e.e.cummings on being an Artist (with a capital A)

The Agony of the Artist (with a capital A)

(not complete, sadly, but most of it 🙂 )
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First we have the ultrasuccessful artist, comprising two equally insincere groups: “commercial artists,” who concoct almost priceless pictures for advertising purposes, and “fashionable portrait painters,” who receive incredible sums for making unbeautifully rich women look richly beautiful. Very few people, of course, can attain the heights of commercial and fashionable art. Next we have the thousands upon thousands of “academicians” — patient, plodding, platitudinous persons, whose loftiest aim is to do something which “looks just like” something else and who are quite content so long as this undangerous privilege is vouchsafed them. Finally there exists a species, properly designated as the Artist (with capital A) which differs radically from the ultrasuccessful type and the academic type. On the one hand, your Artist has nothing to do with success, his ultimate function being neither to perpetuate the jeweled neck of Mrs. O. Howe Thingumbob nor yet to assassinate dandruff. On the other hand he bears no likeness to the tranquil academician — for your Artist is not tranquil; he is in agony.

Most people merely accept this agony of the Artist, as they accept evolution. The rest move their minds to the extent of supposing that anybody with Art school training, plus “temperament” — or a flair for agony — may become an Artist. In other words, the Artist is thought to be an unsublimated academician; a noncommercial, anti-fashionable painter who, instead of taking things easily, suffers from a tendency to set the world on fire and an extreme sensibility to injustice. Can this be true? If not, what makes an Artist and in what does an Artist’s agony consist?

You may have always secretly admired poor Uncle Henry who, after suddenly threatening to become an Artist with a capital A, inadvertently drank himself to death with a small d instead… Or both you and I may have previously decided to become everything except Artists, without actually having become anything whatever. Briefly, a person may decide to become an Artist for innumerable reasons of great psychological importance; but what interests us is the consequences, not the causes, of our decisions to become Artists.

Must not people learn Art, just as people learn electricity or plumbing or anything else, for that matter? Of course, Art is different from electricity and plumbing, in that anybody can become an electrician or a plumber, whereas only people with temperament may become Artists. Nevertheless, there are some things which even people with temperament must know before they become Artists and these are the secrets which are revealed at Art school (how to paint a landscape correctly, how to make a face look like someone, what colors to mix with other colors, which way to sharpen pencils, etc.). Only when a person with temperament has thoroughly mastered all this invaluable information can be begin to create his own hook. If you and I didn’t absorb these fundamentals, reader, we could never become Artists, no matter how temperamental we were.

(….)

If you and I didn’t have temperament, we should now become ordinary humdrum academicians. But, being temperamental, we scorn all forms of academic guidance and throw ourselves on the world, eager to suffer — eager to become, through agony, Artists with capital A.

Our next problem is to find the necessary agony. Where is it, gentle reader?
Your answer: the agony lies in the fact that we stand no chance of being appreciated… Not only is there a complete absence of taste anent the domestic product, but once an Artist is found guilty of being a native of the richest country on earth he must choose between spiritual prostitution and physical starvation. What monstrous injustice!

Let me show you a painting which cost the purchaser a mere trifle and which is the work (or better, play) of some illiterate peasant who never dreamed of value and perspective. How would you category this bit of anonymity? Is it beautiful? You do not hesitate: yes. Is it Art? You reply: it is primitive, instinctive, or uncivilized Art. Being “uncivilized,” the Art of this nameless painter is immeasurably inferior to the civilized Art of painters like ourselves, is it not? You object: primitive Art cannot be judged by the same standards as civilized Art. But tell me, how can you, having graduated from an Art school, feel anything but scorn for such a childish daub? Once more you object: this primitive design has an intrinsic rhythm, a life of its own, it is therefore Art.

It is Art because it is alive. It proves that, if you and I are to create at all, we must create with today and let all the Art schools and Medicis in the universe go hang themselves with yesterday’s rope. It teaches us that we have made a profound error in trying to learn Art, since whatever Art stands for is whatever cannot be learned. Indeed, the Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself; and the agony of the Artist, far from being the result of the world’s failure to discover and appreciate him, arises from his own personal struggle to discover, to appreciate and finally to express himself.

Quote of the day – Wendy Perron

“This intrusion of acrobatics into otherwise lovely dancing got me wondering…Why?”

“Well I am here to say that the YAGP judges don’t need that particular kind of spectacular. Many contestants who do fancy acrobatics execute those moves without any feeling or awareness. There’s almost a disembodied feeling to those performances.”

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“But here’s the best part of the story: After listening to Larissa and me speak about [contestant] Emma’s artistry, [her coacher] Charles decided to take out the gymnastic ending to her solo. I was so happy and relieved to hear this! If one teacher can put his full faith in artistry and dispense with the extreme gymnastics, then others can too. I think that would give each participant a chance to become a dancer in the deepest sense.”

In “Competitions: The Pressure To Go Acrobatic“,  in Dance Magazin, 24th March 2016, a comment on the “annoying trend” of contestants showing-off acrobatic skills, at the expense of artistry, or instead of…

Wendy Perron

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Anyone who reads my blog knows I couldn’t agree more… and I’m talking as audience, not as an expert!!
It IS an annoying trend, both of choreographers and dancers! If I wanted to see acrobatics, I would attend Gymnastics competitions, or contortionism shows, not a Concert Dance evening!.
What I WANT to see is meaningful content expressed through human movement, beautiful because human, and expressive because of use of body-language.

No insect-like looks and moves for me, thank you.  And “more-of-the-same”, like more turns, higher jumps, impossible lifts? Well, maybe they try to be graceful and meaningful instead? this accomplished, I may welcome feats if they help impart the message, if they are consistent with the role… if not, please let them out!

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Deadly serious Ballet… hhmmph!!

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Ballet is such a serious affair nowadays! Where has all the fun gone? I mean, there were always rules, and hard work, worries about tickets sales and injuries, no doubt about that. But nowadays it seems they have stiffled the mood for comedy and fun.

There are even awful new trends that explore pain and tortured feet and crying kids in ballet training, overthinness and weird overextensions as a way to make ballet news. No, I refuse to post an illustrative picture, it seems to me as disrespectful to show as it is of dance professionals to submit their bodies to this kind of treatment and exposure. Are pain and drama really so indissociable from Ballet?  Aaaarghh!!!

In 20th century, however, several choreographers created delicious Ballets (or, by current rules, something between Ballet and 100% danced Musicals), full of action and laughter… classical technique serving just as groundstone to pure entertainment!

The great success of Wheeldon’s “An American in Paris” gives me hopes –  link here
– but my problem is not about musicals, a genre on its own, but about Concert Dance and humour.
Trocadero is a unique phenomenon. They are really good, but so unique they don’t help to understand the depressive/ing mood of Ballet.

It would not be a bad idea if our classical ballet professionals were forced to stage this kind of work – maybe it would loosen them up a bit? and the tightlipped “ballet-is-a-high-art-few-are cultured-enough-to-appreciate” audience too? that loves La Fille Mal Gardée (it is Ashton!!!!) but thinks Don Quixote is already beneath their high aesthetical demands?

BTW, some attempts I saw lately are… pathetic! and only prove my point: Ballet is getting SO serious that just a few even know how to make jokes! There are some Cinderella versions that should be… please, forgotten!
There is Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, that I did NOT see – judging by this trailer, however… well, maybe I would like to see more verve, more sharp comedy timing?? but critics were good, so I may be mistaken!

ABT Fancy Free, 2015 Edition

Jiri Kîlian has Symphony in D, that has a dry sense of humour, you do not double yourself in mirth attacks, but it light, funny and… beautiful!

But what I’m really talking about is something like this:

Manuel Legris and Ketevan Papava in a scene of Fledermaus

The whole work (by Roland Petit, whose Coppelia is also great fun) is available in DVD with Alessandra Ferri, Massimo Murru and Luigi Bonino – what a cast!!! it used to be available in YouTube, but I could not find the link again.

And this, ah, this is absolutely charming!

Old Tango by Alexandr Belinsky, with Ekaterina Maximova

Of course, there are other works, The Concert, Birth-Day… but all in all, they are rare as oasi in deserts!

Related to lack of humour, I have a question that still needs an answer:  have you ever wondered, like me, why so many plots of the famous ballets are definitely morbid?????

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Quote of the Day – Alexander Ekman

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“I’ve asked myself why Cacti is so successful, and I think it’s partly that we had a long time making it, so I think it’s very well-crafted. But there’s also that subject — it’s important that we can laugh and discuss and debate about how we have invented this ‘critic’ thing.”

Alexander Ekman, succesfull Swedish choreographer, is restaging Cacti in Sidney, Australia. He is well known for the way he integrates humour into the very serious art od Dance… – interview in 22.02.2016, to Ben Neutze – Daily Review, full text here

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Concert Dance takes itself too seriously, and Ballet is worse, it is really DEADLY serious… It was not always like that, and lack of humour seems to me just a symptom of a crippling (degenerative?) disease – Ekman goes straight to what, in my opinion, is the source:

“I created [Cacti] at a time in my life when I was really struggling. I cared a lot about what critics wrote and who was there. Now, I don’t give a shit, honestly,” he says. 

“I’ve asked myself why Cacti is so successful, and I think it’s partly that we had a long time making it, so I think it’s very well-crafted. But there’s also that subject — it’s important that we can laugh and discuss and debate about how we have invented this ‘critic’ thing.” <—-HERE

At the centre of all of Ekman’s work is a desire to entertain, but he wants to make it clear what he means by “entertainment”.

According to Ekman, “entertainment” can be considered a form of meditation — if a piece of art can hold your attention and focus your mind on a single idea or stream of thought, it’s essentially meditative.

“I get annoyed that so few pieces do that,” he says.
“The dance world needs to change and I’m surprised very often that it still keeps going, because it doesn’t reach out to people.” <—- AND HERE

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Nowadays, Concert Dance is focused on pleasing peers and critics,  not in reaching a wider audience. As a Performance Art, Dance needs public’s reaction to live. It is dying of audience insufficiency!

Of course, it is not easy to laugh about things when you are a terminal patient…

BTW: Do you know the rate of population growth? no, of course not, but you have at least some notion… And a notion of the rate of growth of Concert Dance audience?

Quote of the day – Judith Mackrell

“No one, clearly, is advocating that performances of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake should be cast with 50-year-olds. But McGregor has demonstrated how much of a waste it can be for mature artists simply to be put out to pasture as non-dancing kings, queens, eccentrics and crones. They can be capable of a far wider choreographic and expressive range; and, if they’re given the right material, can bring much-needed texture, contrast, wit and realism to the ballet stage.” (highlight is mine)

Judith Mackrell, in ” Keep Dancing: the ballet stars leaping through the age barrier“, The Guardian, 05.07.2015

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If you think about, it becomes so obvious.  It’s how things are in other Performance Arts. Dance as Art would profit, GREATLY! but what a change it would require in current ballet organizations!

Quote of the Day – Lar Lubovitch

my funny valentineThe dancer I value is a movement poet. They intuitively invest movement with depth and gravity. They recite a line of dance with imagination beyond what the steps alone possess.

Steps are empty vessels until a dancer infuses them with meaning and physical poetry. I don’t think this can be learned I think it is inborn and comes naturally from a place that is not the conscious mind. It’s a gift. I have found that many dancers have this gift, but have not tapped into it. The dancer I am looking for can’t resist it. It’s automatic. It’s who they are.
(…)
I don’t care about your height, your face, your race or body type. It’s the way that you dance that matters. I am looking for the dancer with movement imagination who imbues the phrase with something poetic.

Excerpt of “Letter to a Young Dancer”.

Links to complete letter:   Alessandra Ferri’s FB Page, posted on 5th April 2015
or on the site of Skidmore College.

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Lar Lubovitch
Lar Lubovitch

I was so pleased when I read this! What he wants, and what he asks from his dancers, is what can turn a performance into an unforgettable experience for US.

And what pleased me more: AFTER this description, he goes on and writes about the need of technical skill too – but the quality above is a pre-condition, the first thing Lubovitch looks for!