The workings of Art

Dear blog, you shy shape-shifter,

I’ve neglected you. This time it’s not the house, the kids or life’s other distractions – it’s because i’ve working hard on the play! For this, I owe much to Ella Hickson, my mentor, who has not only shown me the way with a detailed map, but also arranged regular checkpoints and fired the starting pistol.
And I probably wouldn’t be able to do this, not now, without support from the Arts Council – I’d be struggling as a badly-paid, inept temp. So thank you ACE, and thank you ME for persevering and continuing to re-apply again and again (and again and again) for funding. But enough about me.

In David Edgar’s wonderful book, How Plays Work he gives us the definition of a play from Doctor Johnson’s dictionary as ‘A poem in which the action is not related, but represented; and in which therefore such rules are to be observed as make the representation probable.’
He goes on to list the three kinds of probability:
Plausability – does the play fit our knowledge of the subject or experience of life?
Coherence – does it hang together internally, do its bits add up to a whole?
Conventionality – how does it relate to other stage plays and other fictions we’ve internalised.

He then moves over to the director Peter Brook, who outlines the two fundamental elements of any work of art. The first is concentration: by reducing the chaos and redundancy of the world and eliminating what doesn’t interest them, artists draw attention to what does interest them. According to Brooks, ‘Shakespeare seems better in performance than anyone else because he gives us more, moment for moment, for our money.’
The second element, according to Brook, is pattern. ‘Brook is convinced that there are rules of proportion and rhythm (like the mathematical Golden Section or the rule of three) which are more fundamental than taste or culture, which touch us because they are the expression of natural laws. So that, like concentration, rhythm draws attention to essences and relationships we’d otherwise miss.’
So, continues Edgar, ‘music is a concentration of the pitch of normal life organised by melody (change over time), rhythm (repetition over time) and harmony (things happening simultaneously). Similarly, painting organises the formless clutter of the visual world into echoing or contrasting colours and shapes. Drama borrows the patterns of other arts (the rhythm of dialogue, the balance of a stage picture) and – through the more abstract rhythms of emplotment – adds some of its own.’

Last weekend, I saw Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind at the British Museum. Wow. And yes, Art matters. It mattered 40,000 years ago, enough that a sculptor spent 400 hours working on a single sculpture… over how many months, years, in between seeking shelter and food and trying to stay alive?

What a cozy existence I lead in comparison. I resolve to picture my growing debt, those numbers, as some shadowy, mythological creature as I work in my warm, lit-up cave. To ignore it would be foolish… and no doubt its presence makes me work harder.

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