Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Art = "the Possible"

I believe in the art of the possible. The ideal doesn't exist, the pessimistic leaves no reason for effort. But, as I once said to my admired boss: "there is no situation so bad it can't be improved; there is no situation so ideal it doesn't need work."

A breakthrough moment came for me when I first read the detailed descriptions of the actual, ridiculous runaround that Mozart and his collaborators had to go through in Vienna at the height of the Hapsburg empire, and the multiple censors, critics (professional and amateur, titled and street) to get various operas on the stage. That's one reason that, in the wake of Figaro, they opted to open Don Giovanni "out of town" in Prague in 1787 with "the ink barely dry on the page." It was a notoriously bohemian town (the literal capitol of "Bohemia", though the name hadn't yet taken on the later adjectival connotations) and both composer and impresarios knew they could work out the kinks best there, trying for pure purposes of financial stability to springboard off the success of their previous buffa smash.

Neither Mozart's life nor his production of this opera was anything like the tragedy that Peter Schaffer opted to portray in the play/film Amadeus, but there are two things that Schaffer got right:

(1) the fact that there is a difference between "talent" (God I hate that word) and effort (God I appreciate that word)--or, more accurately,that making art just simply comes easier to some people, and

(2) the enormous frustration that you can experience watching someone do, effortlessly and brilliantly, something you've worked for years to do and can't do as well.

One of the things that the play/film Amadeus got right is the reality of the realization the great art never happens in an ideal, Olympian vacuum, that it is never the ideal realization of an Apollonian ideal. It is always down in the messy, frustrating, compromising trenches that the art that gets made gets made.

Creativity is the art of the possible, not of the ideal. The great artists, the really great ones, are the ones who made maximal use of available resources--and at the heart of their artistry was their ability to see possibilities, specifically possibilities in combinations that were not apparent to others.

And that means you gotta stay open--because there are always possibilities.

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