Lately, there's been some chatter about what the artist should do or shouldn't do to and for the audience. Scott Walters, on Theatre Ideas, talks about his feeling that we should not condemn, but instead...heal. George Hunka on Superfluities often seems to see the artist as visionary/shaman, who is following a particular muse and trying to shake up the common experiences of the everyday thinker.
In between there are those who ask questions like "How can we make statements without being allowed to condemn?" or speaking of 1930s Germany and the responsibility to speak up against evil or insanity.
I think it comes down to two different paradigms. One is the artist as healer of the sick or Doctor. The other is the artist as a Friend to his or her audience.
The Audience and Artist in Friendship
When a friend sits down with another, they are equals. They discuss. We could say that One tells a very long story and the Other considers the story. It is considered more honestly when the story is told honestly. No friend is a fool, they can tell when they are being preached to. But they also know when a friend is telling them something that they need to hear.
If a friend tells another friend "You are a fool, you will never be happy living the way you do, I don't approve of you" then that friendship will not last long.
If a friend says "I care about you, I want to tell you this amusing story because it will make us both laugh" or says "I have had a revelation that I want to share with someone" or "This world makes no sense to me, so let's sit down and laugh at the senselessness of it all" or says "I have never been so unhappy... will you listen to me?" then the other has the opportunity to show the kindness of attention, to be generous with their eyes and ears.
If a friend says to another "If you don't listen to me, and think like I think, you will fall apart. I have the only path, and you are living in a dream world" or says "We are friends because you love how much smarter I appear to be than you. You worship me like a hero and with good reason" that friendship is built on disdain and is unhealthy for one or both.
If a friend looks across a dark expanse and sees another friend there, who seems to expect or need something from them...then that vast expanse seems smaller, or necessary to cross, regardless of its depth.
If a friend says "I am going to make a dangerous journey, and I am not completely prepared for where I am going" a friend whose trust has been earned will likely say "I would rather you didn't go alone."
The Audience as Patient to the Doctor/Artist
If a patient comes to a Doctor and says "I am sick" and the Doctor says "You know? I'm trained for this. I've got exactly the medicine" then the patient has come to the right place.
If the Doctor calls a patient's house at all hours of the night and put ads in the paper that say "I can't believe how sick you all are. You are desperately dying and you have no idea why! Come to my office so I can make you well! Hurry!" then the Doctor will be regarded as a reactionary lunactic with something to sell.
If a person comes to a Doctor and is dying quickly and the Doctor says to himself or herself "I can't tell them the entire truth about this because if I do, they will despair" or the Doctor says "I will be completely honest because it's not my place to control how they live their lives" that is a choice the Doctor will make and everyone has to live with the consequences.
If a patient is not sick, and the Doctor misdiagnoses that patient as terminal, then the patient has been lied to and the Doctor is responsible for it.
If the patient refuses treatment, there is nothing a Doctor can legally do to persuade him or her. It is a patients right to die as he or she sees fit, or to let his or her teeth fall out, or to walk with a cane instead of going to physical therapy.
If a patient says "Doctor, I'm here because all the other places that usually heal me aren't working" then the Doctor should try a new method to heal the patient.
If a Doctor comes over to a patients home, unexpectedly, and cries and explains his or her life story to the patient, a patient may have a moment of sympathy, but will probably be appalled. After all, they have a professional relationship. Who is the Doctor to expect friendship?
Onwards and upwards.
- 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.