Isaac: I did not address your arguments about How I Learned to Drive because I don't want to get sidetracked by a discussion of individual works. I used those examples to illustrate, in broad strokes, a general concept. If How I Learned to Drive is going to sidetrack the discussion from the broader idea (the most effective way for an artist to interact with and affect a community), then I withdraw it as an example and substitute another -- say, Neil Labute, if you like, or none at all. Same with Chris Ofili's work -- my point was that an almost identical approach as Serrano's to a religious topic predictably provoked the same reaction. Whether this is part of Ofili's ouevre is an important context for understanding the work of art, but it doesn't mitigate the underlying similarity of form and content, nor diminish the strong reaction, which was my point.
Isaac and webloge: Yes, I have seen a production of How I Learned to Drive, and yes I have seen Chris Ofili's work (the latter in reproduction, not the original). And yes, I have seen Piss Christ and yes I have seen Mapplethorpe's photos. And no, I have not seen Passion of Christ. See above.
Joshua: You ask "Attack or not, what's the difference?" and also say "Freedom of expression means that we are bound to hear something that we hate." The roots of this discussion reach into other posts I have made on the artist as a member of a community, on the preference for classic plays over new plays, and on the despair over whether serious work can find an audience. I am proposing that artists engage in imagining their function differently as a way of stopping the downward slide toward theatrical oblivion we seem to be seeing. If you think everything is great on the theatre scene, then you should be free to ignore my writing, since it is an underlying assumption for everything. The idea of freedom of expression, clearly expressed in the First Amendment, has become disconnected from the responsibility to the community that protects that freedom, which is also in other parts of the Constitution. I couldn't agree more that "artists have played a huge part in social change because of their willingness to tackle subjects that many may want to avoid." What I am saying is that we are in danger of being ignored because we too often use our freedom to provoke for the sheer sake of provocation, and that is making us ineffectual when we have something important to say. Also, a minor thing: I use "artist" for lack of a better word to encompass the creators in different art forms. I tend to agree with Georgia O'Keefe, who felt that "artist" was what others called you after you had a body of work that has been acknowledged as worthy. But writing playwrights-actors-directors-painters-photographers-sculptors-composers-etc in my posts seems rather pointless. It is shorthand, nothing more.
p'tit boo: Yes, I am talking about cynicism, which of almost all viewpoints I find most objectionable. I believe in hope, and I believe that things can be improved. Not very postmodern, I know, and lacking in the irony that Matt says is the "sticky lifeblood" of his generation, and "like it or not, its the language we speak." I guess I'm just an old fart who prefers hope and engagement. Anyway, you beautifully express many of my deepest beliefs, and I thank you for your comments and participation. I would add, however, that I am not suggesting that artists should never be provocative. What I am suggesting is that the definition of a serious artist not be confined to being a mere "provocateur," and that in a cynical world of disorder, meaninglessness, and shallow materialism, it might be more "provocative" to create works of art that point toward hope, order, meaningfulness, and idealism. In another post, I mentioned Shlovsky's idea that art exists to "make the stone stony," which means breaking us out of the usual ways of seeing. Some plays that seek to provoke do so in a way that actually feeds the thing they wish to attack. In my opinion, Big Business benefits from chaos and meaninglessness, because they operate in that painful void and sell us things to fill it. If I really want to unsettle our materialist society, I would suggest not more chaos, but rather more reflexion.
I appreciate others engaging me and trying to persuade me to see things in another way. I think the worst thing that can happen to a community is the naive relativist statement "you believe what you want, and I'll believe what I want," which totally shuts down communication. If it is important, it is important enough to discuss and persuade. As Isaac says, "the civility mixed with passion of this conversation is quite invigorating." I agree.
I hope I can persuade someone to see things my way. However, just as important to me is that others clearly understand what I am saying. I would rather be understood and rejected than be misinterpreted and agreed with. And obviously being misunderstood and rejected base on that misunderstanding is entirely unacceptable.