Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thoughts on Criticism

I read an interesting article in "The Walrus" today by Andre Alexis where he despaired the lack of critical book reviews in Canada.  Honestly, I can't tell you the last time I've read a book, film or art review that was honestly critical (not mean, just taking the ideas apart) and not filled with anecdotes about the artist and why they are loved or not loved in general, or about the reviewers general thoughts as they looked or listened to the art at hand. However, I kept reading because he seemed to think that such a review could exist. Hmmm. He talked about the pendulum swing between a cold academic review that parses a work of art so finely it misses the pleasure that an art work can bring, and a review that really just doles out opinion alone...As you know I am trying to figure out where I sit on the continuum of art, myself, so he had me, lock, stock and barrel. Here was a line that I found to be well worth the thought, perhaps you will too.

Regarding a review by Philip Marchand where he stated that "anyone who does not appreciate the greatness of Tolstoy is "deficient in taste, period."

..."Marchand's statement is about himself, his belief in War and Peace's greatness. He offers no defence of his opinion, believing that none is required. And so, we have come to the point where the mere fact of an opinion is more important than the basis for it. This is neither criticism nor reviewing but autobiography."

I would like to read more by this Andre Alexis fellow...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

crap at my parents house

Hey there all,
I just found a funny website that had me giggling away. I especially liked this one about absinthe...I'm pretty sure I have some really goofy stuff at my house too don't we all?... enjoy!
crap at my parents house


Ah yes, travel sized absinthe. So you can lose your mind like a 19th century french painter, on the go. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Real First Day of Summer

Many people believe that summer starts with a day on the calendar, hot sultry afternoons, and changing your wardrobe from black to white. I, for one, always need to be reminded that the calendar has turned. My sense of time has struggled to attach itself to a series of numbers and, while I get the whole clock thing from day to day, calendars seem to exist on a project to project basis, instead of year round like normal people. You'd think then that weather would be a good clue, but where we live strange weather can happen at any given moment, like snow in July or a heat wave in April, so that's no good. I have yet to change my wardrobe and acknowledge fashion in any sense of the word, so I have never really understood the whole white and black thing, or obeyed it, wearing whatever pants look comfortable and are relatively clean.

So I have developed another way to tell that the seasons have changed...the passage of children.

 I think most parents and children know this: summer really begins when the last shoe has returned from school, when the first morning has arrived that you don't have to struggle to get everyone's lunch into their backpack, when your children beg to wear their pyjamas all day. That's summer.

I can remember how summer seemed to stretch into eternity. In a good way. My neighbourhood friends, my brother and I would play on our porch, make forts in the escarpment, and eat snacks at a different house every day. There was nothing like playing all day, living as far out of the adult world as possible...it was restful, relaxing and a great break from school. Quite frankly, I miss it, and I sometimes wonder if that is not the true experience we try to recreate on our vacations.

I hope to be able to find a way for my children to have that experience, but as most people know it's hard these days. We live in a time when children are hyper-supervised and highly programmed, set on various tracks for success in the hope that they will be the next world wonder...it is difficult to even find people to play with and there is always pressure to live up to the standard...and, I'm afraid of bears.

So lots of excuses, but I hope that starting today, as the last shoe has returned from school, we will be able to carve out a fun, relaxing summer. And I truly hope it will be fun and relaxing for me as well!

So it begins. Wish me luck, and happy first day of summer to you all!

Friday, June 11, 2010

See anything new?

Ta DA! Oh, how I like to change things up once and a while. I just tried the new blog designer and it is not only easy, it's also fun. Now, back to work on a few things today...grant applications, and poetry writing. I have been neglecting my musical and for that I feel terribly guilty, but I did need some perspective. I just know that when I go back to it I will see it with a pair of fresh, honest eyes. I'm less likely to hate everything or love everything (which causes me to keep/trash at random.) So...less guilt right? More work done. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Art vs. Money

Ahhh, one of the eternal questions, what makes something art? Does selling it or being popular "cheapen" art or cause the art itself to be lost?

This is one of a number of questions that I have been trying to work out for a long time.

In University we were taught about "for profit" and "not-for-profit" models in theatre. Basically, these are two separate worlds, one, focused on pleasing share holders, has a tendency to look at work through the lens of profitability...will this show sell tickets...the other, strives to choose works based on how good they are, not looking at the bottom line. In theory there is a strong line drawn between these two groups one group is focused on money, the other on pure art. We often further divided these two groups by claiming that "for profit" was mostly entertainment (and by entertainment (imagine a sneer on the word) we meant poorly conceived slop designed to part people from their money with as little effort as possible), while "not-for-profit" was pure art. While exceptions were given there was always a connection between selling tickets and the absence of art. Not surprisingly, wanting to be part of the for-profit world in any form was looked down upon, and as a result a lot of the streams of theatre that were more "popular" were seen as second rate and "entertainment." So, comedy, musical theatre and even plain story telling were not encouraged.  Also, many of us had serious guilt and problems when entering the work force. Did we sell out? Should we live more penitent, monk like lives? Why was our devotion to art not enough? And why, oh why, has our audience deserted us? As I see it, part of the problem is found in the practicality of art vs. money ("not-for-profit" vs. "for profit" models) and the resulting definition of art:

1) Making art, while you love it, is also a profession. You do this to live. You need to get paid in order to eat, sleep in a decent place and even keep the physical building that houses your art over your head. In either model this is a reality that must be dealt with. Art isn't penance. It's a profession. At some point you must consider making money on a show. If this is true than making money cannot in and of itself negate art, also not making money does not prove that you have made art.

2)We are assuming that we can define art by money.

3)You need an audience, so you need to sell tickets. Is theatre actually theatre without an audience? In my opinion I don't think so. The audience is, in a sense, the final collaborator. The show is not alive, it is still in rehearsal, until it is in front of those wonderful eyes. Guessing what they'll like is hard, you don't get to pick who your audience is, and frankly tastes change from day to day, but there isn't anything wrong with trying to please them. Maybe it's a bit like a marriage, you want to be there for them, laugh with them, cry with them, talk about important things, you want them to appreciate you, love you and, I think, you should want to love them. I don't think it would be good to pretend that you are only dating for the rest of your life (you know, spend big bucks on a fancy car, go out on the town, pretend that everything in the world is solved by having a good laugh and a little romance) it would feel fake after a while. When something important came along it wouldn't really matter. Just like something crafted only for entertainment. But a good marriage has a little of the "dating" moments in it, roses, date nights, vacations, romance, laughter. It's not wrong, it's necessary, sometimes the way you can deal with problems is to forget them for a while. That's ok. On the other side of the coin you want to talk about things that are important. Try to figure out how to solve difficult situations, sometimes calling them on a bad decision before they get hurt. After all, you love them, you want them around. But you wouldn't want to mope around all the time, only talking about terrible issues, yelling at your spouse every time they came into the room. A little fighting clears the air, sometimes shows that you care, but fighting all the time, ignoring their wishes, alienating them? That's how marriages end. That is, I think, what has happened with our modern theatre, we fight a lot, we push our audience around, we alienate them on purpose (don't believe me, check it out, there is an actual form of theatre called alienation) there's no fun, no romance and so our audience has left us, the only thing they are interested in doing is dating us because at least there they can find the possibility of caring.

4) Both sides must care about money and about the interests of their audience at some point. We need to live, so we need to get money, so we need to sell tickets, so we need an audience. All that is really left is deciding what priority each thing we need will get...and then deciding how we are going to make it happen. Clearly, these cold calculations aren't pure Art, in and of themselves. We cannot allow this process to define for us what art is.

 Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this Art vs Money thing has been going on for quite some time, since the early 1900's at least. My husband bought me a book for my birthday (told you I was crazy about art) that has essays on theatre from an old magazine called "Theatre Arts Magazine". I wanted it because it had articles by Konstantin Stanislavsky, Lee Strasberg and Michael Chekhov but I discovered that it contained some insight into the roots of the whole art/money argument and even some insight into film vs. theatre. (And, for anyone interested in design, it was the start of lighting so lots of interesting back and forth on that.) It was interesting to hear those arguments at their genesis, given how, a century later, we are living with the results.

I'll likely talk about this a lot going forward as it has been rumbling around in my head for years now. For anyone interested I have found this particular book on Amazon (I know I'm always looking for such things.)  I'll eventually get round to talking about a few others that have helped formed these ideas...but here's the first one.

Although...I have the paperback version of this book so it's not nearly that expensive! I'm sure you may find it around the site if you look, or there's always the library! (one of my absolute favourite places, I know, I'm a nerd.) If you want to borrow it from me you may have to wait. I'm still busy working my way through to the end...
Til then!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Elephant Poops Children


This just in.
Reports of a child eating menace have flooded our newsroom. A large elephant posing as a piece of playground equipment has been spotted around the city. It's appearance has co-incided with the modification of children at these playgrounds. Children, believing this creature to be an ordinary slide, have entered the elephant only to return to their parents completely altered.

Mrs.Rowena Herfblocken of Littlesnoz had this to say, "My little Tommy used to be such a quiet boy. He always came home from school and sat in the corner, humming quietly to himself. Never was any trouble. Now, since the elephant...He has changed. I never know where he is. He's always running around, jumping on the furniture, wanting to go back to the "park" and "his elephant" and...worst of all... all he talks about is poop."

Citizens are advised to contact the nearest SPCA, keep their children indoors, and remain calm if they happen to see this creature.

We will keep you updated with further stories on the hour.

I saw this just the other day on one of my favorite sites, Apartment Therapy (which they received from Dark Roasted Blend) and I just had to share. Check out the slide! Many of the other playgrounds were in serious disrepair but this one is just plain funny. I know a lot of kids who would love to be "pooped" out. (and a lot of parents who wish their kids were pooped before they were.) Anyway, here's the link.

Elephant Bum