This past week, what I’ve been measuring is the extent of my tolerance for bullshit, and I find I’m running a little short.
I apologize for my “radio silence” – not a good way to find friends, starting a blog and then disappearing for two weeks. Week #1 was full of business – struggling to finish up “The English Play” (we’ve decided the show is obviously under a curse of some kind, and like “The Tartans” it is clearly an invitation to bad luck to refer to it by its true name.) Week #2 has been occupied by deep personal evaluations and re-considerations, combined with mood swings that soared and plunged on a moment’s notice, depending on what that moment’s news was regarding whether there was actually going to BE a show, and whether any of the artists were going to actually be paid for the last five months’ work.

Aside: I am one of those thirty-somethings who because of my generation and upbringing do not define myself as a feminist. I recognize that I live with the opportunities fought for by women who came before me, and I recognize that there are women in the world who lack those opportunities and may want them. This recognition is, for me, intellectual rather than emotional, and because my interests and talents happen to be traditionally “feminine” I dislike adding the further complication of gender politics to my analyses of my own social/professional interactions.
Having said that, I’m sure there are quite a few people out there who will appreciate far more than I did the irony of my having to explain to a gentleman, on International Women’s Day, that telling a seamstress “we’re not going to pay you, but you retain ownership of the costumes you made” is NOT a satisfactory solution or even a gesture towards payment, but an insult. I asked him, whether he had ever tried paying his hydro bill with a stack of batteries?

In truth, however, no matter how enjoyable the irony, this is an artists’ issue, not a feminist issue. All artists involved in the production, most of whom are men, are in the same boat, and have been insulted in the same way. Indeed, the actors and director have not received even that insult, as their art is intangible – they ‘retain possession’ of nothing.

The events that led up to this particular situation, whether or not they are provoked by a strange Wildean curse, are themselves a farcical and yet strangely monotonous series of underhanded dealings, conflicts of interest and general mismanagement that have been going on for years and have finally, at this inopportune moment (but what moment would not be inopportune?) led to the bankruptcy of a theatre. The underlying theme, however, of all of these dealings, is a lack of respect for artists and artisans as workers. If one loves what one does, and perhaps more importantly if by love one feels driven do do what one does, financial remuneration must (it is assumed) be secondary. “Serious” people need not take seriously the demands of artists for the work that they do – indeed that work itself is not “serious”, since it is by definition entertainment, and entertainment that brings catharsis without conscious education of the process is not, to the “serious-minded”, meaningful. That’s why psychologists are working, and actors are ‘not’.

I believe this disrespect extends to the visual arts, and it is a large part of the reason I am uncomfortable with the “art for art’s sake” philosophy, and the permutations of it that the non-artist public internalizes. That phrase separates the art from the artist in the public mind, and the result is that the product of the artist’s efforts is venerated, while those efforts are disregarded or belittled. The talent of the artist is appreciated, but talent is a strange quality not seen as part of an individual but as a gift or benefit possessed by the individual – a kind of luck, a god-given natural ability that makes the production of impressive works easy for one person which would be laborious for another.

The fact that there is an element of truth to these latter observations should not matter – the same is true for sales, business, mathematics, public relations – there are many talents that are possessed by some and not by others. It may be a measure of our society’s disrespect for some of these other talents that make us venerate artistic talent while considering business acumen, for example, something that anyone with access to a decent education can obtain.  After all, all you have to do is work for it, right?

I don’t know what the solution to any of the above is, other than if you’re an artist, and lack that undervalued business acumen, you’re better off if you can hook up with someone who has it. These reflections are just the result of the week I’ve been having – one which isn’t over yet, because a secondary result of the disrespect for the labor involved in this production is that we have been on-again-off-again for a week, not knowing whether we should be working or not, and the more time passes the less likely that we can actually produce a finished show when and if they decide we must do so.

Today’s measurements: Time is short, frustration is wide.

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