The Art for Art’s Sake Edition

Last weekend, I realized that I am creative but not artsy. Ever since I was a child, my cousin and I created songs, plays, short stories. In fact, my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Firestone, would spotlight my short stories on a regular basis reading them to the class because she found them hilarious. The problem with me is that I don’t live and breathe artistic expression. I have stories, scripts, and melodies floating around my head that I never put to paper. After my creative writing class in high school, I haven’t finished a short story since. Started many, but finished no. My creative writing course in college wrongly focused on poetry. I am quite a terrible poet and what should have been a forcing mechanism to get me to finally put thought to paper, failed me. Thus, I left with no wonderful collection of stories to share with the world.

Photo Courtesy of Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

Photo Courtesy of Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

How did I come to this realization? Last weekend I went to the Festival of New Works, a series of one-act, one person plays by graduating University of Maryland MFA students. A friend of a friend of a friend (an extremely ghetto connection) wrote and starred in one play while my dance instructor choreographed the other play being presented. The plays were vastly dissimilar. The first centered on a young girl who receives visits from Krishna because he wants her to help him with an epic battle. The second served as a celebration of the life of Florynce Kennedy, a real life lawyer and feminist.

To me, the first work did not lend itself to a one person show. I loved that music accompanied the action as I believe that music should accompany even going to the bathroom. However, the fantastical tale required a great deal of imagination, which is not everyone’s strength. The play demanded that the audience 1) believe an adult as a child 2) see through a child’s eye of intricate dreams and 3) understand that all of the challenges are allegories for other things. As an imaginative only child, this was a slam dunk.

Quite obviously, the audience preferred the second work, mainly because the protagonist is brash, smart and profane. However, I ran intoa personal quibble with this work: I am not a fan of auto/biographies. This started when I read Dreamgirl in elementary school, a book my Motown devotee mom picked up. People tend to leave out critical details about themselves or others in these works that make them more human—failings, mistakes, ill temper, etc. Mary Wilson gave a wonderful account of the music scene in the 1960’s but glossed over her unexpected pregnancy, vanity and passivity. Filmed or reenacted plays often give you set pieces and events, but rarely tell a complete story. As the completion queen, I like a beginning, middle and end. The story of Flo Kennedy recounted her childhood, her law career and her feminist radicalism (sorta) but never let me know how she earned enough to live in the Upper East Side, why she became so outspoken, etc. I recently read Olive Kitteridge, the Pulitzer Prize winning collection of stories about a single protagonist. While infuriating, the heroine, if she could be called one, reminded me of people I actually knew. Flo could easily be someone that I could see myself in on the surface but didn’t, because I didn’t get to know her just events throughout her life.

This is why historical films rarely work (see: Red Tails). You need to hit all of the events, so things move quickly, often too quickly. If the author attempts to add possible motivation for action, someone, somewhere will cry foul and let you know that the person never wore blue socks, or always said “Hey” instead of “Hi.” Thus writers have little leeway in terms of creating an interesting story. Not that the play wasn’t interesting. It was. But it didn’t give me anything to hold onto.

The reason I realized that I am not artsy delves into after the show. We hustled to dinner with the cast (of one) of the first play and friends. And the friends were artsy. Irritatingly artsy. With weird avant garde projects that seemed intrusive and wrong headed (let’s film at risk students and watch them flounder) or huh? (I’m doing a thought piece on community by inviting the audience to build a house). These people live and breathe art. The kind of art that me as an actually creative person finds annoying. I am practical. Not so practical that I don’t know what an allegory is, but practical enough that I don’t like artificiality. This highlights another struggle of mine—action movies. The crux of genre is incomprehension. Nothing that happens make sense or even has a beginning, middle and end. I am supposed to care about Bruce Willis’ dead wife that we rarely saw because it helps a complicated premise (see: Looper). This is why I avoid interactions with creative types. You never know what you are going to get and I like to let the work stand on its own.

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One thought on “The Art for Art’s Sake Edition

  1. LOL you make a good point when it comes to auto/bio-graphies. Unless the person is willing to be completely honest and transparent, it’s only then you will see an authentic person (See: Laughing In the Dark by Patrice Gaines and Makes Me Wanna Holla by Nathan McCall). As for film and other mediums for people to tell a story; a lot is cut down and snipped and paste in the essence of time. This is why I HATED the movie version of Memoirs of a Geisha. The book was so rich with details and an actual authentic story (though fiction), that the movie completely butchered it. I figured that if J. K Rawlings could make Harry Potter work for the movies (and you know those books are THICK) how come the same consideration and attention wasn’t given to “Geisha?” I believe it was Erykah Badu that once said something about how in the music industry songs could be recorded and printed up for longer than four minutes. Now all you get are songs going for three minutes or less. We’re lucky if we get five minutes of a song! My issue with art is… no matter the medium, most of it seems so compact. It’s like no one wants the artist (a true artist) to take their time to breath and let the work guide them. As a writer I found this to be true…when you enter the work with total abandon…. it actually can produce the most beautiful and profound work ever, without even trying to.

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