Monday, July 16, 2007

Art and Politics (email discussion)

Had an interesting email conversation today.

art and politics10 messages

David Bohn
Sun, Jul 15, 2007 at 6:48 PM

There is a music video by rap artists mos def, immortal technique, and surprisingly eminem that has become popular... when you watch it you will see that it is pretty lyrically raw and powerful, and it got me thinking about how ben talked about Jim thinking not a lot of people saw the last show (arguably, I thought it sold well) because it was experimental and perhaps too controversial... I guess my question is, how do political-minded artists get their message to a mainstream audience and have an impact instead of 'preaching to the choir' (michael moore), and, what must be sacrificed for it to get to that point? For example, one of my favorite movies is 'v for vendetta', and when some of us were carpooling somewhere a few weeks ago, some of you said you didn't like it, yet to me it seemed like a huge success because it went #1 at the box office and reached tens of thousands of people. When does art matter and when is it simply cathartic?'tell the truth' - mos def, immortal technique, eminem -dave

kelli korducki
Sun, Jul 15, 2007 at 10:48 PM

Immortal Technique is the bomb. I love that guy! To answer your question though, I think it's hard to answer because art is in many ways a subjective entity whose various mediums have the potential to elicit different responses from different audiences. This makes measuring how much art "matters," or how effectively it communicates its message, difficult to gauge. Sometimes, the number of people reached by a given piece can serve as a measure of its significance or "sucess", but seeing as we live in a time where people like Dr. Phil sell more books than, say, A.F. Moritz (a Gugenheim poet and an awesome, brilliant dude) and musical tastes tend to drift toward complete crap like Pussycat Dolls or whatever, we know that mass-popularity is hardly an accurate measure of artistic merit. So, I guess I can't answer your question because I don't know how to approach what it means for art to "matter." Maybe there's no singular answer? Anyway, interesting question. Peace out! Kelli

Sun, Jul 15, 2007 at 11:47 PM

Immortal Technique is a slightly more intelligent version of the Dead Prez or Jedi Mind Tricks revolutionary but Gansta persona (I say persona b/c all of those groups are selling the revolutionary image. IT all but admits it on Revolutionary, Vol. 2 and if the Dead Prez were so Gangsta and Ghetto they probably would have found somewhere other than Comit to hangout at everyday for the week they were in milwaukee last month.) Anyhow i do think that IT, DP and even to some degree crazy ass JMT believe in the things they are talking about and want to press others into thinking about the actions that thier songs claim they take, not unlike Rage Against the Machine. So how does a fairly fringe hip hop artist like IT get his message out to a wide audience? Networking. Even though Mos Def and Eminem did very little on this song (does anyone know who the producer was?) it is thier names that has most people interested in the video. If this video is to be an example of expanding your audience and art to reach a more impactful number of people then i would say you need to find a way to collaborate with artist who can get you that audience. my suggestion is to have Brad Pitt star in the next insurgent theater production.

Matt Richardson
Mon, Jul 16, 2007 at 12:57 AM

I would agree with pieces of both Kelli's and James' viewpoints.
It is my opinion that art, in any form, matters most when it is effective. For these purposes I define "effective" as: The result of an artist's work having the desired effect on the audience (i.e. Billy produced a sculpture in the hopes that couples would fornicate upon viewing his work. The audience responded as he had hoped, and his work was effective).
Effectiveness is determined by the artist, and then interpreted by the audience. So art with a purpose to make money is still art, albeit a bastardized form of the purity of art, which I believe is to expand one's intelligence and culture and challenge us to grow as human beings rather than turning us into a horde of baby-eating advertising whores.
I believe that, if a small DIY theatre company were to partner with a well-known commercial entity or organization, they would reap the benefits of the resources and audience of that entity. However there is the inevitability that said entity would attempt to force the small DIY troupe to conform to certain guidelines, which may interfere with our DIY troupe's art, message or vision.
However, I believe that mutual accommodation and cooperation between these groups will maintain the corporate and family-friendly image of the commercial entity, while maintaining artistic integrity and artistic effectiveness.
So what the fock, that's what I think.

David Bohn
Mon, Jul 16, 2007 at 1:14 AM

i think ks-one produced it... I think eminem knows this when he was featured in this song (his place in bringing mainstream attention to IT's words). i think that this song is a very good example of a meaningful work reaching far beyond fan-dom and has potential for some type of change, sparking people in the mainstream to research what he is talking about and educating themselves through the references of his lyrics... I know I have done this myself. I don't think IT is attempting to sell his image, which is why i respect him more than RATM, and I respect him because I think his art matters. I have to believe art can make a difference, to respond to kelli, it's important because I have been having a crisis of feeling I am not accomplishing anything with the work I am doing in a broad sense, which may just be something I need to accept, but whatever. It's definitely a fine line, to maintain underground clout but still make what you are doing remain relevant. Partnering with a bigger name, to respond to matt, is hard too because that popular source has to have controversy surrounding them as well.... in sense of theatre, i think theater X is a good example of an independent diy group reaching a wider audience, I mean, they toured the world and had an obie, but still remained relevant... they earned their name and became popular through their own devices.

R Winsome
Mon, Jul 16, 2007 at 10:05 AM

I don't think art can change things through what it says, but i think it can change a lot through what it does. My greatest success as a playwright has never been with affecting the audience, but with affecting our actors. Darrel Cherny, ShirenRattigan, Jason Hames, Tim Chrapko, Ian Clark, and many other had all never seriously acted before being cast in one of our shows. Darrel is now a commited actor (and i still hope he gets tired of playing with shakesphere and comes back to his DIY roots) Shiren is a organizer with ACORN and freely admits that being in BTWH is what politicized her. Jason, Tim and Ian continue to act in the DIY theatre vein, more and more aggressivly all the time. Then there are also all the established actors and playwrights we've given new experiences and different opportunities too, including you, David.
It is my understanding that propaganda doesn't change shit, even that politics (reformist elections AND revolutionary actions) doesn't change shit. If we want shit to change we need to change the root economic system that all that is built on top of.
it is also my understanding that the fastest growing sector in the developed world (before the war mobilization, anyway) is arts and entertainment. This signifies a major economic shift and I see it as an opportunity. Whatever economic system makes the best arts and entertainment most efficiently in the coming years will become the dominant economic system (just as capitalism was better at making commodities than fuedalism and has now taken over agriculture too).
It is also my understanding that, given new technology, there is a shift in customer desires from recorded media to real live experiences. Which means performance. Which means live music and theatre. There is a big shake-up coming in how people get their art.This shake up is, again, an opportunity.
In conclusion, i think the most effective purveyors of the performing arts will be taking over the goddamn world in the next 50 to 100 years. Let's be those people. Lets do it in a way that tends toward greater cooperation, equality, rationality and sustainability.
So... there is a war coming. I think the relationship between myself and the people Matt is talking about is an inherently antagonistic relationship. I will go along with Matt's plans as long as it's clearto me that by doing so i am benefiting at their expense, that i am ripping them off and not ever risking becoming dependent on them. cuz they are my enemy. they are trying to make it so capitalism can still run the show after these shake ups and i am absolutely committed to not letting that happen.
David, how much what you do matters, has less to do with the messages of the plays you are in than the means the producers you work with employ. Rex

R Winsome
Mon, Jul 16, 2007 at 10:38 AM

Oh, and i forgot to mention, helping people like Peter J Woods "destroy art and recreate it in his own image" is completely consistant with this mission. In fact, the subject matter of Made in the Mouth is more politically effective than Bring the War Home.
We'll take over the world, my boy, we'll take over the world.

Matt Richardson
Mon, Jul 16, 2007 at 10:46 AM

To expand further on MR. Winsome's comments, as he and I agree on some basic principles on this matter, albeit with different angles of approach. I would love to see the world that is described below occur. I think, however, that the performing arts serve as just one piece of the puzzle tothe economic solution. It seems to me that Milwaukee, like a volcano, has reached a critical mass with its current infrastructure, and will soon eruptwith lava, destroying some old things and creating new opportunities. This is already occurring with the creation of loads of condominiums downtown, which will push the average joe/jane (like us) out of the downtown and eastside area to locations that are more affordable, wherever that may be. The entire city of Milwaukee is experiencing a growing realization that keeping intelligent, creative business people and artists is good for the city in many ways. However, no one can agree on the right way to bring them here.
So here is my criteria:
1. Have an affordable, clean public transportation solution that allows aperson or persons to effectively get cross-town (say from the North Shore toBay View) within 20 minutes in winter and end up within 3-4 blocks of your destination. This transportation method should also connect the suburbs at major points to the downtown area. Light rail or trolleys or undergroundwalkways are probably the best for Milwaukee (Toronto uses all three very successfully).
2. Have areas in the city that are affordable not only to live in, but to start and operate a small business. Possibly "economic growth" areas that offer lower taxes and incentives to owners/renters.
3. Utilize technology to keep the city green, people connected, citizens safe and give the local government a higher level of efficiency which is sorely lacking to date.
4. Promote "the creative class" and alternative living situations by funding and promoting organizations that support local creative or social ventures. Provide economic benefits to be one of these organizations and use political influence to support these entities.
5. Look at general social issues i.e. healthcare and formulate new and innovative plans that give people what they need and encourage them to come to Milwaukee and stay, like a state-run socialized healthcare system.
Either way, Rexie is right: a war is coming. It is on the shoulders of someone or someones to make these changes happen in order to advance our society. Every thing that you do, whether writing a play or acting in it or sponsoring it, that promotes the advancement of our society through artistic or economic means is a step in the right direction. It is our duty as occupants of this planet to do what we can to bring that kind of harmony to our existence and to promote the continued propagation of our race and our intelligence through socially conscious methods.-Matty R

R Winsome
Mon, Jul 16, 2007 at 11:21 AM

Look at that! Matt Richardson takes my lofty abstract ideals and turns them into practical solutions on a local level. What a guy!
trouble is, i'm skeptical that any government entitiy will be able to acheive Matt's goals, cuz the government serves the status quo (that is the nature of government) and the status quo is either threatened by (1+4) or seeks to usurp and pervert (2+3) or just doesn't wanna spend the money on (5) the programs Matt is advocating.
If the local government begins to recognize the importance ofattracting the creative class we're going to be competeing for the benefits with other organizations that are already better funded, better organized, better marketed and much less genuinely "creative class" and THAT is who we're at war with.
I guess i'd rather fight on my own turf than fight for government patronage (which i'm concerned about attached strings and dependency-creation anyway)
three roads to getting there (the things i think oughta be big picture goals of Insurgent Theatre right now):
1. theatre workshop - ongoing activity, presence and skill building
2. a small tight touring show - what nonsense company and missoula oblongata are doing
3. doing what we've been doing, but with serious effort at solving the venue and promotion problems, which might just mean throwing a lot ofmoney around, which means solving the fundraising problem or emptying our own pockets.

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