By SARIA IDANA, student in the Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts MFA program
This post was written as an assignment for professor Cindy Shearer’s CIA 7091: MFA Interdisciplinary Arts Workshop. As part of a community of artists working across art perspectives, students in this course get the chance to teach each other about their art form(s), practice, lineage and influences, and are challenged to inquire into the interdisciplinary arts as well as forms new to them.
Where and What Moves?
Since I was a small child, I have sought to understand why some works of art, music, and performance leave a more lasting impression on me. This affect often feels like a large change, a shift in mental or emotional perspective as if the work reaches inside and literally moves something; sometimes moving it out entirely and sometimes relocating it, thus shifting the forms of my thoughts.
After much investigation as a writer and performer, both of ensemble and solo works, I think I have found a recipe for art that moves. While the bulk of my experience is as a performing artist, I have seen this recipe work in the process of visual artists as well. But before we get into the recipe, a few observations:
Art is full of tensions and contradictions. It is both selfish and selfless. Art is the process of cracking open to human experience, letting light shine through those cracks and basking in the discoveries the light illuminates. This initial act is often deeply personal and private. A skilled and generous artist offers themselves, their experience of cracking open, and their discoveries, with audiences. This is a risky and highly public act. The first action is the artist being moved, the second is the artist making an offering so that the audience, the public, might be moved. The first can appear extremely selfish; the second is often quite selfless.
Willingness --> Vulnerability --> Investigation --> Willingness
Note: This is the most effective order I have found for adding the ingredients, though other orders might work, and quantities always vary.
In order for an artist to crack open to the creative work they must be vulnerable to the topics and of the work, to all the information coming to them the five senses as well as thought and emotion. If the work being created is collaborative, they must be open to all the information that presents itself to their collaborators. This is tricky and it is helpful for collaborators to have common vocabulary so that they can communicate fluidly and respectfully.
Once there is an open channel for letting in all the information offered, it is essential to investigate it without judgment. Often it is important to do research on the topics to give work historical or societal context.
Willingness is essential for both vulnerability and investigation to be achieved. It is the most important ingredient for translating the information received by the artist in a manner that an audience can digest. Sometimes the artist chooses to share only the information that was discovered and sometimes they offer a window into their process of cracking open. Each artist is different and each work is different.
Willingness is also needed for the work to make its way to public venues. An artist must be willing to not only seek public venues in which to present but they also must be willing to receive both praise and criticism; both are inevitable.
The dish prepared by this recipe is Catharsis; a purifying or purging of repressed emotion or thought. Catharsis is achieved by audiences receiving a reflection of human experience, identifying with it, and then releasing the entangled emotions and mental patterns associated with that experience. It might be an experience that the audience members have had themselves, or it might be an experience they know nothing about personally but through the art they have opportunity to learn and release any thoughts and emotions they have entangled anyway. In his book "Theater of the Oppressed," Brazilian theater artist Augusto Boal traces how the location of Catharsis within theater has shifted through history from a more distant experience for the audience to one of extreme engagement. Catharsis, I would add “of an unselfish nature," is now more than ever an essential process for creating personal and social transformation.
In my opinion, all artists involved in any creative process must experience some type of catharsis or shift for themselves in order for the work to have any real merit. The artist must be moved, so that the audience has the opportunity to also be moved. This challenging and vulnerable work is the gift that artists give to our society. This is what allows us to understand our past and imagine our future, to make new moves.