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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Writing from Experience
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0462  Tuesday, 16 March 1999.

[1]     From:   Wes Folkerth <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Mar 1999 11:02:30 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Writing from Experience

[2]     From:   Charles Costello <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Mar 1999 13:36:15 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience

[3]     From:   Marilyn Bonomi <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Mar 1999 15:51:15 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience

[4]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Mar 1999 13:08:05 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience

[5]     From:   Barbara R. Hume <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Mar 1999 16:28:10 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Wes Folkerth <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Mar 1999 11:02:30 -0500
Subject:        Re: Writing from Experience

The Retinue of Dionysos

Damon the craftsman (none better
in the Peloponnese) gives the last touches
to his Retinue of Dionysos
carved in Parian marble: the god leading
in divine glory, with power in his stride;
Intemperance next; and beside Intemperance,
Intoxication pours out the satyrs' wine
from an amphora wreathed in ivy;
near them, Sweetwine, the delicate,
eyes half-closed, soporific,
and behind come the singers
Tunemaker and Melody and Reveller --
the last holding the honored processional torch
which he never lets die -- and then Ceremony, so modest:
Damon carves all these.  And as he works
his thoughts turn now and then
to the fee he's going to receive
from the king of Syracuse:
three talents, a large sum.
Adding to this what he has already,
he'll live grandly, like a rich man,
he'll even be able to enter politics
-- what a marvelous thought:
he too in the Senate, he too in the Agora.

C.P. Cavafy
trans. Edmund Kelley and Philip Sherrard

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Costello <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Mar 1999 13:36:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience

I would venture that the only deep feelings we can reliably ascribed to
any "great" artist are the feelings she feels for her work.  But the
same can be said of any pursuit, the great artist being no different
than the great mother, in this respect.

Otherwise, we must admit to the fact that art is essentially
metaphorical.  If the artist's emotions enter into the work at all, they
will necessarily undergo a metaphorization.  We cannot therefore
reliably identify the thematic expression of "feelings" in the art with
any emotions in the artist.  Love in R and J does not necessarily equal
love (or hate, or anything else) in Shakespeare.  But R and J certainly
bears witness to S's love of writing plays.

Did he love writing plays more than a lesser playwright?  Well . . . .

Chuck Costello
Graduate Centre for Study of Drama
The University of Toronto

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marilyn Bonomi <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Mar 1999 15:51:15 -0500
Subject: 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience

>>The fact is that before the invention of the museum and the concert
>>hall, most art was made for practical purposes.  You want a house?  You
>>hire a carpenter.  You want an altarpiece?  You hire a painter.  A
>>carpenter needed to know building materials and have a plan.  So did the
>>painter.  Both artifacts had practical purposes: of putting a roof over
>>your head or reminding the illiterate of a religious story and its
>>meaning.

In response to the above, Ms. Hughes writes:
>And along came Giotto and suffused these figures with personal
>intensity, and thus great art was born.

Well, that's all fine, Ms. Hughes, if we consider great art and religion
to have begun some time after the fall of the Roman Empire and to
require that the artist bring his personal experiences to his art.
However, let's go back a bit.

The Greeks-you know, Polyclites and that group?-- made great art, art
great enough to be the ultimate inspiration of all those Early Modern
(Renaissance, to the old school) artists being cited.  They created art
as Forms, as Ideas-their works are idealistic, not realistic.  AND much
of their greatest work was practical, if you consider wine jugs-and
temple architecture and decor-practical.  Need a Parthenon?  Hire a good
architect who can make dynamite bas reliefs!  We have NO way of knowing
whether these men, or the vase painters, or any other of the "great" (to
use Ms. Hughes's term) ancient Greek artist/artisans FELT anything that
they could or did put into their art.  NO way of determining what
"personal intensity" they brought to the creative process.

Now the Romans were different from the Greeks (as they'd insist on
telling you if they still were here).  The ultimate bourgeoisie,
actually.  They equated wall paintings with roof repair; mosaic tile
masterpieces with today's equivalent, linoleum; portrait statuary with
advertising art.  We have NO names of great Roman artists, b/c the
Romans never thought of art as anything artistic.  To them it was all
craft, just like shoemaking or armor crafting or blacksmithing.  In
fact, those artworks they didn't steal from areas once Greek they  had
made for them by their Greek slaves, freedmen, or students of the
latter.  And most of THOSE were copies of Greek originals.  Don't know
if you'd call the wall paintings and the portrait sculptures "great,"
but people w/ far more credentials to judge than most of us on this list
seem to think they are.  Every major Art Museum in the Western world, at
least, has such items in their collections.

Of course, the ancient Greco-Roman cultures DID have both museums and
concert halls, even if they didn't have Christianity.  And they did have
the temerity to believe that people w/in their cultures created great
art.

I will concede that Aristotle, in his Poetics, called tragedy "an
imitation of life" which he explained as an "idealization": a
presentation of life focusing on "the essentials of life and the
emotions they have aroused" in the poet, shown on a higher plane in
tragedy. (W. Hamilton Fyfe. _Aristotle's Art of Poetry). Oxford, 1966
reprint, 1-2.)  However, that drama/poetry presents emotions does not
necessarily demand that the creator of that art felt the emotions
portrayed.

That being said, I do think that much great art arises from great depths
of emotional experience-I'm enough of a transcendental Romantic about
things artistic to believe that.  But it's the height of intellectual
snobbery (or some kind thereof) to insist that one's own definition of
what creates great art is the only one.

Shakespeare did not have to experience forbidden love to write R&J any
more than he had to experience cannibalism, a ghostly vision, faeries
dancing in the woodland, or homosexual desire (if you accept that the
sonnet sequence is NOT autobiographical, as in sonnet 20) in order to
write about these things.  His greatness lies in his ability to
COMMUNICATE these great heights of passion and deep abysses of pain.  To
assert that he only could have done so by having already experienced
them himself is to narrow the scope of his (or any other artist's)
greatness.

Is not the height of genius to be able to access, however
dispassionately, these great peaks and depths of emotion in order to
communicate them to the world?  Requiring of the artist personal
experiences in order to create art is unfair at the least.

My 2 cents...

Marilyn Bonomi

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Mar 1999 13:08:05 -0800
Subject: Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience

Stephanie Hughes wrote:

>That personal experience and feeling can be eliminated from the creative
>process is simply nonsense, and is itself a construct based primarily on
>willful ignorance.

This is extraordinary.  This mistress of willful ignorance calls me
willfully ignorant.  The world is a strange place.

>That great art derives from personal experience is a truth to be found
>everywhere, including, of course, history, and particularly that branch
>of history devoted to the lives of humans, the biography.

This is patently untrue.  Perhaps a case of willful ignorance?  I
attended a production of Tom Stoppard's INDIAN INK at the American
Conservatory Theater in San Francisco yesterday.  (If you go, stop at
Max's on the Square and have the salmon in shrimp sauce.  It changed my
life.)  Here is a brief quote from the program.

Because India's indigenous artistic traditions developed as a means of
instructing and heightening religions awareness - not simply to convey
visual magnificence - symbolism has consistently been the dominant style
of Indian painting.  The contemporary approach to artistic analysis
(including the current zeal for literary biography) which emphasizes the
role of the individual artist and his or her craftsmanship above all
else was alien to pre-modern India. from The Rasa Experience by Jessica
Werner.

I shall allow Ms. Hughes to argue with the author.

Ms. Hughes has defined her terms in such a narrow way that she can't be
argued with.  What follows largely describes how she does this with a
rather strong rebuttal of some other points.  To save myself time, I
MOSTLY follow the sequence of her message, rather than a more linear
order.  I think I made one exception.

Only GREAT artists qualify, she says, but greatness is subjective.  If I
come up with one hundred contrary examples, she can say they are not
great artists.  There is no objective criteria for discussion with her.
She says that if it is emotionally profound it is great, and it is great
if it is emotionally profound.  This is circular and there is no arguing
with circular reasoning.  To pick up more of the argument, see below.

>That personal experience and feeling can be eliminated from the creative
>process is simply nonsense

And yet I gave examples of this nonsense.  I can not argue when evidence
is ignored, given no weight, or as Ms. Hughes did, reinterpreted by
someone lacking my first hand knowledge.

(And strickly speaking, no one has said that.  Only that deep feeling
need not be involved.  I think Ms. Hughes meant that and did not really
intend the mistake in her statement.  I trust she will correct me if I
have given her too much credit.)

I understand why she holds to this so tenaciously.  She is an
Oxfordian.  The case for Oxford is in part built on what the true
believers fancy are correspondences between the plays of Shakespeare and
the life of Oxford.  Ms. Hughes would lose a lot of her argument pro
Oxford if she conceded this point.

>And along came Giotto and suffused these figures with personal intensity, and
>thus great art was born.

So there was no great art before Giotto?  Interesting.  I'm inclined to
dispute this, but then I'm willfully ignorant.

I wrote:
>>Did every artist who painted a crucifixion with sorrow on the faces of
>>those around the cross feel that sorrow, or did they learn to do that
>>through technical means, just as putting bits of white on a painting of
>>a glass gives the illusion of light reflecting on it?  Were all
>>crucifixion painters deeply religious?  Probably not.

Stephanie Hughes wrote:
>Nor were they all great artists.

This is still circular, but just as bad, Ms. Hughes implies she can tell
who was deeply religious by how impressed she is by their work.  I'm not
trying to put words in her mouth, but that seems an inescapable
implication.  Please tell me if I have misunderstood you, Ms. Hughes,
and explain why this does not follow from your statement.

Of course not all painters of crucifixions were great artists.  That was
not my claim.  You are smacking a straw man here.

I hope it will be clear if we look at it from the other direction.  If
you found a painting of a crucifixion you consider great by an artist
you know nothing about, you would have no way of knowing if it was heart
or technique - even if you think you did.  I do know this:  Deep feeling
without technique will not impress.  I imagine you will agree with
this?  So which is ultimately more important?  If you say both, then you
agree with one point in my previous post - that some artists use both
and it is therefore not as simple as you suggest.  For more on this
argument, see below.

You also seem able to judge greatness.  I know who I find great, and I
know who art historians find great.  While there is a lot of overlap, we
do not always agree.  I constantly wonder if I am just not getting it,
or conversely to what extent my views are shaped by the received
perception of greatness.  You seem to feel above this problem.  You seem
confident that you know greatness when you encounter it, and that your
opinion is infallible.  Again, I don't want to put words in your mouth,
so please correct me if I am wrong.  Of course, if you are wrong about
greatness your argument falls apart.  You need a standard of greatness
for it to work.

>Great art is suffused with feeling.

Another interesting claim.  Apparently Tom Stoppard is not a great
artist...  unless, maybe, there are additional criteria for greatness?
Cannot the intellectual challenge Stoppard puts in his most fascinating
plays be considered great art, or is there only one way for art to be
great?  I don't find a lot of feeling in Wycherly (sp) either.  Is he
also second rate?  The problem is Ms. Hughes has defined greatness to be
just one thing, so it is difficult to discuss the entire issue with
her.  Naturally, I do not accept her definition.

>Frankly I think the issue is extremely simple,

(For more, see above.)  This statement does not surprise me.  That
probably sounds sarcastic.  I assure you it is not.  Ms. Hughes has
demonstrated over many posts a leaning towards  simple beliefs,
established without evidence or only partial evidence (in this case
literary biographies) while ignoring much else.  The exception is a
certain conspiracy theory.  I am still trying to figure that out.  It is
difficult to have a meaningful exchange when someone will only discuss
one aspect of a problem when other aspects effect the problem.

>and would like to see all that evidence that contradicts it.

Which is impossible.  Everyone on this list working together could not
supply  ALL the examples of artists who impress through technique.  Many
of us are even modest enough to admit we don't know who did and who
didn't.  Sure, we can find modern examples of some.  I supplied a
couple.  But many of us would not presume to be that intimate with the
minds of the writers, painters, and composers of the past, especially if
they left no record explaining what they meant when they created.  We
would not claim to know when they predominately used technique, or
combined it with profound experience.  Many would argue that is often
unknowable.

Even if we could supply all examples, Ms. Hughes could still hold her
beliefs by selecting who is great and who is not based on what supports
her thesis.  Without naming names, she did so in her reply by saying,
Nor were they all great artists.

She has attempted to give herself so much control of the experiment that
it is not a valid experiment.  By relying on GREATNESS and making an
impossible demand for examples, she has made it impossible for her to be
wrong.  The problem is, she are not persuasive.

It would be nice if she thought through her generalization and looked
for evidence on both sides before making this striking and unbalanced
dogmatic claim.  But then she can safely ignore everything I say.  After
all, she has already established that I'm willfully ignorant.

Mike Jensen

P.S.  I have established what you, Ms. Hughes, have to gain from willful
ignorance.  What have I to gain?

P.P.S.  This underwent a lot revision, and I am still far from
satisfied.  That aside, the revision introduced several tense
conflicts.  I hope I have caught them all, but please forgive if I
missed any.  I have looked at these words for so long that I see what I
expect more than what is really there.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Barbara R. Hume <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Mar 1999 16:28:10 -0700
Subject: 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience

>I have a friend that has a lovely thesis about
>SF, that it is at the moment the only genre that will allow such
>anti-existential messages to be broadcast.

Unfortunately, too much SF is deep, dark, dismal, dreary existential
garbage. That's why I've stopped writing and reading much SF after 30
years as a major fan. What is it about people these days that makes them
seem to revel in depressing and hopless drivel?

>Is Star Wars a great work of art? Only time will tell. But if it turns
>out that it is, it will be because of that powerful message, which has
>nothing to do with the SF genre, and could be placed within any context,
>depending on the time and place. Somewhere in the writing of Star Wars
>the deeply personal experience of a writer came to the fore here,
>perhaps the personal experience of several of the persons working on the
>film. Had it not been so it would not, in my opinion, have hauled in my
>teenage friend for a seventeenth time.

George Lucas steeped himself in Joseph Campbell before writing Star
Wars.  What he wanted to present was archetypal figures to whom we could
respond emotionally. He succeeded admirably.

barbara hume
 

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