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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who Determines the Shelf Life of "Modern" Art?

I saw a very cool play last night at the Bricolage summer reading series: Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, by Jennifer Haley. It's an ultra-modern parable about communication, expectation and the nature of reality, cloaked in the guise of a horror film spoof.

The story centers around a fictional MMORPG (the titular "Neighborhood 3"), in which disaffected teens lose themselves -- literally -- for days on end. The game is a complex quest to eradicate the zombies who threaten to overrun a picture-perfect suburb -- which, the players notice, is a mirror image of their own suburban housing plan...

I'll let you draw your own conclusions about the play's themes and politics (or you can read this review of a prior performance in Louisville, which unfortunately seems to have missed out on so much of the play's dark humor). As I consider my own feelings about the play -- which I very much liked but am still processing -- a few thoughts enter my mind, such as:

* How well will hypermodern works of art age in an era of ever-increasing nostalgia, when the millennium bug already seems like it happened a generation ago?

* Can a work of art be judged a success or failure by a critic whose frame of reference doesn't encompass the ability to appreciate / process / understand the work of art?

* What's the cutoff age for understanding irony? (In my experience, irony seems to have a self-contained 30 year "generation," give or take, which suggests that the basis of humor / irony 'shifts' every quarter century or so.)

* What are the artistic reasons to create something "in the now," vs. something of an indeterminate time? How does that choice affect the audience's experience today, or in 100 years?

* How do you assign merit for a collaborative work in which the author or creator is separated from the audience by a wall of actors, interpreters or players? In these cases, who determines where the success or failure of the idea's execution lies?

* What is an artist's proper recourse when an audience or a critic misses the point?

* Which of our current cultural touchstones will still be memorable -- or even recognizable -- in 20 or 50 years?


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  • "What is an artist's proper recourse when an audience or a critic misses the point?"

    The responsibility of the success of any communication, even artistic communication, always is the responsibility of the sender/author/transmitter. While it's true the magic only happens when it is received by one with the capability to "get it", the responsibility to frame it in such a way is always the transmitter's.

    That basic principle established, the question becomes who is the transmitter of a play since it is an ensemble piece? After taking a minute to think, i believe that the playwrite's responsibility is the script - it is the whole of the transmission of his idea and is the source for the director, set, cast and costume interpretations. The director then has the responsibility to refine these elements to transmit what he feels the play has to say.

    Thanks for the exercise in thinking about art and communications.


    By Blogger crossmage, at 4:31 PM  

  • James: Good points. I agree that the playwright is ultimately responsible for the script. Beyond that, he or she has no direct responsibility for the actions of the directors, actors, set designers or anyone else who interprets the words for the audience.

    However, it's a slippery slope to suggest that if a critic fails to appreciate a work of art, the fault lies with the artist. If that were the case, we'd have to judge the success of every artist on the sheer number of people he / she was able to reach sensibly, rather than the greater scope or merit of the work -- which means the greatest artists would be populists who appeal to the least educated and most limited in worldview.

    I think there's a balance between those POVs, but it's also up to each artist to decide how much he or she NEEDS to be "understood" by the critics / audiences. The less you need cogent accolades, the greater the risks you can take.

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 4:40 PM  

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