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Conceptual Art or Intellectual Exercise?

Sunday, 2. July 2017 23:58

On June 21, the New York Times reported that Jeff Koonswould donate a monumental sculpture, a hand holding a bouquet of balloon tulips, to the City of Paris to honor victims of the 2015 terrorist attacks.” It turns out, however, that “Mr. Koons donated the concept, not the construction,” and that the city needed to raise $3.9 million to make and install the 30-ton work.

The whole notion of conceptual art is controversial and has been since its inception. An internet slide show about it defines conceptual art as “art that is intended to convey an idea or concept to the perceiver and need not involve the creation of appreciation of a traditional art object such as a painting of sculpture. (Dictionary)”

Some say that all art is conceptual, at least all good art. Such work has something to say and says it with greater or lesser measures of success. “Conceptual art,” as a movement, simply values “the ideas over the formal or visual components of art works.

Implicit in any definition or discussion of conceptual art is the idea that there must be a physical manifestation of the concept. Even some of the more extreme examples, such as the text work of Lawrence Weiner has physical manifestation, albeit lettering on a wall (here, for example).

While no one is challenging the value of a great idea, whether artistic or technical, the question becomes whether it is legitimate to call such an idea art. A concept is no more than a theory or idea. It must be realized to become art. Anyone who works as an artist knows that there are many ideas or concepts that die in the attempted realization. This fact has driven a number of artists to adopt new media to their service—because the need to realize the idea was so strong.

Even with that, some concepts seemingly defy adequate expression: an idea just doesn’t work as a stage or screen play once you try to express it in dialogue. The thought cannot be realized fully in two-dimensional space. The concept cannot find proper expression in any plastic medium.

Whatever the reason, an unrealized concept is just that—unrealized. It’s an idea, a vision, and nothing more. And attempting to pass off an unrealized idea as art turns that art into an intellectual exercise, or, at worst, an art-world in-joke which is really about cleverness and ego rather than anything that could reasonable be called art.

What Koons attempted to “donate” was the idea of a sculpture, not the sculpture itself. He wanted to give Paris an idea. This is not completely unprecedented; Sol LeWittsold wall drawings that buyers then executed on their own.

Although opinion is divided about the Koon’s “gift,” the majority seem to fall into the negative column. These responses may be best summed up by Isabel Pasquier, an art critic at one of France’s leading radio stations: “Whether you appreciate his art or not, Jeff Koons is a businessman, and we quickly understood that he was offering Paris to himself as a present.”

Good art must, I think, communicate with the perceiver. Conceptual artists would argue that what is communicated is an idea, a concept. While that view is certainly valid, it is also valid that art might communicate an emotion, a feeling and be just as successful. The one thing that is certain—at least in my mind—is that whatever art communicates, that art must be realized in the physical world, no matter how ephemeral that realization might be. Otherwise it’s not art; it’s a dream.

Category:Aesthetics, Communication, Presentation | Comment (0) | Autor:

You Keep Using That Word…

Sunday, 21. May 2017 23:49

“Acting is my passion” are words that I often hear from my students, sometimes repeatedly. Usually it’s not true, at least if one is to judge by their behavior. Passion is one of those things that you usually don’t have to be told about; you can see it in the behavior of the person. I keep wanting to say, in the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” But I don’t. I think they think that passion for something means they enjoy it, which does fit one of the dictionary definitions.

In my experience, however, Passion and enjoyment do not mean the same thing. Some artists have a passion that they don’t necessarily enjoy; rather, their passion is what drives them. And while many artists revel in their passions, others do not enjoy being as driven as they are.

And passions, it turns out, do not necessarily respect one’s desires. A musician I was talking with the other night mentioned his daughter, a senior in high school. Unknowingly, I asked if she played. He launched into a short tirade about how she played in marching band, but did not enjoy the music part; she liked the marching, and the patterns, and the being outdoors. According to him, she had no passion. He went further to say that his kids’ only passion was the smart phone, which they “played” with great expertise. The situation, I think, was not that his daughter had no passion, but rather that she had no passion for music (which evidently disappointed him). Her fondness for the outdoors, or intricate marching patterns could, conceivably, develop into passions, and she might have other passions as well.

Or she might not. I don’t necessarily believe that everyone has a passion, or even the capability for being passionate. I rather suspect that real passion is somewhat rare. Many people go through their whole lives without it, and don’t really seem to miss it. In fact, I think people without what I would call passion are in the majority.

The minority—and I believe it is a very small minority—who are passionate about something don’t have to tell you. What they do tells you. What they talk about tells you. What they think about tells you. How they spend their time tells you. The way they live tells you.

Take for example Nolan Ryan (and forgive me if I have told this story before). I know a person who went to high school with Ryan and who says that all he ever cared about was throwing a baseball. He did it for hours a day, every day. He was obsessed; he was passionate about throwing a baseball. And that passion was responsible for a remarkable career and more than a few records.

Passion is one of those words like Art that I have always been hesitant to claim for fear of sounding pretentious. It seemed a word that was more appropriate in a romantic (or Romantic) novel. You will seldom hear people who are genuinely passionate about anything talk about that passion; they are too busy dealing with it to discuss it.

While some people are disconcerted by those who are passionate, I appreciate and admire them. They are the ones who set records, who make break-through discoveries, who invent new technologies, who create great art.

So if you are one who has passion, my advice—worth exactly what you are paying for it—is to rejoice in it, celebrate it, let it lead you, live it.

Category:Communication, Creativity | Comment (0) | Autor:

Take Time to Recreate

Sunday, 7. May 2017 23:13

Like you, I have very little down time; I jump from project to project to project. In my leisure time, I do those personal projects that bring me little income but a lot of joy. So, like you, I’m really always working. And I’m a list-maker, so when I’m “relaxing” in the back yard, I’m making notes on what maintenance items need attending.  My experience with “vacations” has not been rewarding; they have typically consisted of a lot of time getting places and thinking about what I needed to do when I get back.

And even though I have read articles such as philosophy and psychology writer Olivia Goldhill’s “The Psychological Importance of Wasting Time,” which cites various authorities on the value of taking time away from work and recreating, I was never quite able to find the time to take time off.

Last month, I was invited to spend the afternoon and evening at a waterfront house that some friends had for the weekend. Even though this was not something I would normally do, I accepted. Arriving just after a cold front, I spent the afternoon and evening on a deck chair under a blanket. I watched the dark water and let my mind wander. Instead of making lists or worrying about a project, I began to think of nothing in particular. I think it may have been the longest time of being in the present without making lists or contemplating projects or evaluating my life that I have ever experienced—perhaps because the temperature and the wind demanded that I concentrate on the present to remain comfortable.

The result was an astounding (to me) sense of tranquility. My mind was still, my outlook positive. I felt more rested that I usually do upon waking after a full night’s sleep. It was like the work I had been doing with mindfulness for years finally flowered. The day following was just as calm; I was able to evaluate potential projects that had been causing me issues calmly and unemotionally creativity juices began to flow. And the best part was there was none of that “I’ve taken time away, so now I have to catch up.” I simply felt refreshed.

Last next week I found myself on a bench looking at Puget Sound, doing essentially the same thing. The weather was warmer and the bench was in a public park and it was early afternoon, but the experience was essentially the same. And this experience only reinforced the first. In neither case was the outcome expected; I don’t know that I had any real expectations, but what I got will facilitate my creativity and ongoing project work immeasurably.

I had accidentally recreated. Dictionary.com says that recreate means: “to refresh by means of relaxation and enjoyment, as restore physically or mentally.” It is not necessarily something that I advocated before. But now that I have experienced the real thing, I cannot advocate enough.

I’m not suggesting that you go rent a house by the bay. What I am suggesting is that you find whatever it is for you that will allow you to “just be,” to spend some time thinking of nothing. Perhaps, like me, you will happen upon it accidentally. Perhaps it will be an activity that you were never able to fully embrace before. However you get there, you will find that Goldhill’s conclusion is correct: it is time well spent that will ultimately make you better at what you do.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0) | Autor:

A Question of Relevance

Monday, 17. April 2017 2:10

Pippin, in the musical of the same name by Steven Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson learns that the problem with a creative life is that “you’ve got to be dead to find out if you were any good.” What he should have learned was that, no matter your skill level, in order to be any good, you have to be relevant. And if your art is to last, it has to stay relevant, or at least be relevant to periods other than the one in which you lived.

Relevance does not mean “generalized” so all people in all ages can understand it. Rather, it means that the artifact, while being specific to its own era, can also speak to audiences in other times and places. The words of Confucius, of Jesus, of Gautama Buddha are relevant today, not because they are generalizations, but because they are universal and apply to humans no matter what time or place.

If you look at the sayings of Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, you will find that they are very specific, referring to particular people and situations of their respective times. What they have to say, however, is, with certain small exceptions, applicable to people and situations far removed in time and place.

This is also true of works of art. Certain works speak to people of different places and times and others do not. The works of Eugene Scribe and Victorien Sardou, for example, are not well-remembered. Famous in their own time, their plays are not revived outside of France, and even there they are not well received. You never hear of a play by either man being produced. Why? Because they are no longer relevant. What they wrote was relevant to their times only; reports are that they were very well received at the time, but they were too much tied to the times, too closely linked to the people and the place in which they were written.

Other artists are still relevant, or can be made so. Shakespeare is the first to come to mind. But not all audiences are ready for the language and the milieu of his scripts as written. If the producer and director can get the audience past those barriers, Shakespeare has much to say to the modern audience; his insights into the concerns of many of his characters are concerns of people today.

Relevance is not an all-time thing. Because of the current political situation in the US, work which has seemed irrelevant to many in the past suddenly provides understanding and perception. Take the work of Chekhov. Unlike some, film critic David Edelstein thinks that Chekhov is always relevant. However, he says, “But maybe there is something more relevant now….  Change had to come – but at what cost?

It is difficult to believe that Shakespeare or Chekhov or Picasso or Michelangelo or Rodin sat around and worried about whether his work would speak to generations besides his own; the work is far too specific for that. What mattered to each of these artists is that the work spoke to his own audience.

Unless we can do the same, our work will lack significance. As Pippin so clearly pointed out, only time will tell whether we speak to future generations. In the meantime, we must work to make our own work relevant to our tribe and perhaps a larger audience of our own time. Only then can we consider ourselves serious artists.

Category:Creativity, Originality | Comment (0) | Autor:

Art Evolves

Monday, 13. March 2017 0:01

Occasionally, someone will ask me if the show is what I wanted it to be. The short answer is “no,” but that always seems a little abrupt and not what those who ask really want to hear. I think I am supposed to say something thoughtful and positive and “artistic” as an answer. The truth for shows is—as it is, I think, for almost all art work—that it never turns out exactly the way you thought it would. There are simply too many variables.

Neil Gaiman in Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, says much the same thing about writing stories: “once the story was underway, the real ending became inevitable. Most of the stories in this volume have that much in common. The place they arrived at in the end was not the place I was expecting them to go when I set out. Sometimes the only way I would know that a story had finished was when there weren’t any more words to be written down.” Gaiman is not the only author to make such a claim. Many writers talk about how the characters in a book or play or short story take the narrative in an unanticipated direction.

In the case of theatre anything can happen: an actor gives an unexpected line reading. The costume designer comes up with something completely surprising. The lighting designer wants to do something “fresh.” The assistant choreographer makes an off-hand comment. The musical director changes the tempos.  And it happens in other arts as well: the model shows up with a tattoo the photographer didn’t know about. A light burns out in studio and the subject looks different in the new lighting. The film editor got a new idea overnight. The sculpting medium has a mind of its own and doesn’t carve the way the sculptor anticipated.

This idea is not unique to me. An art professor that I know tells students that things arise in the doing that cannot be anticipated.  His opinion is that the act of making art creates a situation in which something “worth doing” might happen, even if that thing is the realization of what the artist really should be doing.

The artist, of course, has the choice of ignoring the unexpected and forging ahead with whatever his/her vision is. Or the artist can respond to the unexpected either by treating it as an interference and working around it or by incorporating it into the work. In either case, the work of art evolves according to the artist’s response—often for the better.

Insight (I hesitate to use the word inspiration, because I’m not exactly sure what that is, except unreliable) can come from anywhere. It can be something overheard, something read, something seen. It can be the result of an interaction with a collaborator or with a friend or with a stranger. It may come from talking to oneself or a dream or a daydream or out of the air.

Art does not spring fully-realized, Athena-like, from the head of the artist. Insights happen. Serendipity happens. The unanticipated happens. Happy accidents happen. It seems to me that part of what makes us artists is sensitivity to all of the things that occur in the process of doing our work and choosing from among them to create art that is far richer and has far more depth than the piece we had in mind at the beginning of the process. We must learn that part of our job is to let our art evolve.

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

Science Offers the Proof

Sunday, 8. January 2017 23:38

Although we seem to be living in a post-factual, science-denying society, I still have a tendency to put faith in scientific findings. And one of the things that science has found is that art is good for us—neurologically. While there are numerous studies that tell us how we benefit our brains if we make art (for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), what is more interesting—to me at least—is how art impacts the mental health of audience members.

My interest in this topic began with a Salon article on “Why Abstract Art Makes Our Brains Hurt so Good.” The article, written by art critic Noah Charney, describes the work of Nobel-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel, which says essentially that abstract art forces the viewer to engage in bottom up thinking. This is thinking that “includes mental processes that are ingrained over centuries: unconsciously making sense of phenomena.” Bottom up thinking stands opposed to “top-down” thinking which is based on personal experience and knowledge; such thinking is used “to interpret formal, symbol, or story-rich art.” Thus “looking at formal art is actually a form of passive narrative reading;” abstract art, however, “strips away the narrative, the real-life, expected visuals [and] requires active problem-solving….It makes our brains work in a different, harder way at a subconscious level.” Charney concludes his article by stating, “Abstract art is where we began, and where we have returned. It makes our brains hurt, but in all the right ways, for abstract art forces us to see, and think, differently.”

But it’s not just abstract art.

One British study concentrated on “beautiful paintings” and found that simply viewing images of beautiful paintings increased blood-flow in the brain “just as it increases when you look at somebody you love.” The study concluded that there is now proof that “beautiful paintings make us feel much better.”

Study after study has found that the benefits of experiencing art include decreased stress levels and “a significant improvement is psychological resilience.” One study concluded that “The brain hardwired to process art” and generates pleasurable emotions while doing it.

Kevin Loria writing for Business Insider looked at a number of studies on the impact of viewing art. They found that:

  • “Viewing paintings triggered responses in brain regions associated with visual understanding and object recognition, as might be expected, but viewing artwork also was connected to activity associated with emotions, inner thoughts, and learning.”
  • There was an increase in critical thinking and social tolerance after visiting an art museum.
  • Arts programs may help older adults stave off cognitive decline. Viewing art can “relieve mental fatigue and restore the ability to focus.”

Some studies have evaluated brain response not only to visual, but to auditory arts as well and found that the benefits, though slightly different, were still there. “When you’re doing [either experiencing or making] art, you brain is running full speed.” Other studies have shown that any art is of benefit in making the brain healthier. For example, there is new research that makes “a strong case that engagement with music, dance and other arts may be just as powerful [as exercise and taking on new challenges] for preserving mental health and acuity throughout our lives.”

And studies are ongoing. New technologies are being developed to measure exactly how and how much benefit we receive from engagement with the arts.

The conclusion is that what we as artist do is important, not only because it allow us to say what needs to be said, but because the artifacts and performances we produce have a positive neurological impact on the brains of our audiences. Studies are just beginning to measure the degree of this impact. We do important work; science offers the proof.

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Politics and Art

Sunday, 27. November 2016 23:49

The Sunday after the US election, I got a text asking whether Unnatural Light would be commenting on the election. I replied, “No, at least not this week.” I had thought to wait until the election was really over (when the Electoral College votes on December 19 or the counting the electoral votes on January 6). But as the days passed and more and more things happened, the more I felt compelled to at least say something about my thoughts and feelings.

The arts community seems to be primarily liberal, or “progressive” if you prefer. I am no different. The election and its immediate aftermath are, in my opinion, horrific. As Austin Kleon put it, “It’s been a rotten week.” This is not because the “other side” won. I have lived through many non-progressive administrations. What has been most disturbing about this election has been the potential regression and repression. There seems to be unceasing talk of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny, as well as suppression of criticism. Equally disturbing are the members of a variety of minorities who have, in the last week, talked to me about acquiring defensive weapons because suddenly they no longer feel safe in the America-we-are-becoming.

That said, there are those in the arts community who are political conservatives. Indeed, there are some who are supporters of the President-elect. I have no real explanation for this other than that art and politics are not necessarily aligned.

Most artists have some opinion of what art is and how it should respond to the politics and culture of the time. The President-elect feels that a plea from the Broadway stage for inclusion is harassment and requires an apology, that the theatre should be “a safe and special place“. Others feel that Edward Albee’s assessment of theatre is the correct one: “Well, I think if you don’t offend some people, you’re probably failing in some way.” “A playwright has a responsibility in his society not to aid it, or comfort it, but to comment and criticize it.” “All plays, if they’re any good, are constructed as correctives. That’s the job of the writer. Holding that mirror up to people. We’re not merely decorative, pleasant and safe.Patsy Rodenburg thinks that the power of theatre in general and actors specifically lies in the ability to tell the truth to people who may not want to hear it. She explains in a must-see TED Talk video.

There have been several posts on the internet purporting to advise artists on the appropriate response to the newly-elected administration. There have been calls to give the incoming administration a chance, to work with the incoming administration, to oppose the incoming administration at all opportunities. And, of course, there have been innumerable articles on how artists are responding (here and here, for example).

Personally, I am not convinced that there is a “correct” response for artists. In a 2011 post, I defended artists who chose not to create political art. This is because, at the bottom of it, I believe that art is individual and that each artist speaks with his/her own voice and concerns him/herself with those subjects that are important to him/her. From time to time, I have made political art, but it does not make up the bulk of my body of work by any means; I only do such work when I feel very strongly about a political topic and when making that art coincides with my current artistic interests and goals.

So, no, I do not think that proper artistic response to the recent election is that artist make anti-administration art. What I do think is that each artist should follow his/her artistic instincts. Each artist should speak to his/her audience in whatever way is appropriate to that particular person. I agree with Rodenburg; art is powerful. So my wish is that each artist use that power and present the truth as he/she sees it. My belief is that that is one of the only requisites in art: whatever our topics, no matter who it offends, we must present truth to our audiences.

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What about the Un-Obsessed?

Monday, 14. November 2016 1:30

There have been a lot of posts about artists and obsession and the integral connection between the two.  But what of those who are not really obsessed in a single direction? They are not driven to engage in a specific art, i.e. to paint or act or write, but they are driven to make art or some kind. These are those who recognize that they “can’t not art.” What are they to do and how are they to do it? Or how about those who decide that multiple personal revenue streams make sense (as a number of contemporary financial advisors suggest).

We are not set up for polymaths.

Some of those who “can’t not art” have a vague notion of what art they want to work in. They may want to do two-dimensional art or they may want to work in music or they may want to do theatre. What they don’t know is which specific area or specialization of the overall field they want to work in.

We are not set up for undecides.

By we, I mean arts training programs.

Collegiate systems and, to a lesser degree, private training programs are all set up to train students in a single area. With few exceptions these programs expect students to come in with a specialization in mind so they can be slotted into the exact program that trains the student in that specialty. In a few programs there is concern that students be exposed to all specialties within an art, but, for the most part, programs are supporting a very specific type vocational training or area of concentration.  The only concession to a truly educated student population is the forced core curriculum. But even that does not foster a real well-rounded education, and there certainly is no exposure to all the sub-disciplines within an art.

This approach coupled with mandated hour requirements for a degree restricts students’ exploration. For public institutions, the state legislature determines that only n credit hours and not more can be counted toward a degree, and those hours and their relation to the degree plan are subject to local, state, and federal scrutiny for financial aid purposes. So the student is not allowed to explore a multiplicity of areas.

How is the student supposed to find the right path when the system requires that he/she establish an educational path to a career when he/she is eighteen years old? And how many eighteen-year-old know what they really want to do for a career, particularly when the choices are restricted?

So the polymaths and undecideds are just screwed…

Unless they can find a program that requires that they learn all areas of an art. In such programs students can experience a number of sub-disciplines and then make a far more intelligent decisions about which of those sub-disciplines is the best fit for them. Some even choose multiple areas to generate multiple revenue streams. There are a number of actors, for example, who support themselves when they are not in a show by doing technical theatre or management work.

But such programs are in the minority.

So the polymaths and the undecideds have to do it themselves. They can take courses outside their degree plans or online or in non-credit programs to obtain background. But the best way to learn is to actually work in the field; the explorer can get an internship (paid is better) and find out if a particular area fits. A young person I know who “can’t not art” is going to do exactly that. She told me that she was going to take the time to “dip [her] toes into several ponds” before she made a final decision. A wise approach, I think.

 

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A Question of Ethics

Monday, 31. October 2016 0:48

The question of ethics is not one that comes up very often in arts education except as regards plagiarism. However, there is the occasional consideration. A friend of mine who teaches visual and plastic arts sent me this problem recently. Although the case he presents here is hypothetical, I think he may have encountered a similar real-life situation:

A student in some one of the arts comes to his/her instructor with a project idea that is not only contrary to the instructor’s beliefs but would probably be offensive to a majority of society (hate speech, fringe group propaganda, pornography, advocating violence for some reason, advocating cultural or racial paranoia,). Which is the appropriate path for the instructor?

  1. A. Help the student incorporate the message into his/her art because art is about communication and the teacher’s job is to guide the student in achieving the student’s goal.
  2. Let the student know that what he/she is doing is inappropriate and a probable detriment to society, and counsel the student that art should be for the betterment of society.
  3. Considering the greater good for the community, discourage the student from completing the project, at least with its present direction.
  4. Some combination of A, B, and C
  5. Some other answer

Anyone thinking about the problem for more than a moment will realize that the choices are not all that simple. For example, if one were to choose 1, would the instructor then be an accessory to the production of questionable art, to the production of hate speech, porn, advocating violence or paranoia? Without instruction, the piece would probably be less effective and thus damage society less. Or is the instructor completely without responsibility in this situation?

In considering answer 2, one must ask oneself whether art really should be for the betterment of society. While that is the goal of a lot of art, I don’t know that it should be the goal of all art. Actually, I would be very hesitant to assign any one single goal to art. People make art for all sorts of reasons; some of them are political, and some, decidedly, are not.

The problem with 3 is that to advocate for the greater good, one would must know what the greater good is. And who is to say that the instructor’s view of the greater good is accurate? To the best of my knowledge, teaching in the arts does not entail any special insight into the needs of society, whether those needs be sociological, cultural, or political.

While not mutually exclusive, 1-3 are designed to be not easy to combine so 4 is difficult at best and adds unneeded complexity at worst.

My answer (5) combines 1 with a part of 2. The instructor’s job is, I believe, not to censor the student, but rather is to guide the student in developing the skills with to achieve his/her goal. However, that guidance must be more comprehensive than just advice on technique and methodology. Part of that guidance must be advising the student when he/she is doing something that is in bad taste and that might be a detriment to society. The student should understand what the impact of his/her work is likely to be and understand what reactions the work might receive.

What was your answer?

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The Thing About Fantasy

Monday, 17. October 2016 0:43

Not long ago a tape was released wherein US Presidential candidate Donald Trump detailed the behavior toward women a man can exhibit if he is a celebrity. The backlash was quick and furious. The protest was not, as one popular meme suggests about “naughty words;” it was about the idea that a man does not need to seek consent from women for sexual engagement. One of the defenses of Trump’s words compared those words to the series of erotic romance novels that began with Fifty Shades of Grey.

Critics were quick to point out the false equivalency between Trump’s words and ideas and Fifty Shades of Grey. Trump’s words indicate a willingness to assault real women, with absolutely no concern for consent, whereas Fifty Shades of Grey is a work of fiction. It matters not a whit that an erotic fiction displays no concerns for consent; it’s fiction. And likely, it’s fantasy since all that is required to fall into the category of fantasy is to be “an illusion or a visionary idea.” There don’t have to be dragons, or giants, or magic rings; there just have to be fanciful ideas.

Fantasy is necessary, not only to those works what do have dragons and giants and magic rings, but to all art. The ideas and concepts that do not derive directly from reality, must come from the imagination. Even those stories taken from real life must be given imaginative treatment if they are to become art and not mere reportage.  Those who create are well aware that they are incorporating fantasy into their work. Their work would be lacking without it. So too, the consumers of that art understand that it is, at least in part, fantasy.

In fact, most humans above the age of 4 are really quite adept at discerning the difference between fantasy and reality, even though they may spend hours engaging in fantasy. It’s when that ability to differentiate breaks down that trouble ensues. People try to pattern their sex lives on internet porn. Television fans send messages to series characters warning them about other characters. Readers allow ideas and events in novels to infect their belief systems as though they were true.

Fortunately, such instances are rare. While a number of people play first-person shooter video games, most of those people own no real weapons and would not even consider stepping onto a real battlefield, no matter how heavily armed. Likewise some people enjoy erotic fiction, fully understanding that if the actions described in the fiction were to happen to them in real life, they would be afraid, appalled, and probably disgusted. People rabidly follow the Star Wars stories, knowing all the while that the Rebel Alliance is not a real organization they could join to fight the Empire. They may dress up and go to Comic Con, but they are aware that they are fans, not soldiers.

The thing about fantasy is that it’s fantasy; it is fictional. It is intended to entertain, to engage the imagination of the consumer, to transport that consumer into a world where pain and consequences are just as fictional as the situations, and the consumer suffers not at all. This stands decidedly in opposition to the real world where there are very real consequences to every action and where people are constantly hurt.

But time spent in a fantasy universe, whether it be a book or a film or a painting or a photograph or a play can be fun. It can be entertaining. It can be educational. It can enhance and enrich our daily lives. But, unless we experience a mental slippage, we always know and appreciate the differences between fantasy and reality.

 

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