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Collaboration with the Audience

Sunday, 23. May 2021 22:56

Neil Gaiman, in his book of essays and introductions, The View from the Cheap Seats, says that “no two readers will ever read the same book, because the reader builds the book in collaboration with the author.” In another place, he discusses other aspects of this collaboration, noting that “you bring yourself to a book, and children are capable of imbuing words with magic that not even the author knew was there.” He takes the idea further in citing an instance of someone remembering the excitement of a particular scene in a book, only to find, upon returning to the book, that the exciting part had been supplied by the reader. Gaiman goes on to say of the reader in a different circumstance: “then, perhaps, you will come back to it [a book] when you’re older, and you will find the book has changed because you have changed as well, and the book is wiser, or more foolish, because you are wiser or more foolish than you were as a child.”

This is not a new idea; it is one of the fundamental tenets of post-modernism. Gaiman, however, develops the concept further than most, boiling it down to the notion that each reader “builds the book in collaboration with the author,” and is likely to build a different book each time that reader comes to the book, even though the text remains the same.

You may have experienced Gaiman’s ideas yourself, finding that a book or poem or play that you had experienced was not the same as you remembered it. Or you may have had the experience of discussing a painting or performance with someone and wondering if they really had seen the same thing you did, so different were their impressions.

This notion of collaboration gives considerable power to the reader. The trick for the author is, of course, to create a narrative that will engage the imagination of the reader regardless of what the reader brings to the book.

The same is true for other arts as well. Whatever the art, audience members bring their preconceptions, feelings, and imagination to the interaction with the art work and thus build the meaning and impact of the work in collaboration with the artist. And sometimes, like the children Gaiman noted above, imbue the work “with magic that not even the author knew was there.”

If that is the case, how does the artist then create for her audience? She can make some assumptions about what response her work is likely to get, depending on what sorts of responses she has gotten previously. That, however, is no guarantee. She can, of course, manipulate her materials so that she has a fair idea of what reaction the work is likely to get. The fact of the matter is that she has no idea what the audience members are likely to bring to the collaboration.

So what we as artists to do? Exactly what our hypothetical artist above finally does: manipulate the materials so that we have a fair idea of the reaction the work is likely to get, and then put it out into the world without further expectations. The audience will bring what they bring, and while all the collaborations will be unique, there is likely to be enough similarity that we can judge our “success” or lack thereof. And if our audience finds things in our work that we didn’t know were there, so be it.

Perhaps the best that we can do is create work that simply satisfies ourselves, release it into the world, and then see what our audience makes of it.

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Art and Money

Sunday, 17. March 2019 23:38

There’s no money in art. Everybody know it: conservatives, liberals, moderates of every strip and hue. Everybody. That’s the number one reason that parents give for discouraging their children from pursuing the arts. They are sure their kids will starve, because it’s common knowledge that there’s no money in the arts.

Except, it’s not true.

Recently two reports were released that challenged this conventional wisdom.  One was 2019 State of the Arts Report for the State of Texas and covered the year 2017. The other was data released by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and covered the year 2015. These reports went a long way toward refuting the common mythology concerning art and money.

The BEA/NEA data shows that the arts sector contributed more to the US economy than the construction, transportation and warehousing, travel and tourism, mining and extraction, utilities or agricultural sectors, $763.6 billion to be precise. There are only two sectors that contribute more: retail trade and healthcare and social assistance. That’s nothing to sneeze at. The key findings were these:

  • That $763.6 billion constituted 4.2 percent of the GDP.
  • The arts sector involves 4.9 million workers who earned $372 billion in total compensation
  • The arts added “four time more to the U.S. economy than the agricultural sector and $200 billion more than transportation or warehousing.”
  • The arts had a $20 billion trade surplus.
  • Between 2012 and 2015 the arts had an “average growth rate of 2.6 percent, slightly higher than 2.4 percent for the nation’s overall economy.” The growth rate was 4.9 percent between 2014 and 2015.

Texas, unlike some other states, is not mentioned in the BEA/NEA report. However, Texans have their own state-level report. Here are the key findings from that report:

  • The arts industry in Texas generated $5.59 billion in 2017.
  • That amount generated “nearly $350 million in tax revenue.”
  • “Houston and Dallas each generated nearly $1 billion.”
  • “Austin and San Antonio each generated more than $350 million.”
  • The “arts-and-culture industry” has grown 15.5 percent during the last 10 years.
  • The arts sector of the Texas economy employs “nearly 800,000” people.
  • Arts jobs are projected to grow by 17 percent by 2026

And this in a state that “is 41st in arts funding among all U.S. states.

It should be obvious that the impact of the arts at both the state and national level is tremendous. In fact, Robert L. Lynch, the CEO and president of Americans for the Arts, has said “The U.S. [BEA’s] research makes clear that, if you care about jobs and the economy and infrastructure, you need to care about the arts. Strategic investment in our arts and cultural organizations is not an extra, it’s a path to prosperity.” The BEA/NEA data is illustrated in a series of charts and tables and is broken down by states.

And the value of the arts is not just dollars. Research indicates that in Texas “students enrolled in arts courses attend school more regularly, have a 15% higher pass rate on standardized tests, are more likely to stay in school, graduate, and attend college.” Data also shows that “art in hospital settings can reduce patient anxiety, pain, length of stay, and readmissions.

So the next time you hear someone say that arts are a waste of time and energy and that no one can possible make a living in the arts, point that person to the data that tell us that the opposite is true. The arts have a huge impact on American life and economy. The arts matter—in more ways than we realize.

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The Art of Transition

Monday, 1. December 2014 0:32

As I was listening near the end of an older Stephen King novel (Yes, I am addicted to audio books), I realized that King is, among other things, a master of the transition. He knows when and where to put them and, more importantly, how to make them work so that the reader is moved from one place/time/idea to another seamlessly and unnoticeably. As I think about it, it is one of the things that makes King so very readable (or in my case, listenable).

Whether he/she works in fiction, non-fiction, essay, or poetry, every writer is (hopefully) aware of the transition and the attendant difficulties. The good writer does exactly what King does, move the reader smoothly and effortlessly from one place/time/idea to another. And if those transitions can be made invisible, or at least transparent, so much the better. Anyone who writes seriously knows how difficult that is.

Mulling over King’s ability, it occurred to me that all artists have to deal with transitions. Certainly composers do; they must move the listener from one section of their music to another. Likewise the instrumentalists and vocalists who interpret that music must make those transitions as well. Similarly, all theatre artists (playwrights, directors, actors, set designers, lighting designers) must do the same thing in moving from one scene to another, one stage picture to another, one look to another. And certainly filmmakers (directors, editors) must master transition: not only must the dramatic units transition, but the camera shots must transition as well, and on a much more frequent basis

All this talk of transitions make sense in arts that take place, at least from an audience perspective, in a time sequence, but what of other arts? At first I thought that transition was a function of story or argument, then I realized that it exists in non-narrative art as well.

My own photographic work is an example: most of my recent work is gridded abstract collage. Even though these pieces fall into the category of meditation rather than story images, there must be transition between the pieces in the grid or the overall piece will absolutely fail. Likewise there must be transition between the parts of any visual or plastic composition. While each part may be interesting in itself, those parts must relate to each other and to the composition as a whole to tell the story or complete the meditation. Thus the transitions can make or break any piece art.

Given their importance, a reasonable expectation would be that transitioning would be taught in arts schools of all varieties. My experiences is that it isn’t. And when I read about art technique, I seldom find it mentioned. The single exception is film editing/directing, where it is not only taught, but the methods have names. It is as if once those of us who are not film editors or directors get out of those freshman composition classes, it is presumed that we know all that we need to know about transitions.

And that is not the case. Sometimes we find the piece that we are working on isn’t coming together the way that we want it to, and are not sure where to look to correct the situation. We would do well to look at the transitions, particularly if the work seems inappropriately fragmented or lacking in cohesiveness. In more cases than you’d think, that’s where the problems are, and so that’s the place to start repairs. Perhaps we should even take a little time out to study and learn how to transition better. After all, anything that results in better work is time well spent.

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