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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.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Creation/Creative

Josh James and Scott Walters got into a bit of a tussle on Superfluities regarding finishing a script. Josh has the practical advice: Get the play finished. Scott sort of spoke about that as if it were tradesman talk, and some sort of degrading of his rarefied view of the writing process.

Josh and Scott are both great guys, so I'm not going to talk to either of their attitudes, particularly. I will say though, that it's very hard for me to take seriously the criticism of any writing process, let alone one that includes completed work as part of its intrinsic deal.

In my view, conversation is all well and good, theory is nice and fun in its place, but being a playwright and an artist means at least presenting a finished piece on some level at some stage in the game. I'm not even sure why that needs to be stated.

I would rather produce even flawed work, than simply criticism of other people's work. The important word isn't creative ... it's creation. As artists, we create, as best we can, from all the little memes and tricks and symbols that we can Frankenstein.

My mother always said "Done is better than perfect." Perfection is unattainable, universal acclaim comes to no human action ever performed. Some might argue no work is ever truly complete. But at least getting to the end of a play is a step in the right direction.

All naysayers who may or may not feel the need to speak about the creative process, or for the culture against certain kinds of art or theatre... well you have the right to speak your mind. But please, let's remember who is playing the game and who is sitting in the stands.

If an artist, such as Josh, in this new media world of immediate access, has the kindness and openness to expose his creative ideas and process to others, he shouldn't have to defend it. It's a gift, and that's all it is, whether foul mouthed or written like Bertrand Russel. It should be accepted as such, enjoyed. If it isn't your process, that's worthy of discussion. If you don't actually engage in the process as much as you discuss it, then that's something that should be taken into account before you do damage, through derision, to someone else's act of creation.

17 comments:

Lucas Krech said...

I agree. Theory is well and good, and I certainly love it myself. But there comes a point where you put the books aside and get to work.

Ian W. Hill said...

And another agreement here.

I only find theory bearable if it has some practical application to the work itself. I actually like theory best if I don't quite "get" it, but something in it suddenly opens up some new avenue of approach, like a blinding white light suddenly breaking through and creating ideas.

Joshua said...

thanks man -

Adam said...

I've heard there are two kinds of people--those that are more excited about starting something and those who are more excited about finishing something. I think I'm both. But then after it's finished, I get depressed. There's something great about not finishing--keeping the play unfinished when it can still be anything. But how can you not finish it?

Alison Croggon said...

I would rather produce even flawed work, than simply criticism of other people's work. The important word isn't creative ... it's creation. As artists, we create, as best we can, from all the little memes and tricks and symbols that we can Frankenstein....All naysayers who may or may not feel the need to speak about the creative process, or for the culture against certain kinds of art or theatre... well you have the right to speak your mind. But please, let's remember who is playing the game and who is sitting in the stands.

I've said my piece on Josh's post elsewhere, but just a question here. It isn't so easy to divide the critics from the artists, especially in the blogosphere ("those who can do, those who can't criticise...")

George is a playwright, for example, who does write plays. And me, I'm a critic, and always have been. Being a critic doesn't stop me being a writer in others ways. I've four collections of poems plus two chapbooks to my name and another on the way, and have had nine plays or operas produced, plus four novels of various kinds. So - sometimes in the stands and sometimes playing the game...

Joshua said...

I think good playwright can be good critics, Alison, and vice versa. Shaw was a critic, after all.

But I think that Scott's characterization of my work via my post was simply a cheap shot and that anyone can take a cheap shot.

In Scott's case (whom we haven't yet heard from) it's more interesting because he is a professor and critic rather than a playright, so it makes the dynamic more interesting. But I agree with Matt that I don't see how critisizing advice along the theme of "finish the work" has merit.

It's hard to finish something and even the worst work that is finished is better than the great idea residing in someone's head that was never written down. I think that's Matt's point.

Freeman said...

Alison:

That's not actually a question.

That being said, nothing is easy. I wasn't saying, for example, that you were sitting in the stands because you're a critic. Your resume suggests otherwise, which is all well and good.

The post speaks for itself. Criticism of an actual piece of art is the function of critics. Criticism of someone's creative process or creative advice is simply overstepping the boundaries between advocation of an aesthetic and pushing your own particular way to create on others. I'm not here to label anyone (George may be a playwright, but I've seen far more output from him as a critic, for example, so labels are worth what you pay for them) but simply hold the line between what's fair game and what isn't.

I think criticism has its damaging side. We're often free to speak to artists about their responsibility, and the messages in their personal work, and the way they go about expressing those messages. If criticism is a form of writing and expression (and it is) then the same rules should apply. If a critic speaks irresponsibly, or sends a message that is damaging, or abuses someone else, they should be called to it.

Particular individuals may be sensitive to the idea that they are observers and not participants. That's fine with me. Perhaps they should be made aware and reminded that there are some who are active, and others who respond. The audience is important, and artists are important. Critics are useful, but are the middleman, the commentators. We tend to be held hostage by them because, obviously, the have a great deal of power over things like box office or the attitudes of those that trust them. Nonetheless, the truth is that many critics speak from a place of passive knowledge, and, ideally, should hold those with active knowledge with reverence.

We should remember that we are here to support each other, support the work, and take each individual voice as a part of something positive. Even if we disagree with it.

George Hunka said...

Even for the artist, the act of criticism, even negative criticism, is often of primary importance. One of the things that strikes me through my reading recently is how many artists produced an extraordinary amount of critical work before engaging on the creative work that constituted their contributions to the art: Beckett's 1931 monograph on Proust, his Three Dialogues with George Duthuit of 1949, his essay on Finnegans Wake of 1929--all of these served to demarcate his own process and vision by examining those of others' and making determinations of what was useful and what not, and all preceded his setting down the first line of his mature work, Molloy. Similarly, Schoenberg and Feldman steadily wrote about their music as they composed that music itself, and Rothko's 1940-41 essays defined his future expression.

And if this criticism was not implicitly negative (by validating one process or approach over another), it certainly was explicitly so in many cases. For artists to correctly appraise their own work, whether or not they are at least approaching the expression they find beyond language in their own minds, they must be viciously critical and constantly question the value and quality of their own expression. And this requires a critical consciousness, the more supple, uncompromising and ruthless the better.

So I can't agree that, "Criticism of an actual piece of art is the function of critics. Criticism of someone's creative process or creative advice is simply overstepping the boundaries between advocation of an aesthetic and pushing your own particular way to create on others." Properly, criticism of these things is also the function of the artist. Often an aesthetic and a process are indivisible. Discrimination is a necessary factor in both thinking about and creating art.

Alison Croggon said...

A few stray thoughts -

Hi Josh - yes, I thought it was a cheap shot too, and I didn't understand it.

Matt: I actually think that artists are the first critics, that every piece of art is in part (not wholly) a critique of other art, of the world, of reality. That's aside from whether artists write criticism or not. Some tend to theorise, some don't; it depends on the individual personality. I don't think whether one does or not indicates anything about the art, ie, one way is no better than another. Some of my favourite critics - John Berger say or Octavio Paz - are artists as well, some are not.

I'm with you, btw, on holding critics to their responsibilities, though I think a critic's responsibility is not actually to artists - that gets muddy - but to the art. And I don't think a critic's role is to be supportive, but to be honest.

I think George it's a tricky business criticising process. One might intuit process from an artwork, though that is opaque, but the only thing you can legitimately criticise, I believe anyway, is an artwork given as such. Which isn't to say that one can't speculate or think about process...

Scott Walters said...

I find it rather astonishing how often the "you're not an artist so shut up" idea comes up. I find it puzzling, since while I teach, I also direct. True, I'm not a playwright, but still...

That said, my comments were not meant as a slam on joshua's ideas concerning creativity, but on the universalizing of his process. Clearly, George was feeling a bit uncomfortable as well -- at least that was how I read his post -- because he was thinking and wrestling with ideas at the moment, rather than writing.

Yes, eventually a writer writes, but I also think a writer ought to think, too.

But then, I'm only a college professor with no right to have an opinion.

Joshua said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Freeman said...

Essentially, my thoughts about the role of criticism aside, the way a critic goes about his or her work is as important as how an artist goes about his or hers.

Honest criticism is not necessarily ruthless. Some of the best criticism I've received that was negative or challenging was not ruthless, but fair. There is a sense of moral outrage and anger from some critics that their aesthetics are being somehow defied by artists... and that anger and outrage is their personal prejudice and sense of entitlement rearing its ugly head. When a critic takes a superior tone to those who create, that always strikes me as a bit absurd.

There is often a sense that negativity and derision is more valid and honest than enthusiasm and praise. It's obvious in the most simple conversations. If one person says "I liked that film" and another person says "Well I thought it was awful" you can feel instantly that the person with enthusiasm has taken the lesser tone, the one that is "taken in" by something that the other person has the good sense to find flaw in. It's something about human nature that we all feel, and should be careful of. Attack is incredibly seductive.

So what I arrive at is this: Critics absolutely have their important role in illuminating and expounding on and creating a context for the art that they are experiencing. But they have just as much responsibility to the world around them as to other contributors. If a critic or academic throws punches at someone's process, I think it's simply wrong. If they want to take someone to task for the art they see, that's fair.

There is a trend to treat criticism as if it is in a precious glass box, that it must be divorced from its responsibility to anything except "honest" apprasial. Artists know they are living in a world that are in dialogue with... so should critics. They are not on a mountain top, they are members of the community, and should be ever mindful of it.

Scott Walters said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joshua said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Freeman said...

Ok, ok, that's about it with this. We can all be tough on each other, but the this isn't a forum for insulting each other. Sorry guys. I think I might close this post up.

Joshua said...

Sorry man - I got a little hot.

Scott Walters said...

Yeah, me too. I'm shutting down "Theatre Ideas," too. The run is over. Thanks, Matt.