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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Writing Assignment I - The Meaning of Art, take 2

I recently went to the Harlem Dance Ensemble performance at the Municipal Auditorium, here, in Albany, GA.  It was a great performance, and the auditorium was packed.  Part of the performance is instructional, and the head of the ensemble, acting as an MC, would explain different techniques and historical information.  He also introduced the audience to the dancers and spoke a great deal about their workout routines.  At one point when he was discussing the classical ballet  workout sessions that all of these dancers completed everyday, he said, "...and that is really the science of dance."  He was referring to the repetitive, exacting postures performed and refined identically everyday.  There was a method and standards.  Of course, the first thought that popped into my mind and the reason why I mention is this is, well, what is the art of dance.

If the science part is the methodical repetition of standardized posture, then maybe the art part is how those postures are arranged into a performance.  This certainly makes sense to me.  I arrange shape, color, texture, line, etc. when I paint.  Arrangement, therefore, has something to do with the definition of art.  Yet, there is a real science to arrangement.  We base our decisions on hypotheses that have been tested and re-tested over centuries of performance and production. When we arrange things, whether sequences of movement or musical notes and chords, we consider things like balance, symmetry, cohesion, harmony, dissonance, etc.  All of these things have scientific reasons for working.  For instance, red and green intensify each other as complimentary colors because of the wave lengths they produce.   It is the same with music.  Each note has a different wave length.  To take that scientific data or proven relationships, though, and arrange  with intent... Now, that is art.

It is the intent part, though, of this definition that is tricky and even controversial.  The maker of things (i.e. painter, sculptor, dancer, guitarist, percussionist, actor) has an intent or purpose in what they do, and that intent is not always pleasant or even conspicuous.  Yet, intent does not get the job done.  Intent is simply desiring an outcome and response.  A physical action must take place.  (The difference between an author and someone who always thought it would be cool to write a book is that the author writes a book.)

When it comes to the actual making, composing, or performing, we have to consider craft.  Instead of intent, perhaps we should call it purposeful craft.  It is interesting that we refer to sorcery or pagan practices as witchcraft.   Craft can imply deception, illusion, facade, etc.  As we saw with the Brancusi and Mapplethorpe shows, there is a certain distrust of art among some circles.  Sometimes this distrust or suspicion may be warranted or not.  Sometimes this distrust or suspicion may result in censorship.  We should also keep in mind that this suspicion and censorship have been around for a long time, as Laurie Schneider Adams points out, Michelangelo and Manet were also subjected to censorship and speculation.  Part of this distrust, it would seem, could be attributed to the craft of art.  The audience may feel threatened or endangered by the intent of it.  The audience my feel fooled or taken in by the craft of it.  It should definitely be noted, here, that the deception or illusion (or even threat) can be quite pleasurable, and that is part of the joy of art.

To be continued....