Monday, August 1, 2011

Getting a little meta here...

Pioneering modern dancer Isadora Duncan once said, "No, I can't explain the dance to you. If I could say it -- I wouldn't have to dance it!" I often think about this quotation and the subtext that goes with it. I think Isadora's quotation carries with it a strong whiff of many artists' disdain towards intellectual analysis of art. In my experience, there seems to be a strong trend (I'm saying a lot, not all) of the artistic world clearly separating itself from critics, scholars, etc. The dominant view seems to be that artists are the ones who suck the marrow out of life, while intellectuals and appreciators are on the sidelines, critiquing things they can never fully understand. And never the twain shall meet!

The fact is, in today's reality, artists have to be able to articulate what their art means in words (or pay someone else to do it). Whether trying to convince investors that a film will bring a return or a cultural council that a site-specific performance piece deserves a grant, artists have to be able to express what their art is about and why it has value in order to get the funding to make it happen. Maybe this is part of the issue - artists see their art as something sacred (as they should), and they don't want to degrade it by associating it with financial transactions. However, mystifying the art-making process and adopting a martyr complex can only go so far. Maintaining the myth of the long-suffering, "starving artist" may promote a feeling of camaraderie through an "us versus them" mentality, but it ultimately does artists and their art a disservice. If you truly believe your art has value, you should put some effort into allowing the world to understand it. Challenging does not have to mean inaccessible. Obfuscating the intent and process behind a work does not add a layer of meaning.

To paraphrase another giant of modern dance, Twyla Tharp, making great art is about showing up to work every day because you never know when the divine nectar will fall. It is true that art has moments of transcendence that can't be expressed in words - that's why we love it. But, in my experience, you can't have those moments without a strong foundation of discipline and dedication. And that is very easy to grasp.

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