Archive for April, 2006

Another Sign of the Art-less Apocalypse

Monday, April 10th, 2006

CNET.com, the technology news and product review site, carries a report this week of another sign of the apocalypse: the end of drawing. CNET - whose slogan is “bringing tech to life” - covers the death of art from a conference on the status of drawing in the electronic age held at the University of California, Berkeley.

Subtitled “Not A Pretty Picture”:

U.S. art students spend so much time toying with computer graphics these days that many wind up without needed drawing skills, university instructors say.
Students are more comfortable manipulating computer graphics than doodling, drafting and drawing with pen on paper, and this has created a sharp decline in drawing skills in recent years, teachers say.
Additionally, tech-savvy students simply lack the initiative and persistence developed by drawing, resulting in uninspired work-at least work on paper.
“I see an increasing passivity on the part of students,” says Marc Treib, a University of California, Berkeley architecture professor…

Students more comfortable “manipulating computer graphics than doodling”: the end of strange shapes next to lecture notes! “Tech-savvy students simply lack the initiative and persistence”: downhill since Leonardo, the world is coming to a lazy yawn-filled end!

To counter my diminished drawing colleagues, it is just as easy to acknowledge how this technology has, in fact, furthered our “old fashioned” artistic disciplines, and created new markets in the present, as well as the future.

Merce Cunningham, the choreographer who has been ahead of his time for the last forty years, was one of the first to use the graphic-representation qualities of the computer to be able to map and then record his dances with complete precision. Forty years from now, we will still be able to bring these dances to the stage for new generations to witness his creations, as he created them.

A similar kind of technology has transformed the creation and promotion of music. So much of new music today is being created by artists with small resources for recording and distribution.

In fact, the same week as CNET’s reporting on the academic lament, a musical milestone has been hit in the U.K.

For the first time a song hit the top of the UK pop singles chart without selling a single CD. Gnarls Barkley‘s “Crazy” debuted at number one even though it has been only available as a digital download. Isn’t that amazing?

So, we are safe from the apocalypse and safe from the diminishment of our humanistic arts.

On the other hand, where are the technology financial resources going? Back to CNET for those necessary digital sunglasses when racing your yacht.

- Bill Reichblum

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High/Low: On or Off Stage

Monday, April 3rd, 2006

You are probably wondering why the world needs another book on Shakespeare. (Amazon currently lists 17,906 results.) However, Dominic Dromgoole’s “Will & Me: How Shakespeare Took Over My Life” is worth as much, if not more than, each of the other 17,905.

Dromgoole is the new artistic director of the Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London. The book gives you a very personal — funny and profane — journey of Dromgoole’s career and Shakespeare’s plays. He brings the quality of Shakespeare’s works down from the peak of high art to the plains of low art - that is, where we all exist: everyday situations, base behavior, intimate issues, and language as dirty as it is rich.

This experience of Shakespeare might be easier for those of you who confront his works in another language than English. Too often, English speaking productions become entangled by words that come from a great distance of high poetry, rather than an immediacy of intent and action. (There are, of course, incredible exceptions: Go find Peter Brook’s production of “King Lear” and you will see what I mean, and what Shakespeare means.)

Dromgoole reminds us of how direct, transparent, and personal Shakespeare was - and is. The book’s key is in the mixture of high and low: both on stage and off stage.

Frankly, this is exactly why I love the festival experience: the juxtaposition of high and low; the combinations of on stage and off stage meetings.

Often, festivals program a range of events to capture these interesting juxtapositions. Even more, have you ever seen an amazing dance piece or heard a Beethoven quartet and then joined the artists an hour later at the local bar? Heard the stories? Laughed at the jokes? Maybe even sang along? It’s the chance to sit down with the very people who had attained such artistic accomplishment earlier in the evening: the opportunity to have a second real meeting.

Festivals can provide this kind of genuine experience - both on their stages and opportunities for immediacy with artists off the stage.

In fact, we are working on ways to help festivals facilitate these kinds of immediate and personal interactions with artists and audiences. (Always let us know if you have any ideas of what we can do for you!)

Years ago, I spent a significant amount of time working for Jerzy Grotowski, creator of incredibly intense, intimate, and significant theatre. After work sessions, one of my colleagues and I would on occasion end the night at the local bar singing show tunes from Broadway musicals - to do what we thought would be the farthest away from our self-defined peaks of high art we had accomplished in that night’s training.

When Grotowski found out about our very-late-at-night-show-stopping activities, he brought me in to see him for what I assumed to be a lecture with chastisement. Instead, he smiled and said, “You should now think very carefully about which of these two experiences is genuinely high art and which is actually low art.”

- Bill Reichblum

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