Post from March, 2015

How Far Should the Interpretive Artist Go?

Sunday, 22. March 2015 23:49

In a discussion with a fellow director not long ago, the question of how far we can stretch in terms of interpretation of a playwright’s work came up. Of course, as we both freely admit, interpretive artists (directors, conductors, choreographers, actors, musicians, dancers) can’t not impose their own views on the material. The real question is how much can we impose.

It seems to me that there is a point at which the interpretive artist can impose a view that diverges from the playwright’s view to such an extent that it is no longer the work of the playwright, but rather the artist doing an original work that derived from or based on the script. At that point the artist is no longer an interpreting, but rather is creating an original, albeit derivative, work.

This position, of course, stems from my belief that the person interpreting the material owes a debt to the originator, that the production of a play or a piece of music is merely a (often asynchronous) collaboration with the playwright or composer. If the originator of the piece is not present to express his/her opinion of how the work should be interpreted, then the director or conductor is obligated to try as much as possible to create a true collaboration. Thus the research and reading and studying. Thus the necessity of dramaturgy to perhaps discover what the play or composition is really about and what the playwright intended.

And with collaboration comes the responsibility of the collaborator. In an earlier post, I described that responsibility this way: “each member of the team must be sure that he/she is consistent in terms of his/her contribution to the project and that he/she is moving in exactly the same direction as all the other artists in the project. Anything less is inappropriate, insufficient, and likely to cause the project to be far less than it might have been.” The playwright, like it or not, present or not, is a member of that creative team.

This is not meant to exclude all creative input from the director; there is still plenty of opportunity for that. Sometimes that opportunity is the interpretation or reinterpretation of a piece to make it more relevant to a modern audience. That is certainly legitimate, provided that it does not alter the meaning of the piece. My belief has always been that the goal of the director is to realize the intent of the playwright in so far as he/she is able to determine it, not to supplant that intent with his/her own.

Of course interpretation or reinterpretation is far easier when the playwright is dead; live ones have a tendency to have an opinion—that may, in fact, vary from that of the director. Recently there have been instances of at least one playwright forcing cancellation of his plays because of the director’s interpretation.

In another earlier post, I called playwrights and composers “the most vulnerable of all artists” because they must rely on others “to understand the nature of their art and pass it along to the audience.” This puts them in the position not only of being misunderstood, but of having their work “modified, and perhaps distorted.” I believe it must be up to the interpreter to insure that such distortion does not occur.

And that, to my mind, describes how far an interpretive artist should go: only as far as he/she can without modification or distortion of the originator’s meaning and intent.

Category:Creativity, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

Want to Work? Consider Arts Other than Fine

Sunday, 8. March 2015 22:56

“I want to be a Broadway star,” and “I want my work to be shown at the Tate” are phrases that one hears often from young artists. What those phrases really mean is, “I want to be famous.” That’s a much different thing from “I want to be a great artist.” Being a star in any of the arts requires quite a different set of skills from those required to be a great artist. Sadly, many great artists remain “undiscovered,” precisely due to the lack of those (networking) skills or choosing to work in the wrong branch of the arts.

By “wrong branch” I mean one of the branches that is not considered “fine art” within a contemporary time frame. Those who have studied the history of the arts realize that the division between “fine art” and all the other stuff is fairly modern and completely artificial. This is not to say that everything that is produced within a particular genre has artistic merit; there is some truly atrocious work out there, but there is some very good work as well. This has always been the case; we just have different labels for it.

As mentioned in a post last month, beginning artists in schools, particularly in the visual arts, are cautioned to make their work non-commercial. This is the case with some, but not all, performing arts as well.

As a result of this kind of thinking, we spend enormous amounts of time and money trying to get into this show or that show or this showcase or that showcase or this gallery or that gallery, all so we can take the next step and be accepted in the upper tier: The Armory Show, Art Basel, select off-Broadway theatres, and then be represented by a name gallery and/or agent in New York, London, Miami.

It is my feeling that this approach does a serious disservice to the beginning artist, or any artist for that matter. There are many paths other than “fine” art that will offer satisfying careers, and perhaps, more importantly, an income. Consider poster art, calendar art, book cover art, industrial shows, theme park performance and design, voice acting, advertising art and performance, and commercial arts in general.

And in addition to satisfaction and money, there may be galleries and showcases in those areas that were not available even 20 years ago. For example, there is growing recognition of (and museum/gallery shows and auctions featuring the work of) Maxfield Parrish, Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, Bunny Yeager, Peter Gowland, Norman Rockwell, Peter Max, and Jack Vettriano. There are now exhibits of pulp book cover art and even graphic art. And with the exhibitions and sales come artistic vindication, a measure of fame, and more money.

So in discussing futures with theatre students, the phrases that are most pleasing are “I just want to work,” or “I want to do good work.” Those statements come from only one type of student—the one who is driven, the one who must do the work in order to survive, the one that art has chosen. Those statements comes from a person whose sole interest is in making art, in creating.

And like those students, we may not be able to find our way directly to London’s West End or MoMA, but regardless of the current “fine art” fad, we can create and show good work that says what we want it to say. And that is worth doing.

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