And to Scott's credit, he absorbs the criticisms, then uses them, then diligently tries to answer them, and he doesn't give up even when the argument isn't converting the most vocal monkeys on his back. He risks alot, and withstands alot. I often ask myself if this were say a Mammals production we were talking about rather than Mr. Walter's attempt at a new production paradigm, would I be able to sustain such rigorous deconstruction in so public a forum and for such an extended period of time. It is a tough road.So I thought I'd talk about that "tough road" for a few minutes.
Sure, my ideas get hammered a lot, and sometimes I get hammered personally as part of the process. Part of the game. Sometimes I find myself feeling angry at being misrepresented or dismissed, but over the past couple of years I have tried more and more to maintain a sense of humor and objectivity rather than just shouting "Oh, Yeah! Well, you suck too! Take THAT, you loooo-zer!" Although truth be told, I still fall into that more often than I'd like.
But Bob's musings about being able to put up with public attacks about his own productions got me thinking. Back in late October 2006 (!!!), in the midst of a discussion about blog ethics (when we talk on our blogs about productions done by people we know, should we say anything critical about it? Resounding answer around the theatrosphere: No), Isaac posted this at Parabasis in a post entitled "(Un)critical response: My Policy": "And Scott, to answer your question... ideas are a dime a dozen. Criticizing someone's ideas is like criticizing someone's socks-- they can always go out and get some new ones (or defend their choice off socks, I suppose). Ideas aren't really work the same way that artistic creation is, which is the space where you have to take those ideas and make something out of them. That for me is why arguing against someone's ideas is totally different from publicly discussing what you didn't like about their show."
At the time, I was shocked and I kinda went, "huh!" I still do, actually. Because for me, ideas are a form of creativity just as difficult and just as self-revelatory and personal as creating a piece of art. And I've done both. Just like writing a new play, original ideas seem to come out of the ether and like plays they also sometimes take on a life of their own. Looking at the world and trying to create a new approach to something means putting together pieces of reality in new ways, placing conflicts into new contexts, looking at issues from upside down and inside out.
There seems to be a tendency to think of ideas as somehow emotionally detached from their creators, like socks as Isaac says that can be thrown away and new ones acquired. I can tell you that this is not the case. Ideas are as much the thinker's baby as a production is the artist's baby, and having people smacking that baby around is just as painful in both cases.
I am always surprised at how little artists seem to grasp this, or at least how little credence they give to it. This sharp double standard seems odd to me. When I read biographies of playwrights like, say, Eugene O'Neill I see how important the ideas of philosophy were to him, and his plays become ways that he converts those ideas into imaginative form in a process that parallels that which the original philosopher went through in order to create those ideas. It isn't a cold, analytic, painless process. "Writing is easy," Gene Fowler once said, "all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." Those drops of blood form on thinker's foreheads as often as an artist's.
So I am always sort of shocked when artists blithely dismiss intellectual work with a wave of the hand. The blogosphere became inflamed when George Hunka had the temerity to write a review of a production after having walked out at intermission, explicitly stating that he had done so in his review, but when Jason Grote writes a review of the WolfBrown study of intrinsic impacts of the arts without having read the study, a summary of the study, or anything more than the conference description of the study, and I wrote a blog post questioning the ethics of that, the theatrosphere remains apathetically silent. To me, that represents a lack of understanding about just what is involved in the creation of new ideas. The WolfBrown study may or may not be valuable, but as the product of a great deal of time and effort by its authors, the value of which is represented by its being included in the program of a national conference that happens only once every four years and that is being attended by prominent artists and thinkers, it deserved to be treated with respect.
Often, my ideas are dismissed as "just theory" unless I can point to pre-existent examples of these ideas already in action. To me, this is like insisting that a playwright who has written a new play point at some other play that already tells his story before anyone will consider doing a production. Sometimes, you just need to take an imaginative leap. By definition, creativity means bringing something into existence that hasn't existed before, and I claim as much creative license for my ideas as an artist should claim for his or her work. If somebody was already putting this model into action, I'd write a book about them rather than trying to give birth to these ideas myself, which is much scarier and more painful.
But if the ideas haven't been tried yet, before anyone adopts them and commits their lifeblood to trying them out, they need to decide for themselves whether those ideas make sense as far as their view of reality is concerned. Do the pieces fit together logically? Do the assumptions have a level of probability? Are the problems being addressed actually problems? Do the solutions to those problems have some likelihood of effectively addressing them? An idea, if it is effectively presented, should touch both your head and your heart simultaneously.
Anyway, I have benefited greatly from most of my discussion on this blog. It takes effort, and it is not without pain, but as a result my socks are much better than they'd have been otherwise.