplines.). Try getting away with that today. If that's what you mean, I understand, though I don't think that hunger for the "new" is going to abate any time soon.

Isaac

Ken,

It's a tossed off thought in this post for sure as I was just trying to write out some of what I think are the harmful myths we have to confront, but I was aiming for something like what you are saying in the latter half of your comment. There's a fetishization of the New that also contains within it an inaccurate idea of what New actually is, which is to say, sui generis work, rather than work that reconfigures and adds to its influences in an innovative way.

I'd also note that the first half your comment actually performs the kind of trap that we get into with our inaccurate ideas about what originality and newness actually are. It puts us into this false binary where if we're not (single-handedly) pushing the medium "forward" in some way, we must be creating mediocre retreads of other people's work. But this binary is, of course, obviously false, as I think you yourself work out in the second half of your comment.

Isaac

PS: On the Kushner front, according to Oscar Eustis, the only reason why there are women in Angels in America is that Eustis's company, which commissioned the play, included women and forced Tony to write parts for them, a move that he resisted for a long time.

Jack Worthing

I have a million teachers and influences and pains in the ass, all of which contribute to my work. Any artist who pretends otherwise is a naif or a jerk.

But I make it. I do it. I'm the one who sweats. I have complete control and I am the final arbiter. No one owns it but me.

The theatre is a collaborative medium, but rot sets in once we start thinking of plays as collaborative projects. They're not. If a director or actor thinks there's more than one author in the room, they can kindly shut up or look for another job.

There are many routes to the same place, of course, and the mark of a professional playwright is the maturity and self-awareness to recognize that, and to admit when you've fallen short. Directors and actors can shape things in big ways, absolutely -- when the playwright has the good sense to listen to them or ignore them. We should thank them praise them to the skies when necessary. But the buck stops with the playwright.

The text is not a blank slate or a sandbox. Thinking of it as such makes for pretty dreadful theatre.

99

I think that's a pretty big leap from saying that we work in a collaborative medium where the lines of absolute authorship are fuzzy to saying the text is a sandbox. I don't see anyone saying that. Directors and actors do more than shape things, in my opinion. In a good collaboration, they inspire, challenge, and, yes, create. Offering praise and thanks isn't the same as saying, "We made this, together."

"The buck stops with the playwright" is one of the more pernicious myths. There are so many fingers, so many influences and people involved. But, really, the *blame* stops with the playwright. When it doesn't work, it's all the playwright's fault and the play takes the fall. I don't think that's right.

Karl Miller

Intersting re: Kushner's ladies. I had no idea. And Harper's the only straight lead in the whole story, too. Huh.

Jack just reminded me of the Myth of the Interpretive Artist -- a redundant phrase invented to demote the people who face the crowd 8 times a week. I've gotten into some heated arguments with playwrights over their work, as you might imagine, but I've never dared to write their plays for them. I have, however, been told how to interpret their plays, which violates the corollary to Jack's rule.

That said, I also agree with 99 that the playwright too often becomes the focal point for blame. {Insert gripe about critics reviewing the print instead of the production here.) Maybe playwright-directors have it best since they consolidate the creative/interpretive distinction at the outset? In any case, it's a bad sign when someone has to pull rank to solve a problem in rehearsal. Mutual respect and openness are the only ways to handle the collaboration-individuation issue. If the artists don't have that for each other going in, no hierarchy is going to help. "Let's try this tonight" works way better than "I am the playwright!" Just as "I'm having trouble reconciling what you've written" probably works better than "They're paying to see ME."

Nancy

Do you have an attribution for the Eustis reference about women and AIA?

Isaac

Yeah, it's from Anne Bogart's "Conversations with Anne."

Jack Worthing

Well said, Karl.

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