The Right to be Unpopular
Posted 28 August 2002 - 01:14 PM
This sentence is being read, I think, as a choreographer wanting to make the work he wants without worrying about popularity (if that's a fair reading of "interest-maximizing numbers").
What do you think about this? We'd probably all defend the right of an artist to be true to his personal artistic vision, and we'd picket if a board said, "You know, Martha, all these flashbacks and triple personalities is confusing people. Couldn't you just do a nice Nutcracker, like George is doing?" Or if ABT did a research survey and found that 85% of subscribers ONLY wanted to see "Swan Lake," would we say, "Well, can't argue with that." Or would we say, "perhaps the company could put a few bucks into audience education."
Where is the line in the sand? I cannot paint or draw. Absolutely not, by any standard or stretch of the imagination. But if I decide I'd like to be an artist, and go out and buy an easel, some paints, and a beret, do I have the right to produce (ghastly, wretched, incompetent) unpopular art? If the public rejects my paintings but I can convince some kindly old soul to support me, is that okay?
How popular or unpopular can an artist be?
Posted 28 August 2002 - 02:29 PM
Other questions are raised. Does an artist have any responsibility to her audience? Is that responsibility then simply to create product or does it go beyond that into communicating, clarifying, relating, enlightening, enraging, or somehow engaging others? If not, then popularity looses relevance.
Perhaps a very unpopular visual artist who has found some poor old soul to sponsor her simply has one person on this planet who likes her work and chooses with open eyes to support her. Or perhaps she has connived to get her sponsorship. Very different stories to me.
The whole thing begs the question, "What is the artists role in society?" I don't think you meant to go that deep, but there appears to me (in my truly humble opinion) to be a direct link. I am interested in what others have to say more than my own ramblings on.
Posted 28 August 2002 - 02:45 PM
Where is the line for you, generally? Or where should it be in the Forsythe case? Take your pick.
Posted 28 August 2002 - 02:56 PM
An artist can be popular or unpopular, depending on his field, his style, his audience, and, in the case of a ballet master, the position he holds. If you're working in New York City, say, where there is a plethora of companies and choreographers, then it's perfectly fine to form your own company and insist on your Vision to the exclusion of all else. On the other hand, if you are running a company that has to be many things to many people, you don't have that privilege. Graham didn't have a Nutcracker, but Graham didn't have to draw an audience of opera house proportions, either. That does not, of necessity, mean audience pandering and All Swan Lake, All the Time programming. I think of newspapers. The Washington Post has advice columns, horoscopes, etc.; the New York Times does not. This is not because the Post is whoring to the lowest common denominator and the Times isn't; it's because the Post has a de facto monopoly over its readership the Times doesn't have and with monopoly comes special responsibilities, but it doesn't mean running "Headless Body in Topless Bar"-style headlines. Likewise, if you're running a company that is basically the only game in town for dancegoers, it's your responsibility to take that into account in your programming (which is different from letting it control your programming).
Parenthetically, I actually don't think many artists go out of their way to be offensive or obscure – not the best ones, anyway. Joyce, for example, didn't intend to write in such a way as to get Ulysses banned for obscenity, nor was he sitting at his desk cackling, "This'll confuse them." And although he didn't write to get on the best seller list, he would have been very pleased had he done so. (Even had he set out to write audience pleasing potboilers, it's unlikely he could have. There's a Henry James story, called, I think, "The Next Time," in which a starving writer tries his best to write books with popular appeal, and in spite of himself keeps producing one unsaleable masterpiece after another.)
Posted 28 August 2002 - 03:18 PM
Where is the line in the sand...If the public rejects my paintings but I can convince some kindly old soul to support me, is that okay?
How popular or unpopular can an artist be? [/
But of course. You're always free to make your hypothetical bad art, and I hope you find your hypothetical patron....BUT there is a difference between "bad" and" unpopular." In fact, "bad" and "popular" are often in unwholesome alliance.I doubt William Forsythe is stating a desire to make bad art....However, these things do get tangled up, don't they ....?
Posted 28 August 2002 - 03:40 PM
I'd still like to have some perspectives on where to draw the line on the artist's rights/responsibility issue.
Posted 28 August 2002 - 04:09 PM
I've always thought Balanchine balanced these demands awfully well, and feel very influenced by his example on this.
Posted 29 August 2002 - 04:33 AM
Ballet creates a bit of a challenge, you have to keep in mind the dancers you're using and their limitations (if you so choose). And of course, if you are expecting people to come and keep coming, it in a sense needs to be "marketable" having said that, I think people create for a "certain" audience nowadays. It's as if little niches have been formed in the audiences. Some go for a dancer, some the choreographer, some the music, and some to just say they went and saw.
There seems to be a great divide with everything now. There's the "mass produced" things (books, perfumes, The Nutcracker) and then there are "specialized". It's like going to law/medical school, you learn the basics and then you choose a specialty.
I think art is the same way, you need an educated audience to appreciate the challengs you may throw at them. And I think that's something that's lacking in ballet now. That's why I think ABT has done such a smart move in creating in NY it's City Center "season" during the Met, they educate the masses, and CC they allow those who "know" a bit, to enjoy a different side of them.
I hope this makes sense!
Posted 29 August 2002 - 05:34 AM
If the art has an audience other than the artist (which means anyone who doesn't leave his/her stories in a drawer or the paintings under the bed) then the goal of the art is to communicate. No artist is going to be (or should attempt to be) universal, but if the goal is to say something, then doesn't that imply that there is someone out there you are saying that something to?
Posted 29 August 2002 - 06:07 AM
Posted 29 August 2002 - 09:02 PM
The fund-raising alone is enough to crush the creative spirit of many.
Is it me or is there a slowly seeping mediocrity of vision amongst these artists turned administrators?
It's as if some wierd formula were at work:
(f/s) x (c/s)nth = MV
Where AE is
artistic excellence diminished by a factor of fundraising events divided by exposure to financial statements times the size of the company to the nth power, n being the number of pointe shoes used in a month which all equals Mediocre Vison.
Or a simpler version: art + compromise = real life
Although, now that I think of it, some of them weren't the most artistic to begin with.
Haven't seen Forsythe's work, but I applaud his amusingly over-written statement.
Posted 30 August 2002 - 06:57 AM
I like your formula, Watermill. I think the biggest harmful trend of the last twenty years is the replacement of artistic vision in ballet companies by nonartists, or minor artists, or, in some cases, pathetically meagre artists with huge egos and huge mouths. They were an outrage, talked about in whispers as unfortunate stopgaps until something better came along, and now they're here. Like weeds, we'll never get rid of them. (I don't put Forsythe in this category; he is a choreographer. But there are a lot who can't teach, can't stage, can't do much of anything except make deathless pronouncements about how "We are not a museum company!" or "Ballet must cope with the realities of modern life!"
Posted 30 August 2002 - 08:02 AM
Posted 30 August 2002 - 09:58 AM
Posted 30 August 2002 - 10:47 AM
their art is their means to express feelings, political views, protests, anger, love -- first for themself and then for others
the audience's only responsibility is to themself -- they partake only of the art that provokes a response within that they are willing to explore (positive or negative)
it is not the responsibility of either to cater or pander to the other -- it is demeaning
society's responsibility is to foster an environment in which art exists -- not to ensure the existence of any particular artist.
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