Last week I spent a lengthy post pondering the bleak look at art (well, the NEA’s definitions of art) and art participation (again, the NEA’s version of participation) in America. The whole “what is art” conversation is one that I will attempt (only because I’m crazy, because really, who has ever defined that fully and accurately?) to cover later, because I think it’s a valid and appropriate question. But right now I want to go back to what prompted me to bring this to my blog in the first place.
In my interview with a local arts organization I was asked, based on this recent NEA report, if I thought that in order to increase audiences and participation in the arts that the art itself should change, and if so, in what way.
So, here’s my answer, after thinking about it for about 2 weeks (so, just to clarify this does not reflect my answer that I gave in the interview… part of what I’ll say here I said there, but the other part was not really applicable in the context of the interview so I’m saying it here even though I didn’t say it there. Clear? As mud, great.):
When we’re talking about the NEA’s definition of art… it should change, and it has been, and it should continue. That’s why when people stopped thinking that visual art had to look a certain way (realistic, a specific culture’s version of aesthetically pleasing) Picasso and van Gogh stopped being crazy or kind of nearsighted and started being masters. That’s why when Martha Graham decided to take off her shoes and do some stuff on the floor, she led the way for a whole lineage of modern dance (and also a whole bunch of people who had very little to do with her beyond the no shoes thing) starting with Paul Taylor and ending with Robert Battle, except I’m pretty sure it’s not ending (and let me tell you the Taylor dancers look a lot different than them Battle dancers… see- change!). And lest you think that ballet hasn’t changed- I’d like to point out Alonzo King’s LINES, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, and a myriad of others too long to list. For every classic like The King and I, there’s a West Side Story, and for every West Side Story, there’s an In the Heights. People are making new operas and writing new music.
And yet, you can still see a Nutcracker, or a Swan Lake if you prefer. You can still go to see the Monets, the Degas. You can go see Die Fledermaus, and they’re always reviving something on Broadway (not to mention regional theater companies), and I’m betting you couldn’t pay some symphony to stop playing Mozart.
So yeah, I want art to change, but I want it to honor its traditions. How can we have the next Picasso if he or she has never seen Picasso? That would be terribly ironic, and not in the funny Alanis Morisette kind of way, in the sad kind of way. Maybe our next great composer needs to hear Mozart to figure out what the hell she’s doing. And I’m betting that whoever is going to start the next major movement in dance needs to get the connection between her and Martha Graham. And even the LINES dancers, though they may never dance a variation from Sleeping Beauty, start every day with a plie.
The real question is, how to get and audience to care? About the new things and the old things. I have some ideas. But what do you think?