Post from 2837, April 2019

Let Them See Your Vision

Sunday, 28. April 2019 23:06

Artists working in the style of other artists is a fairly common practice that I have written about before, specifically about the uses of imitation and artistic theft (also here). Imitation and artistic theft are usually considered ways to develop as an artist: we imitate a style to learn from it or we take from here and there and make a new thing out of it. Perhaps the resulting work is derivative, but it also has some originality in it. So I was surprised and more than a little dismayed to discover how widespread the practice of copying theatre productions as closely as possible with little-to-no new input is.

The internet has made it really easy to find out what the hot shows are and to see enough of them to reproduce the style, the set, the costumes, and at least some of the choreography. What some directors are now doing is gathering that information about show that is currently popular and then attempting to produce that same experience on their home stages. This happened, for example, after the 2013 revival of Pippin, which was based on a circus metaphor. As soon as the show became available for non-professional production, circus-based Pippins popped up all over the place. Many productions attempted to reproduce the world of the circus that had been seen on Broadway; others just took the circus metaphor and production style. It was as if there were no other way to produce this particular show.

And this happens again and again. So what we are beginning to see in non-professional and academic theatre is copy-cat theatre. Very often the first move of the director or designer or choreographer is to the internet to see how others have done the show—so they can reproduce that. Some directors will go to New York to review shows, again to see how they’re done. Perhaps it’s an attempt to cash in on the national reputation of this or that show. Or perhaps it’s the result of artistic insecurity. Or perhaps it just a time-saver; everybody is incredibly busy. No matter the reason, it’s still reproducing someone else’s vision.

The same thing happens in other arts. “That film was terribly successful, so let’s make one like that,” or “that movie was successful; let’s make a sequel.” But in film, even if it’s a copy-cat film, it’s not an attempt at exact reproduction. And the same is true in other arts. If an artist paints too much like another, more successful artist, it’s called at best homage and at worst plagiarism.

Usually what happens is a painter or sculptor or photographer will follow a style or trend. This allows the artist to become part of the trend, which is useful commercially, but retain his/her own vision within that trend. Indeed, Creative Live Blog just this week published an article entitled “7 New Wedding & Portrait Photography Trends for 2019.” The article cites some examples, then distills the trend to generalities and suggests some ways photographers might participate in the trend. And no doubt some photographers will read this article and follow some of the paths, but to do so successfully, they will have to insert their own vision.

And inserting our own vision is what all of us as artists need to do. Those of us who became artists because we wanted to put our vision out into the world have no trouble with this. However, others of us came to work in the arts for other reasons; we are the ones who need to allow ourselves to go beyond copying, regardless of our insecurities or time constraints. We need to let our audiences see our own visions.

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