Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ars Gratia Artis and the incoming administration

(Ars Gratia Artis is the Latin rendering of "art for art's sake" but also the slogan of MGM studios [it's around the neck of the roaring lion on the logo before movies].) And if you feel this discussion has been beyond exhausted already, please, by all means, skip.

As by now you may have heard, Vice President-elect Pence went to see the musical Hamilton over the weekend. The cast, after bows, had a brief message for him:

I've seen two arguments against this that I want to talk about here.

The first goes something like "He went out for a nice evening at the theater, he wasn't on duty, they should have let him enjoy the show." The best response I have to that is to invite you to speak to any local elected official, and ask them if they have any expectation that when they leave the house they are anything other than on. They aren't. In the six years I spent on Worcester's School Committee, I heard about education in the grocery store, next to the soccer field, outside the dance studio, at church, at concerts, in the park, at the doctor's office, and in my front yard. If you're an elected official, you are always an elected official, and you should expect always to be treated as one.

(Notably, Pence himself appears to know this.)

The other thing I've heard is "Those actors are paid to deliver those lines and only those lines, and they had no business going off script."

To say this is to fundamentally misunderstand art.

Actors aren't "paid to deliver lines" and musicians aren't "paid to play instruments" and artists aren't "paid to paint pictures" forth.
If all there was to art was reciting memorized lines, I can set my computer up to read you Shakespeare's plays, and you can listen to that instead of seeing a performance.

While Governor Pence was enjoying Hamilton, I was at a production closer to home: the Burncoat Arts Quadrant's annual production. Students from first grade through their senior year sang, danced, acted, and played instruments together before a full auditorium.
They weren't paid. And there was more to it than just the noises and the movement.

The dancers aren't just able to move in time to music, and their performance to "Hold onto me/'cause I'm a little unsteady" made that abundantly clear. The "Pie Jesu," the lyrics of which we've been singing since the 1200's, are not just words sung. The "Egmont Overture" is far from pretty music; Beethoven explicitly wrote it as a protest of Napoleon's position in Europe, and it subsequently became an unofficial anthem of the Hungarian revolution (in 1956) for a reason.

There is more to art than art. The dark joke was making the rounds this week that we can expect better punk music under a Trump administration (as punk is revitalized under oppression). I won't go there. I will say, though, that art is more than art. Dismissing it as simple pretty sounds or pictures is a mistake I'd urge you not to make.
It will be telling if this administration does.

No comments: