Thursday, March 5, 2009

Prairie Artsters - Apathy in the Arts*

Spending the greater portion of this past weekend at the Expanse Movement Arts Festival, I was among a few scores of audience members watching everything from emerging dancers and choreographers to international-calibre dance artists and choreography.

Personally, I find dance in its contemporary form as the most conducive experience that exists purely in the affect between thinking bodies, be it dancer to dancer or dancer to audience or even audience to audience. It is a live art form that exchanges and communicates immediately—or doesn’t—on a plane that is far more reactive than engaging with object-based works. When a piece resonates, that experience can lead to immediate new lines of thought and action for audience and performers alike. When a piece doesn’t work, it’s hard to tell if it’s just you, as unlike visual media, there is a shared audience that politely claps no matter what the outcome.

Only finally, after years of scratching my head at the uniform reception, someone finally noted the general atmosphere was one of apathy. Not in the least surprising, but also alarmingly accurate, this sentiment did not come from an audience member, but from a performer describing the Edmonton audience.

From dance to music to literary to visual arts, apathy or any lack of emotive interest is definitely noted from the sea of crossed arms and stiff upper lips. Some people genuinely enjoy themselves and appreciate the arts, of course, but more often than not they show their agreeability through presence alone.

Rarely the diplomat, I often publicly remark about how much I dislike art. The sentiment is not accrued from encountering any specific works, but is mostly just a general disposition from an apathetic environment. It may not be the art—in whatever form—that is irritating, but the reactions and (lack of) communication it receives and illicits.

Art, in any formation, doesn’t exist in a bubble. It always exists on a multifaceted plane and can be so much more than just selfish construction and consumption. Apathy is the worst response one could wish for, as it’s a sign that, overall, the work hasn’t moved or challenged anything or anyone, for better or for worse.

In the almost seven years since I’ve been a freelance arts writer in this city, shifts have been noted in the development of dialogue within the arts communities, but not so much with its outreach to new audiences.

I have no recollection of when or why I started avidly attending visual art exhibitions specifically, as scoping out visual art in Edmonton was never a priority or even a particularly memorable experience, at least not until I started striking up conversations with increasingly familiar faces. Some of those faces would become friends and associates, and it was a particular interest in the people that led me to wonder why there was not more rigorous support for what each were trying to accomplish. Many state the community here is just too small and nobody wants to step on anybody else’s toes with criticism, but that attitude is more a hindrance to growth to both the relationship as people as it is a block to the relationship to their art. It is out of respect that one should vocalize their opinion, as anything short of that basic human dialogue is a death to expression.

*First published in Vue Weekly, March 5 - 11, 2009

- A.F. Edmonton


tish said...

i enjoyed this Amy. i have been increasingly drawn towards physical expression myself. no more words! let the body speak!

Heather Zwicker said...

i think you're really onto something, amy, perhaps about dance but definitely about audiences. i just saw louise bedard's 2005 piece "enfin vous zestes" in vancouver last night. afterward, i wasn't sure whether i thought it was good (though i definitely wished i hadn't had a second glass of wine before walking into that nice warm roundhouse theatre) -- but it was definitely abstract, and much more abstract than most other art forms i've seen. which somewhat ironizes what you're saying here and probably puts a big question mark after tish's comment, above.

but the *audience* was good. not new-york-good, maybe, which is to say not passionate, but attentive. their reception was ... polite. which you'd think would be a bad thing -- apathetic -- but actually, in this instance, rung really honest. c'mon, it's louise bedard! i expected something ... more.

i've been known to say that on balance i'd rather live in edmonton's super-friendly uncritical standing-ovation-for-sticking-out-the-whole-performance generosity rather than in some stuffy Art Scene, but sometimes i wonder.