I'm extremely opinionated. I'm sure that's a shock to anyone who reads this blog. But believe it or not, I have a tendency to open my big stupid mouth at times when most tactful people would deem it wise to clam up. Thus far in my life, this practice hasn't hurt me or my artistic/career goals. However, I do constantly struggle with the possibility that I might someday cross the fine line between opinionated and overzealous.
I bring this up on account of some issues transpiring right now completely unrelated to the theatre. I reserve this blog purely for issues and topics related to theatre, the arts or living life as an artist. Therefore, we need not go into details here. But to make a long story short, I've totally lost it and wailed on some pseudo intellectuals over the last few days. I found myself sniping and tearing to pieces (rather snarkily I might add!) students and professors commenting on some issues related to a topic I barely care about. I don't have a strong opinion on the issue... I just, quite frankly, can't stand intellectuals who argue like cable news pundits. So instead of arguing with their point... I just satirize them in an attempt to unmask them for who they are: talking point hacks.
Anywho, this is supposed to be a blog about art... So what does this bring me to? My question: What is the role of an artist in today's society? It's a boring question, I know. But the answer I propose is unusual.
The stereotypical answer is that artists these days are either of the "Art for art's sake!" variety or total commercial sell outs. Neither of these is totally true, though neither is totally false. For every assembly line churned high budget turd production out there, you'll find just as many masturbatory black box disasters out there. It's true, and we all think it. That's okay.
So I'm here to go out and say: Art for art's sake is stupid, foolish and a byproduct of ego inflation. For centuries, art was about ritual. It was about tribute. It was about politics and religion. It was about something higher.
In the classic theatrical text "Impro" Keith Johnstone writes of stone carving statues of a particular indigenous people. I cannot find the book, so I'm unable to cite exactly, but he writes that these craftsmen did not carve out figures according to a preconceived notion of what the figure should look like. Rather, they believed that there were figures that already lived inside these blocks of wood. Therefore, rather than thrust their ego and prejudice into the figure, they sought to release the essence and soul of what already resided there.
I think that is the essence of what makes great art. I'm not saying there should not be any more political plays. I'm also not saying that I don't enjoy the occasional 1960's Neil Simon laugh riot. Hell, I even like Andrew Lloyd Webber on occasion. But when an individual, artist or intellectual, seeks to impose his will or vision on a work or discussion, he cheapens that art. Humans, as individuals are fallible and petty. It's when we strive for something better that we truly accomplish great things. Don't deny that part of your craft.
To revisit a theme from a previous post, Paradise Lost is a brilliant play not because of the political message. It's brilliant because Clifford Odets captured the essence of what already existed in his time. The struggle and passion of Americans who still believed in America despite the collapse of their economy. Moreover, the struggle of a good honest man who struggles to maintain morality even in the face of financial ruin. As a Marxist, it would've been easy and convenient to impose a deep rigid political message into his plays. And while he did have deep radical left opinions, his text didn't read like a political text. It was life. It was truth.
As quoted by the A.R.T. website:
"It is my hope that when people see Paradise Lost they're going to be glad they're alive. And I hope that after they've seen it, they'll turn to strangers sitting next to them and say "hello".
Clifford had it right. He didn't impose a message based on ego onto his work. He carved out a story based on the life and truth of his characters. That's something we could all learn to strive for.
Seriously, what a jerk...
If you are curious about the enemies in question, check out his political sniping on the comments page of this University student newspaper... yep, he's that petty. This is just one example of the time I wasted the last few days.
Warning, I use some offensive language. But that's mostly for my own amusement. Enjoy.