Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who doesn't like a good desecration?

I know, I know I spent yesterday's blog post raving about how much I like the fin de siecle commercial art from the last century. And I do. But I also have a real fondness for the punk rock desecration of dada and the burgeoning surrealists after the First World War. A couple of weekends ago I went to the Art Book Fair at PS 1. I didn't bring much cash or my checkbook as I didn't want to spend more than I could afford. The one thing I did buy was an unbound sheet from Max Ernst's surrealist novel, Une Semaine du Bonté.

I'm really pleased with it, but I'm not sure what to do with it. It's two sided, so it's complicated to frame or mount. The thing managed to survive a world war pretty much unscathed and there's a part of me that thinks it might be appropriate to shoot bullets through it. I've been thinking about this since going to see the Emory Douglas exhibit at the New Museum. It's really extraordinary stuff and so worth seeing, but I've always thought there's something a little weird about looking at revolutionary art in clean museum spaces devoid of the context in which it was originally created.

The theater we made in the '90s on the Lower East Side felt revolutionary, and out of that sprung the New York International Fringe Festival, which has become a cultural institution itself, for good or ill. A lot of theater artists I respect feel that we are in post-narrative times and the only argument have against this is that I really, really like narrative, which isn't an argument at all. Humans crave structure and this craving comes from a deep, primitive, DNA level of need. (one of the things I've read that really helped me make sense of the world is, "Humans like categories, nature likes a spectrum"). And if there's one thing I've said again and again it's that structure in a theater piece does not equal plot.

I haven't completed a play in a really long time. I'm a very bad playwright. I began working on a play called Tricks With Makeup shortly after 9/11 which has been gnawing at my brain ever since. I never thought of it as being surrealistic, but that's what it is. Then a year or two ago I began working on it again as a short story. I think I just need to finish it and not worry about it making sense. I've also been (finally) working on a new play called The City is an Island, which like Tricks With Makeup takes place in a bar. I keep on thinking of City as my Brecht play, silly as that may be in light of the NYC Kill Your Idols aesthetic I was raised with. It's an apocalypse play with songs.

A lot of theater is really boring, and I think the proliferation of MFA programs has caused this country to be inundated with even more boring, bad theater. It's frightening to me that people writing boring bad plays in MFA programs are compounding the problem by teaching innocent little undergraduates. Today someone on Facebook posted this interesting article about Lesbian theater artists, which included the following quote from Sarah Schulman:
"The most destructive ethic in mainstream theater is that familiarity equals quality. They think that work that repeats what is already known is good, and work that expands what is already known is wrong or badly written."
Happily, Schulman is teaching now, and Paula Vogel (the playwright who made me want to be a playwright) is heading up the program at Yale and I've heard that Scrappy Jack is teaching, too. Baby steps, I guess, but I truly believe that good art is not born out of the University system, and if good art does emerge from MFA programs it is a completely inadvertent and random occurrence, and not any sort of proof that this is an effective way to train artists. My displeasure with how theater is taught in schools really deserves it's own post, so I won't go into it too deeply here. Let me just say that theater is multi-disciplinary by nature and that fact is pretty widely ignored. Also, good artists tend to figure things out for themselves in or out of school. So, I guess what I'm saying here is that I'm ready to throw myself back into the fray. A lot of years have passed, and one of the people I used to talk about this stuff with is working for Big Law, others don't speak to me any more, and I've become reacquainted with other artists that I used to know. I'm pretty sure I want to spend my middle years making things, so I really need to start now.

1 comment:

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Une Semaine du Bonte is quite possibly my favorite work of art ever. That you have a page from it would fill me with jealousy, if I had any idea how to display it either. Which I don't.