Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Throwing Rocks at a Bees' Hive...

I know, I know...but I just read this and thought about all of this again. Seems...fitting.


Chris Ashworth said...

I'd like to draw a strong, bright, bold, unequivocal line between artists encouraging their colleagues to give a hoot about their neighbors, and external censorship.

I've been feeling recently that this discussion is probably moot. I'm starting to think it's more about style than anything else.

For the people who are champions of art above everything else, I simply don't believe that if you wrote a play that you believed was the pinnacle of artistic achievement, but flat-out repulsed every human being to the point that no one would come watch it (and if you could do that day after day for the rest of your life), I just simply don't buy the idea that you wouldn't adjust your style so you wouldn't be calling out into the darkness. Sure, that's an absurd scenario, but that's the scenario you commit to when you say that art must always be the number one priority for the artist. You can't say "I'm pretty sure that telling the truth well will always bring in someone who wants to hear it"--because that's a guess, not a known fact. It's entirely possible to imagine a world where that is not true. Granted, in real life we'll almost certainly never encounter that scenario with any particular piece of art, but the point of laying out principles is to set your rudder in the direction of a world you want to reach.

But I don't believe you actually want to reach that world. At the risk of imposing views upon you that you haven't explicitly stated, I believe you're really saying that here in the real world we're fallible and we can't expect to recognize what's an ugly but not-to-be-avoided Truth, and what's bullying cruft. And moreover, that the same thing may qualify as both to different people. And I dig that. Your style is to tend toward trusting that at the end of the day, even though we can only be sloppy about it, doing our damned best to go for what rings true is the only reliable way to avoid missing the important stuff that's nestled in the gray zones.

Which then brings us to the other camp:

For the people who are champions of community as the priority, I don't see us able to draw an actionable guideline. We worry that ignoring the people we're talking to sets us on a path toward screaming at an empty room, but such a worry is too slippery to codify, so it too is reduced to a style, rather than a dictum.

So we get two groups that probably, at the end of the day when we leave the blogs and get back to the real world, pretty much want to do the same stuff. We've got different styles, but beyond that I'm not sure how much more we can say.

I just want to make sure I'm on record as having no patience with the idea of external censorship. That's not my intention and I don't think that's the destination of my style.

Once again respectfully,


99 said...

Thanks, Chris. Much appreciated. And I don't think this conversation is moot. I do think, that at the end of the day, there are some significant differences between the two "camps," such as they are, but understanding what those differences are, for me, build respect, and informs your own choices. We wonder into choices about style, about community, about our work and I think it's helpful to state your principles and look at them and decide if that's what you really want.

I don't think you or anyone else in this conversation advocates external censorship and that wasn't exactly the point of posting this. To me, it's an interesting question: the title of this play (and, once they got into it, the content) could be offensive to the audience. Where is the responsibility for dealing with that? This particular school is dealing with a play written for a different context by an absent author, but what if the student in question had written the play? Should the school not have produced it? Could they demand (or even politely request) a title change? Which needs of the community come first? I think these are legitimate questions for discussion.

At the end of the day, yes, I believe that the artist's voice is the primary priority, and that the community has to deal with that. But that doesn't mean we can't talk about it.