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“But the Book was Better”

Sunday, 18. July 2021 23:04

How many times have we heard that, and what does it really mean? Does it really mean “the movie was different from the book, and I liked the book version better”? Does it mean, “The film didn’t make me feel the same way the book did”?  Does it mean, “I am superior because I read the book and most people who saw the movie didn’t”? Or does it mean, “The movie wasn’t what I expected, (and I expected the book)”? Or is it some combination of these things?

Not long ago I found myself saying exactly those words in connection with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I had just listened to the Audible audio book of Dracula (narrated by Alan Cuming, Tim Curry, Simon Vance and others). Then I followed it up by re-watching Francis’s Ford Coppola’s 1992 film version by the same name, which I had remembered as being quite good—and I remembered correctly.

The first question that should come up when making a statement such as the one in the title is: “better” according to what standard? If the answer is any of the ones presented in the first paragraph, it’s time to move on to another discussion because none of those, while they may be honest, are legitimate answers to the question of standards. In the case of Dracula, the book was better because of the level of detail and nuance available to the reader/listener in the book that was not available in the film.

There should be no question that the two versions would be different. They are presented in different media; therefore, they communicate in different ways. Description of locale, for instance, can take pages in a novel; the same information can be presented visually in a film instantly, thus allowing the film to be more compact than the novel. But again there is that issue of nuance; sometimes, directing the audience’s view to some tiny particular detail may be more difficult to manage in a film without being clumsy than it is when describing the scene in words. And if we were to consider a stage play version of the same material, it would be different yet, emphasizing certain things, diminishing others.

And the book does have the advantage of being able to be longer, not being meant to be taken in at a single sitting. For example, the audio version that I listened to is 15 hours and 28 minutes long; Coppola’s movie is 2 hours and 8 minutes. Just the idea of compressing hundreds of pages into such a short time frame is staggering. What is interesting about the film and novel in question is how closely the film follows the events in the novel, but is really telling a different story—no more or less interesting, just different.

And difference, I think, is the point. The book is not always better, but it is always different from the film, which is different from the stage play, which is different from the miniseries. What really matters is how well the medium fits the story being told. And each medium has its own impact, its own advantages and its own disadvantages, and we need to recognize that—particularly before selecting the medium for our next project.

As creators, we must select the correct medium to be the vehicle of our creation. Even though we could force the idea into a hostile medium, the best choice is to exploit the medium that the idea requires, even though that may not be our forte. The material selects the proper medium, and we must serve the material if we are to reach our full creative potential.

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Art Must Communicate—Immediately

Sunday, 18. August 2019 23:08

We are told repeatedly that it is impossible to please everyone, so we might as well make art to please ourselves. That is not terrible advice, as far as it goes; but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. If we make art only to please ourselves, we run the risk of creating masturbatory art. (See “Art or Masturbation?”) Don’t we really want an audience larger than our three fellow artists who “get it”? If so, perhaps we ought to change our approach to the work we create.

This is not to say that our art does not have to satisfy our own aesthetic; certainly, it does. But shouldn’t our art try to communicate our vision to an audience outside ourselves? If we’re not going to do that, why bother to create an artifact in the first place? We create to record or reproduce our vision. This, though, is not enough, at least not for Edgar Degas who said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Reading that quotation this week caused me to think about how artists approach their work in general. (And thanks to Lori McNee [@lorimcneeartist] for the tweet where I read it.) Many artists are so intent on transferring what they have seen and felt to the page or computer or canvas that they forget they have an audience. They don’t concern themselves with making their art to “make others see.”

When we do concern ourselves with that, it changes how we think about what we do. Communications theory holds that the responsibility for the success of the communication rests squarely on the person doing the communicating. If the other person doesn’t get it, it’s the communicator’s fault. Likewise, the responsibility for whether a piece of art communicates rests on the artist. When we accept that, we concern ourselves with not only recording our thoughts and feeling and insights in our art, but in being sure that the audience “gets” those thoughts and feelings and insights as well. So our focus changes; we become concerned with structuring our art so that it becomes accessible—at least to that group of people that we call our audience.

If we do not adopt this approach, we run the risk of looking and sounding as foolish as a stage director I knew once. I happened to be in the vicinity of the bulletin board where a newspaper review of the recently opened play just been posted. The reviewer said essentially that the direction of the show was muddy and s/he had difficulty determining what the play was really supposed to be about. The director of the show stopped, read the review, and began to rail loudly to anyone who would listen that the reviewer should come back as many times as it took for him/her to understand it. He completely missed the irony of calling for an audience member to repeatedly attend an art form that is designed to be absorbed and understood in a single viewing. And he had no idea how arrogant and foolish he sounded. (By the way, the reviewer was correct—the direction of the show was muddy, and the play went nowhere.)

Most of the art we create, even if it is not theatre, must be created with the idea in mind that our audience is likely to see it only once and must be able to grasp at a single viewing what it is that we are attempting to communicate. Realistically speaking, our work will probably not be hung in a museum or saved in a library for leisurely study by our audience.  Our work can be subtle, but it must communicate immediately. Once we realize this, and adjust our process accordingly, we are likely to see a change in audience reaction—for the better.

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Unpack Your Process

Sunday, 7. July 2019 23:40

Like working in theatre, working in the art of pyrotechnics is always instructive. This seems to be particularly true when I am occupying a mentoring position. This July 4th was no exception. We were working on a show of significant size and the crew was made up of people with a mix of knowledge and experience. One person had had experience with wireless, computer-driven shows, but was going to shoot her first manual, wired show. It was also the first time I had left a site in the middle of the set-up, so there were many new things going on.

Before I left the site, I talked with the most experienced person on the crew about running the cables from the firing board to the trailers which held the pyrotechnic product, stressing the order in which the cables needed to be laid. We were sure that we understood each other, so I left for a time. I was confident that all would be fine. During the time I was gone, we texted back and forth confirming the cable order and placement. That worker then left to go to another site.

When I arrived back at the site, everything looked great. Only when we began to check the circuitry did I realize that the entire show had been wired backward. I had a small fit, proclaiming quite loudly that wiring was “always, always, always” done a certain way. After I calmed down and assessed the situation for what it really was, I realized that this had become a learning situation for me too.

It turned out that even though the person in charge of placing the cables and I had full agreement about what went where, we were using completely different terminology in referring to the orientation of the trailers. Our perspectives were 180 degrees off. Thus we ended up with wiring that was perfect—from her point of view, and completely backward from mine. It had never occurred to either of us to verify how we were thinking about something as basic as trailer orientation. We both just assumed that we were correct. After all, it wasn’t the first rodeo for either of us. Once I figured that out, everything became clear.

Another thing that became clear was that I had no idea why cables were “always, always, always” attached to trailers in a certain prescribed order. The order of cables had been drilled into me by those who trained me and who had decades of experience. Most of the things they taught me had to do with safety and efficiency, so I just presumed that cable order did too. But faced with my own pronouncement, I realized that the reason was never explained. I did it that way for the weakest of reasons: because that was how I was taught to do it.

Upon examination, I realized that there were indeed reasons to attach cables the same way every time, and there were reasons to wire that same way for this particular site, but those were really after-the-fact realizations that while valid did not provide a rationale for doing it that way in the first place. So far as I can tell, there is no intrinsic reason that cabling the way I had learned is better than any other approach. I had just never thought to question it.

So, I re-learned some things this July 4th that I obviously needed to be reminded of: (1) never assume; (2) successful communication depends on the basic definitions upon which the communication rests; and (3) if you are directing, the result of communication is your responsibility. However, the biggest lesson I learned was a completely new thing: It is useful—at least every once in a while—to unpack your process, and examine why you do what you do.

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Ambiguity in Art, Part 2*

Monday, 15. October 2018 1:12

In his book, Making Sense of Movies, Robert Henry Stanley says that at the end of the silent era, successful American movies followed six rules, one of which was that movies should be comprehensible and unambiguous. But times change. Now we have sound, and color, and more than a handful of ambiguous movie endings. And if you look at any of the lists, you will discover that these are very well-known and respected movies. Things seem to have changed.

And this change is not just a recent phenomenon. Many critics consider the ending of Casablanca to be at least a little ambiguous. Going even farther back, the enigmatic and ambiguous smile in the 515-year–old Mona Lisa still intrigues scholars and critics today. As a matter of fact, the more we look, the more ambiguity we find in art. For example, most of the paintings of Edward Hopper and Jack Vettriano rely on ambiguity, as do the sculptures of John Chamberlain. Sally Mann’s photography can be ambiguous, and so can the work of Edward Albee and Sam Shepherd. The lyrics and poems of Leonard Cohen can be filled with ambiguity.

So while ambiguity exists in much art and has for centuries, it certainly isn’t found in all art, probably not in a majority of art. My guess would be that ambiguity would found in only a small minority of art works. (Look at how few movies endings are marked as “ambiguous.”) One can speculate that there are two reasons for this: (1) the majority of audience members still expect art to follow Robert Henry Stanley’s rule and be “comprehensible and unambiguous.” Things are easier that way: the audience members know exactly what the artist means and often express their appreciation with their pocketbooks.

(2) The other reason that ambiguity is found in a minority of art works is that ambiguity is difficult to do and must be controlled. If the artist is not careful, ambiguity can easily slip into vagueness and confusion, which is not at all appealing. So ambiguity in art must be handled delicately so that just enough comes through to the audience members to make them think and talk about the work, but not so much that the work becomes obscure.

Am I suggesting that we find a way to introduce ambiguity into our art (if it isn’t already there)? I think that depends on the artist’s goals. If the artist is interested in selling as many pieces as possible or making a very strong statement, perhaps not. Americans seem to spend more for art that is unambiguous. Clint Eastwood’s movies are not ambiguous. Banksy is not ambiguous, nor is Neil Simon. These artists are very direct and do very good work. They have been rewarded by their audiences.

If, on the other hand, the artist wants to let the audience member participate a little more, s/he might be less direct, perhaps leave things in the gray rather than black and white by introducing some controlled ambiguity. It may not make the work better, but it will make it start different sorts of conversations and appeal to a different audience, albeit a minority.

So it comes down to how the artist wants his/her work perceived and to which audience s/he want to appeal. And while I am a fan of ambiguity in art, I have to acknowledge that it doesn’t work for all sorts of art or in all situations. So I think the artist must take into consideration the sort of art he is making and the audience for whom s/he is making it.


*”Part 1” was entitled “Brain Clutter and Ambiguity in Art” and can be found here.

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The Importance of Background

Monday, 30. July 2018 0:12

Recently I did a photographic experiment which involved changing the backgrounds in a set of images. Specifically, I replaced the backgrounds of a fairly standard woman-and-car shoot with fantasy backgrounds. Fortunately, the wardrobe and makeup supported the background change. The result was a completely different set of images, which, with the same subject, communicated an entirely different set of stories. Rather, I should say, communicated stories, which the original images were lacking, since they were part of a quasi-fashion shoot.

Volumes have been written on the importance of the subject and on posing the subject in a photograph or painting. Probably just as many volumes have been written on lighting the subject. Let’s face it; anything approaching a portrait is all about the subject. Of course it is; the subject is the reason for the image. Just as there are volumes about subjects and their treatment, there exists very little about backgrounds, and particularly about background details. This seems to me to be an oversight.

This experiment reinforced just how important the background is. The subject of a piece of art does not exist in isolation; it is part of the whole, and many times a large percentage of that whole is background.

This is a truth that movie-makers seem to have known for a long time. How many of us, upon watching a movie for the second or third time have been completely astounded by the level of detail contained in the background of the film? This is because film-makers learned early on that the totality of the mise-en-scène impacts the viewer, provides information, has psychological impact, communicates meaning, aids in telling the story.

In other arts this seems to be considered less important. In live theatre, for example, critics still consider the sets to be backings for the action rather than in integral part of the piece. The same seems to hold true for dance as well. Perhaps this is a function of economics. Perhaps it’s a function of how we, as audience members, view these various arts. Perhaps it’s just because the arts are different and producers of theatre and dance don’t see the need for the same level of background detail that producers of movies and good narrative television do. Perhaps it’s a function of framing. Those arts which have formal frames seem to value background detail much more than those without such borders.

Whatever the reason and (I think) whatever the art, background is important. Changing the background changes the piece and the story that the piece tells. So background isn’t just a backing for the action; it’s an integral piece of the composition. It’s a significant part of the mise-en-scène that can do for still pictures and painting all that it does for film.

Consider how much better the average portrait or run-of-the-mill engagement picture or even the typical You-Tube video would be if more consideration were given to the background. Think how much better our work would be if we devoted even half as much time and energy to selecting backgrounds and arranging details as Hollywood does. An idea worth contemplating.

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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.

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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) | Author:

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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Art is Powerful and so are Artists

Tuesday, 7. February 2017 0:37

This week a conversation with a friend who is an actor and a writer turned to politics, as so many conversations do these days. He said that he was being very cautious lately because “Federico Garcia Lorca was shot in the street.  You know that sometimes they take the poets first. Why do they do that?” “Because artists are powerful,” was my response.

I was thinking at the time about Patsy Rodenberg’s comments in the video Why I Do Theatre. She says much the same thing as my friend, that often repressive regimes want to suppress the artists first, because artists are powerful and use that power to tell the truth, which is something intolerable to those same repressive governments.

Make no mistake, art is indeed powerful. And that power ranges from the trivial (Hitler’s toothbrush mustache was reportedly copied from Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy) to the profound  (Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, among others moved people with their photographs of American farmers during the Great Depression. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as a response to the witch trials of 1950s McCarthyism. Shepherd Fairey’s Hope poster became for a time one of modern America’s most influential and imitated pieces of art.)

And powerful art is not limited to the US. Leo Tolstoy has been an influence on a significant numbers of other writers, philosophers, and politicians. Anouilh’s Antigone “became a symbol for the [French] underground during WWII). Rodenberg’s South African actors had all been imprisoned, presumably because they spoke the truth and had influence, at least in the view of Apartheid.  Ai Weiwei continues to make art that is “highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights.

And the power of art translates into personal power for the artist. In a Tiffany’s ad during the 2017 Super Bowl, Lady Gaga says that her transformation into an artist was due to the power that she felt; she goes on to say that talking about how creative one is is “empowering and important.”

Perhaps it’s time that we too recognize the power that we have, that we understand the nature and the potential influence of the creativity we possess. The artists that produced many of the Super Bowl 2017 ads did just that. In addition to making ads to influence buying, several made ads with political content, one of which was so powerful that Fox Sports deemed it “too controversial” to present in full so it ended with a web address where viewers could see the conclusion. The ad generated enough traffic to the 84 Lumber website where the entire ad was posted to crash the website. That’s power.

Certainly all of us do not set out to make political art—but it may be anyway. Nobel winner Toni Morrison has said that “all good art is political.” And she makes a pretty good case for there being no other choice. Morrison is not the only person who thinks this is the case. Regardless of whether we agree, we must remember that by virtue of being creative and artistic, what we make is important and influential and we, ourselves, are powerful. How we use that power is up to each of us individually.

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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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