Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Steal This Post

Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it. ~Laurence J. Peter

Stealing in my field is encouraged. You have to take things, make them your own, acknowledge your sources, but it is stealing nonetheless. Accept it. Embrace it. Find originality in it. As Ana says, acknowledging our sources makes us bigger, not smaller.

The moment I decided to disregard much of my undergraduate experience came when reading Peter Brook's The Empty Space, and realizing that a particularly fine production of Marat/Sade I had witnessed a few years before had been shaped by production methods laid out as an example in this book. And had anyone else who had viewed the play established that connection? No, not that I had ever heard. It bothered me for a long while. But I still cannot figure out precisely why...

I want to think that our minds will put together endless combinations of astounding and life-altering beauty and ingenuity. Even so, it appears that there are only 8 archetypal stories in existence. Subvert them, repeat them, chop them up in tiny pieces, but they remain.

Phelim McDermott, director of Improbable, has been our mentor for the Devising Project. He's a proponent of 'whatever you have, that is the right thing'. His environmental quest exercise enables one to find an answer to any question you might have, right there in your field of vision. And don't forget to thank the environment for providing that answer.

We provided an open-ended stimulus. There was no question to be answered, no theme to adhere to, just a collection of objects, images, and music. Do with them what you will. I thought this would be remarkably freeing, a liberation from the guidelines we are trying to escape from on this course. But I heard endless complaints about it: What was the point? What do we do with this? How do these things go together? What do we do next?

Well, no one knew because the answers to those questions don't exist. I was just providing a starting point. Completely arbitrary. I wanted to see what might happen. And so "Collected//Connected" was born.

Phelim is an extraordinary and imaginative soul. He advocates the things that seem so simple, and yet prove so challenging in practice: Follow your curiosity. Value your mistakes, let them take you somewhere. Follow your hunches. Turn up. Tell the truth about what is happening. Pay attention. Don't be attached to results. Find the story you are telling, but also find the story of the people that are telling it. Do the thing you think you cannot do.

The idea of 'happy accidents' is my favorite. If you have a dream with a ravenous tiger attacking you, put that in, see what happens. Bring these things onstage, into your work.

Say yes; always, always choose to go through the door. Stop inventing excuses to stay on this side of it.


Blogger P'tit Boo said...

I have been reading Susan Sontag's interviews and she says that the concept that only art that is original is good art is a fairly new concept and very western also.
The Greeks did the same stories over and over and so did the Egyptians with passion plays. And people didn't complain that it had been done before.

Reading her interview and now this post, I am really thinking about originality and why we value the new so much, instead of the truth.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Justin Kownacki said...

Staying on this side of the door has been done -- you're doing it right now. Might as well see what's on the other side. If it's not better than here, keep opening doors.

It's interesting to realize what ideas are "new" and what ideas are ancient history. Growing up in the West, it's easy to believe that anything which happened before we were born is an established norm. If Sontag is right, for example, that means much of what we've come to understand about the modern world is a relatively new idea. In much the same way as science was more or less "invented" one day when someone decided to turn off the Dark Ages, perhaps "originality" is a whim that's here to stay, but that doesn't mean it's an absolute. Just as many scientists are closet theologians, most purveyors of "new" work would be hard-pressed to produce any.

I think "newness" has a lot to do with mankind's belief that its potential is limitless while struggling with the realization that its comprehension of its own potential is limited. We'd all like to wake up and invent something didn't exist yesterday, but evolution -- whether biological or artistic -- doesn't occur in the space of a day.

And as for Boo's comment: if the truth is eternal (and therefore not new), why do we keep forgetting it and needing to rediscover it so often?

8:54 PM  
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4:30 PM  

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