When I first sat down to respond to this prompt on artistic excellence and not bargaining down real pleasure, I thought of doing a cultural critique.
It started like this…
I want the above to be true. Well, I want the first two sentences to be true. For the third, I want to eat meals worthy of being the only real currency while still being able to count on my love, my family, my friends, the goodness of people in general, and basic societal principles.
People often bargain themselves out of pleasure. The evidence: bargain bin books, un-composed meals, and discount stores. In other words, our value-nothing-quantity-over-quality-never-paying-full-price-Walmart-shopping-American-way.
After I wrote it, I re-read my words. They reminded me of why critics seem like friendless folks. Besides, I clip coupons and like a good sale.
Then, I tried meditating my way into writing a response.
After 10 minutes of using Headspace to meditate on creativity I took these books off the shelf:
- Picasso at the Lapin Agile by Steve Martin
- Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver
- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare published by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Each possesses artistic excellence imho. I looked for lines, for keys, for ways to share how amazing they are, but came up short. There aren’t a handful of brilliant quotes that could expeditiously express their excellence.
Then, I remembered Les Mis.
Jut the thought of Les Mis brings this 25th Anniversary Performance of Four ValJean’s singing Bring Him Home. Have tissues ready when Alfie Boe sings, You can take. You can give. at 2 minutes and nineteen seconds in.
I listened to The Original London Cast Recording of Les Miserables almost every day in junior high and high school. In it, Colm Wilkinson is Jean Valjean. In the video above, he is the first to sing.
On days when I came home from school with a headache, I would turn off the lights in my windowless basement room and listen, only pausing when I had to flip sides of the tape cassette. I listened to it while on walks and while driving my car. I sang along to Eponine’s and Cosette’s parts. My voice did better at Cosette’s, but oh how I love and understood Eponine – the tragic, unloved one.
Artistic excellence may be a matter of taste. That fact doesn’t stop me from wondering how anyone can listen to the four tenors in the video above sing Bring Him Home and still enjoy Hugh Jackman’s interpretation of the song in the movie:
I think the differences that I and other fans hear are what my daughter sees when she watches actors dance on stage. She can tell who is a dancer and who, like her mother, lacks technique. She has wept during The Guthrie Theater’s A Christmas Carol over the beauty of dancers whose technique moved her. When dancers have clomped during other shows we’ve seen on other stages, her annoyance has come across as visceral. And I get it. During the few bad staged productions I’ve seen, I’ve felt it too.
Performances that lack don’t seem corrupt to me, unless some sort of pandering is involved. I believe art that comes from the heart is incorruptible. It may not be my taste, it may feel less than other performances, but I don’t think it’s corrupt.
All that said, what I really want to do is share work I admire.
A few of my favorite works of artistic excellence:
I love the play Six Degrees of Separation. The film version is fantastic and the pink shirt scene is one of my favorites! For 40-somethings with adult children – you’re welcome. Regardless, if you watch this scene, please watch the full few minutes. The pink shirt part at the end makes me giggle every time.
I searched YouTube a bit to look for a performance of Shakespeare to share and fell in love with this scene of The Globe Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing:
The wordplay between Beatrice and Benedick delights me every time. Always has.
Pie Jesu from Requiem is gorgeous.
While this trailer for the show is well-produced, it doesn’t quite show how clever, witty, and absurd Picasso at the Lapin Agile is. I’m sure their full production was great.
Try as I might…
To not go full theater nerd and to be likable, it’s hard to do in a post like this. I’ve had late night arguments and discussions about artistic merit and value. Sometimes those talks have been alcohol-fueled (rarely a good idea). Note: A logical argument rarely happens when one party to it has spiked his red wine with vodka.
When it comes to art, what has value? What is the merit of a given work? And, what is it that art is supposed to do?
This post is part of a series inspired by Eat Pray Love.