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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Responsibility of the Artist

Over at Theatre Ideas, there's a little chatter about what an artist "should" do. Scott talks a fair amount about how artists have a sort of finite amount of trust from their audience, and that if we aren't careful, we loose their trust and therefore lose our ability to speak to them.

There's a fantastic response to this already at Parabasis here. But I'd like to throw in my two cents.

Scott, as usual, speaks of artists suspiciously, sets standards for them, accuses them of being rapists (figuratively) and begs them to just think of the children.

Each artist has a distinct responsibility that he or she chooses on his or her own, just as an human being chooses what they care about and believe in. If one artist feels that they are responsible for shaking up the middle class and presenting them with pictures of violently tortured religious figures or the Virgin Mary defecating in a bucket; they should follow that impulse as far as they can and never look back. If another feels they want to promote universal tolerance, love and understanding; they should do the same. It is more dangerous for artists to "check" their impulses in favor of good taste or the need for the audience to be comfortable than it is for each artist to have a personal vision, distinct from the others, and carry it through.

There are a lot of plays out there that I think are rubbish. That doesn't mean they shouldn't have been written. The more the merrier. We can debate quality all we like; but I think talking about what artists should be considering as they go about their work is wrong-headed. Without full freedom to express, learn form, and use form, as they see fit, artists are just mirrors of expectation. Their voices become the voices they think the audience wants or needs to hear.

The sole responsibility of the artist is to ask questions or make statements as beautifully or as brutally as they can, in their chosen medium. I think that's burden enough.

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