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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:

Let Go

Monday, 19. June 2017 1:41

You may have heard that the Albee estate denied the performance rights to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because the producing organization, the Complete Works Project, had cast an African-American in the role of Nick. The director, Michael Streeter, spread the word in his Facebook status and the story took off. Responses have appeared on all media and support both positions. Nobody questions the right of the estate to deny rights for whatever reason, but there is great diversity of opinion on whether this is a good or bad choice.

A friend who is a director and actor said that he thought he would have to side with the Albee estate in this particular situation, but that he wished that playwrights would release their death-grip on their plays. And they do have a death-grip, whether the playwright is living or is represented by an estate.

The first such restriction I observed was shortly after the Mickey Mouse Protection Act of 1976 in a contract for a college production of one of Neil Simon’s plays. The contract said that not a single word could be changed. Since that time, such a restriction has become standard, and one of many. The Albee estate-Complete Works rights denial is the first time I have heard of a copyright owner rejecting a specific cast member.

“Artist’s Rights,” can be taken to ludicrous extremes. For example, Arturo Di Modica demanded through his attorney that because he created Wall Street’s Charging Bull, he should have been consulted before Kristen Visbal’s sculpture, Fearless Girl, was installed just feet away. Di Modica said that “the adjacent art has changed the meaning of his work and violated his legal rights” (ironic, given that the bull, like the girl, was installed without permission).

There are two reasons I agree with my friend’s “death grip” comment on playwright’s rights. First, theatre is a collaborative art: there is an originator of the script and then the interpretation of that script by a production company. This is similar to the composer/conductor-orchestra relationship. The fact is that by allowing any group to produce the work, even with restrictions, the licensing agent is allowing interpretation. Set, cast, blocking will be different in each production. Restrictions applied to professional productions are not required of amateur productions. Some restrictions do not take into account the specific audience that will see the work. These taken together produce an inherent inconsistency in licensing with regard to protecting the “artistic integrity” of the work. Indeed, And at least two of the articles I read (here and here)—citing Shakespeare and Chekhov as playwrights whose work is interpreted in a number or ways and whose work lasts—suggest that if the Albee estate continues its current policy, it well essentially condemn Virginia Woolf to obscurity.

Both Tennessee Williams and the Williams estate have taken a position almost opposite the Albee estate’s position. Williams allowed his work to be done by almost any group, and the estate has followed suit. The results have been a broadening of understanding and appreciating Williams. For example, a 2008 production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof featuring an all-black cast demonstrated that the play is powerful regardless of race.

The second reason, in my mind, applies to all artists:  Once the artist declares the piece done, it exists in the universe as an entity unto itself. Regardless of his/her rights, the artist needs to have enough confidence in whatever s/he has created, that s/he can let go of the piece and get on to the real work of the artist—creating. A solid work can stand on its own—if the copyright owner will let it.

Category:Communication, Marketing, Presentation, Theatre | 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.

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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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The Problem with Porn

Tuesday, 14. July 2015 23:23

One of the Terms of Use of a web-site hosting company to which I was planning on moving my web sites is “No adult content.” That phrase is usually code for pornography, but still, it is an ambiguous term that is open to a lot of interpretations. Since some of my work is not appropriate for children and because I didn’t want to make an expensive mistake, I asked for a clarification. They asked to see my work so they could make a determination. I sent them links to my photography web site and to a couple of projects that have not yet appeared on the web. They concluded that my work was definitely not pornography and that they would be happy to host my site.

This incident led me to think about pornography—what it is, how it works. So I did a little informal research. One of the first things I discovered was that no two people have the same definition. Even dictionaries disagree about the definition. I discovered that almost everyone has an opinion. Some I asked even took the discussion beyond definitions and opined about various sociological and psychological impacts of porn. It also became apparent that the range of activities that constitute porn also varies from person to person.

Definitions seemed not only to revolve around content, but around treatment as well: “intercourse filmed for commercial purposes,” “impersonal recording of sex,” “a visual recording of sex that has no artistic merit,” “it has to do with intent.”

Some could not frame a definition and were of the “I can’t really give you a definition, but I know it when I see it” school of thought made famous by Justice Potter Stewart in Jacobellis v. Ohio. (Obviously, the sales staff at my new hosting site are in this camp.)

Interestingly, almost everyone—except those whose ideas included an extremely wide range of “offensive” behaviors—had a definition that contained at least one element of the Miller Test, although no one quoted it directly or stated it in exactly the same way. (I’m sure that some I asked had never even heard of Miller v. California.)

Why is that important? Well, one of the elements of the Miller test that was mentioned had to do with art. The respondent said that porn is a work about sex “having little or no artistic merit.” (Actually Miller is considerably broader than that.)

It turns out that no one knows what that phrase means either—mostly because no one can articulate the components of artistic merit. Again, they know it when they see it, or so they say; they just don’t have the words to define it. In this case, however, I may have a clue. A couple of people that I talked to suggested that one of the problems with pornography is that it leaves nothing to the imagination. A slight change of wording yields “pornography does not engage the imagination of the audience.” And that, I think, in addition to being true, is the key.

The next step for me was to look at pieces of art that are non-pornographic in terms of content. Of the pieces that are, to my mind, very good, those that exhibit significant artistic merit, in some way engage the audience’s imagination. It may be that the audience wonders how the story ends; it may be that the audience tries to discern the meaning of the piece; it may be that audience spends some time putting the elements of the piece together; it may be some entirely different thing. There are certainly many ways to engage an audience’s imagination.

But some artists don’t bother. Art that falls into the less-than-significantly-good categories, even though it adheres to the principles of design and all of the corollaries, does not engage the viewer’s imagination. This seems to hold true for all media, at least all that I examined. It’s a simple thing—engaging the imagination of the audience—but a very important thing. It is something of which all artists should be aware if they are not already.

So the problem with porn, or at least one of the problems with porn, is the same as the problem with much art that we find lacking: it fails to engage the imagination of its audience. Engaging the imagination of the viewer may not be on our minds as we create, but perhaps it should be. Perhaps it should be foremost in our minds—that is if we want our work to be the best it can be.

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Art and Reality

Sunday, 29. June 2014 23:49

Tim Crouch writing in The Guardian maintains that reality, any reality, kills theatre, particularly reality in the form of working clocks, running water, fire, and kisses, not to mention full nudity, children, and animals. He feels that those things, precisely because they are so real, break the illusion of the theatre and essentially stop the show.

He’s right of course. Reality can intrude on the narrative flow of a performance. But the causes of the stoppage can vary. In the King Lear example he cites, the cause of the stoppage was not, I suspect, the Edmund-Goneril kiss, but the young audience’s lack of maturity: they were unable to distinguish between the reality of the kiss and the fiction of the kiss. Experienced actors can pull off the fiction of a stage kiss, or nudity, for that matter, but they have to have an audience sophisticated enough to make the distinction.

In other instances, it certainly can be an acting or directing problem. One of my earliest lessons in theatre came in a notes session after a rehearsal of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. At one point in the play, the character Mick throws props about, wrecking the room. The director told the actor that he had to pull back because he was too real, and in being too real would threaten the audience. Once threatened, they would no longer be watching the play.

This incident contains the kernel of a principle I have used ever since: once the audience stops worrying about the character and starts worrying about the actor, or themselves, you’ve lost them. And often you don’t get them back. And if you are working before an audience that is not sufficiently mature to handle the material, then it is up to you, the actor or director, to adapt the work to your audience—if you want to keep them.

Where I think Crouch is not right is in his assumption that artists want to put more reality into art. To make his case, he quotes the beginning of Reality Hunger by David Shields: “Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art.” A brief examination of the history of western art will demonstrate that this is not true, not to mention that in artistic traditions other than western there is often no attempt at reality.

What is true is that since the beginning of time artists have tried to put into their work more of what they think is true. Truth and reality are not the same thing. Artists who work in figurative styles, which, according to Crouch would be some older painters and theatre practitioners, usually aim for verisimilitude, not necessarily for reality, and most would agree that verisimilitude is very different from reality. A quick comparison between the movements of theatrical Realism and Naturalism make the point quite clearly.

Crouch notes that “the visual arts left this figurative dependency behind years ago.” And there is a reason for that. Visual artists learned that there were better ways to present their vision of truth. Some performing artists have attempted to abandon “figurative dependency” as well—with varying degrees of success. Embracing reality is but one of the ways that can happen; the result is, as Crouch suggests, performance art, not theatre.

At the bottom of it, we all know that Matisse was right. It is not a woman, it is a painting, or a photograph, or a narrative performance, or a ballet, or a musical composition. It is not reality; it is an artistic representation of truth.

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Give It Away

Monday, 5. May 2014 0:31

Almost all artists come to the point in their artistic development when they feel that they should no longer work for free. Yes, it’s all about the process, but we begin to want a tangible return on our investment of time and materials. But then we have another issue: how to find a paying audience for our work. Since artists seldom have neither the training nor the inclination to be good salespersons, it becomes a problem.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, Austin Kleon in his new book Show Your Work, suggests that solution to getting our work out and ultimately selling it is not only to share it, but to do so freely and tell whoever will listen how we made it. His rationale is that if we can engage potential collectors through the story of how we create what we create and provide examples, there is a higher likelihood of selling it.

Hazel Dooney has said much the same thing. She publishes much of her work on the internet to generate conversation and, instead of copyrighting it, releasing it with a Creative Commons license. She too has written about the idea of giving work away. She will even go so far as to release high-res images of her work and agree to sign them if collectors will print them and send them to her (paying postage both ways, of course).

At the other end of the spectrum is an artist I know who will not even store his images on a cloud drive for fear that someone will steal them. He would not dream of establishing a web site showing his work. Because he has no media presence, very few people have ever heard of him, and, although his work is quite good, he sells very little—no one knows that he exists.

If we are concerned about the image itself or the idea, perhaps we don’t want to give it away. If, however, what we sell are original pieces, then sharing a copy may not be such a bad idea, particularly a low-res version. How else will potential collectors decide whether they want this or that piece? It’s not like anyone will be able to take that low-res internet image, blow it up to display size, and print it at a level of quality that could compete with our originals. And there are other advantages to sharing our work. We can create a tribe, a following, a group of people who like what we do an who are anxious to buy our next book, painting, original signed photograph, sculpture, those who will want to see our next movie or play or listen to our latest piece of music. That can’t happen unless they have a way to know about it in the first place.

And then there is this thing about sharing working procedures. Even the most secretive of us can have our work reverse-engineered. Once an idea escapes into the universe, anyone can give it a try. If we withhold process and procedure, it won’t stop those who want to copy; it will just slow them down a little. Why not explain what we’ve done and encourage others to try it out as well? Even using the same methodology, no one will be able to reproduce our work—simply because it’s our work and sprang from our brains. Even using our techniques, others will have to create what springs from their own brains. And knowing our secrets does not necessarily make the implementation easy. Some techniques, as we know, require years of practice before they can be mastered.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about sharing our work is overcoming our fear that our work will be “out there” and out of our control. There are ways that we can protect ourselves, but that is a topic for another time. The potential upside far outweighs the downside. Sure, someone might turn our art into a screensaver, but whoever then sees it may want an original for the living room or to give to a friend, and he/she would never have known about our art unless we had given a little of it away.

Category:Audience, Marketing, Social Media | Comments (1) | Autor:

Phoning It In

Sunday, 26. January 2014 23:52

We’ve all experienced it at one time or another: a teacher, a student, an actor, a photographer, an artist, a writer—phoning it in. The results are usually not terrible; they’re just not as good as they could be. So phoning it in is something to be avoided, at least in my estimation.

There are a hundred reasons for it, and none of them really matter. What matters is the reduction in quality. When we phone it in, our work may be passable, sometimes even good by certain standards. But it’s not our best.

Because of all the activities in which I am currently engaged (and cannot eliminate), I feel that I am getting very close to phoning in this blog; and that is something I do not want. To avoid that a change is necessary. Rather than just taking some time off as some have advised, this blog will be moving to a bi-weekly publication schedule. How long this will last I am not sure. That will probably depend on how this new schedule fits and functions.

This move is not due to lack of material, rather for lack of time to deal with the material that I have, material that continues to grow on a weekly basis. What is lacking is the time to think it over and allow myself to see connections and patterns and decide what is really worth talking about.

As those of you who have read this blog for a while know, I am a firm believer in artistic discipline, so moving to a longer time frame will still keep my publishing regular but will provide a little more time for thinking and development. I don’t know that the quality will improve, but hopefully it will not diminish.

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Stuck? Adopt a New Model

Monday, 7. October 2013 0:30

Among the many recent articles about John Boehner was one saying that Speaker Boehner’s problem was that he was using an old model that really didn’t work anymore.  This, of course, caused me to think about all those we shake our heads over because they too are using outdated models: the teachers who don’t understand why the techniques they used 10 years ago don’t work anymore, or the business man who is perplexed because his 20-year-old methodology doesn’t attract customers the way they used to.

And this, in turn, got me thinking about artists who are doing exactly the same thing: relying on old models when what we need are new ones—if we really want to succeed. This is not a suggestion to chase the most recent fad, but to evaluate and embrace what is new, fresh, exhibits potential, and will allow us to better speak to our audience.

Artists who depend on ticket sales do this. A friend who is a stage director was just this week lamenting the fact that there are number of good shows that can no longer be successfully produced—except as period pieces—because the plot hinges on a device that is no longer recognizable to the audience or because the subject matter no longer speaks to us. This same idea is also reflected in the gross structure of plays: nobody writes five-act plays anymore because audiences reject them—for a variety of reasons, and those that exist usually have to be modified to appeal to today’s theatre-goer. So theatre people who want to keep producing are forced to let go of the old and find new models.

Some artists don’t want to give up the old, so they attempt to combine it with and the new. For example, contemporary productions of Shakespeare are often set in a time and place different from those suggested in the script. Or they are given a twist to make them more appealing to today’s audience. The same thing happens with the holiday classic, The Nutcracker. And the same is true of visual arts: a photographer may use an obsolete technique to comment on an aspect of modern society, or a painter may use an antiquated methodology as part of his/her statement.

Several artists, Hazel Dooney and Marie Kazala among them, tell us to sidestep the old model for distributing art work; they advocate selling directly using every electronic and social networking means available. Although slow to learn, the music industry and now perhaps, even the movie industry are realizing that the only way to cling to old models is through the courts, and that perhaps a more productive approach would be to adopt new models for the distribution of the art they represent.

And it’s not just about distribution. Sometimes embracing the new leads to better work. A friend who is a painter recently attended a workshop where she learned not only some new techniques, but also learned of a brand new medium—a new kind of paint that allowed her to do things on paper and canvas that she had never been able to do before. Since she embraced the new material and the model that went with it, the quality of her work has soared.

Some, of course, will argue that the old ways are better. Perhaps, but if they cannot help us connect with our audience, no matter what kind of art we make, then we really are making art only for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with that unless we want to share our artistic vision with others.

This is hardly a new idea. Each successive artistic movement has been a reaction to what that generation of artists thought was lacking in the previous generation, or was about the development of new ways of presenting what the artist envisioned. Each generation has adopted new models. And now it’s our turn. The world has, in the words of Roland Deschain, “moved on,” and we would do well to move along with it.

 

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Art is Not Just a Matter of Preference

Sunday, 15. September 2013 23:44

When I was an undergraduate, I had an English professor who said that the accomplished student of literature should be able to read a poem and separate the quality of the work and whether or not it was personally appealing. The implications, of course, were that not all poetry is created equal and that liking something has nothing to do with whether it is good or not.

This has not been a popular position in the postmodern world, where all work is pretty much equal. And although postmodernism is, according to some, dead, it left a legacy. Daniel C. Dennett has said, “Postmodernism, the school of ‘thought’ that proclaimed ‘There are no truths, only interpretations’ has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for ‘conversations’ in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.”

And as elevated as the egalitarianism of postmodernism sounds, most of us who work in the arts know that it simply isn’t true. There is good acting and bad acting, good directing and not-so-good directing, good writing and bad writing. There are, in fact, qualitative differences in the performing arts. And other arts are no different. Given that, the problem is articulating what constitutes good art and less good art, and that, in turn, requires that we be able to distinguish art from non-art.

Although many have attempted this, novelist Leo Tolstoy is one of the few who not only distinguished art from non-art, but articulated the conditions which determine the qualitative levels of art. Tolstoy collected his views in a book called What is Art? It is not an easy read. Fortunately, Maria Popova has summarized and presented Tolstoy’s ideas in a recent posting to Brain Pickings. Essentially, Tolstoy said that art is a union between the artist and viewer or receiver of the art that allows the receiver to feel and experience the feelings and experiences that the artist put into the work. Additionally, this union works not only in one era, but across time and cultures. He says that what distinguishes real art is the presence of this infectiousness.

He goes on to say that the stronger the infection, the better the art, and that the degree of quality is dependent on three conditions:

  1. The individuality of the feeling being transmitted. (More is better.)
  2. The clarity of the expression. (Clearer is better.)
  3. And the sincerity of the artist. (Sincere is better.) This is the most important condition.

Sincerity in Tolstoy’s view is what gives art it’s power and is the source of its infectiousness: “The chief peculiarity of this feeling is that the receiver of a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that he feels as if the work were his own and not someone else’s — as if what it expresses were just what he had long been wishing to express. A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist.”

Whether or not we fully agree with Tolstoy, or even understand him, most of us instinctively know that all art is not created equal. There is excellent work and there is crap, and there are all sorts of levels in between. Most of us know that. It’s time that we quit pretending that it’s all about individual expression and acknowledge that Tolstoy has a point. Art is not just a matter of preference.

Category:Aesthetics, Quality | Comments (1) | Autor:

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