Home > Chris Seibert, Cleveland Public Theatre, Dreams, James Levin, Mike Geither, Mike Sepesy, Raymond Bobgan > To the unawakened eye art is upholstery work

To the unawakened eye art is upholstery work

Had a good time at CPT’s 26th season launch party on Saturday night.  They were offering $2 Magic Hat brews, so that was incentive enough–but it was in a theater too!  Well, theater discussion and some rousing Karaoke by some theater people who could actually sing.


I got to see Mike Geither, Mike Sepesy, Chris Seibert, Raymond Bobgan, Mindy Herman and James Kosmatka, among others.  I was especially glad to see Sepesy as I have not seen him in a while and it was good to catch up.  His play The Alice Seed is leading off CPT’s season in October.  I blogged about his second play in that series, The Douglas Tree, earlier.

The highlight of the evening was the reveal of the 2009-10 season and Bobgan’s talk that accompanied it, which I found quite inspiring and which fired me up a bit.  I was reminded of my high school football days and wanted to go out on Detroit and chuck someone, which of course, would be a bad idea for several reasons.

There were at least two points in particular that roused my spirit and on which I want to comment.  The first was Bobgan’s commentary on the state of the economy and its impact on theater and the arts generally.  His comment was directed toward the fact that the arts community felt the need to defend its importance.  That it had to defend itself in economic terms–i.e. we add jobs, we attract visitors, we employ people, we contribute to the economy.  These are things that he expressed a distaste for discussing or arguing and yet which he has been compelled to discuss more and more lately.  I share his distaste for this and have myself emailed congressmen and women from various places regarding this, not the least of which is an especially noxious Jack Kingston, who apparently suggests that artists aren’t real people in the following Boston Globe quote:

"We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous.”

Regardless, all this overlooks the fact that actors, writers, technicians, artistic directors, assistants, marketing people, etc., all work in the arts and all get paid and contribute to the economy.  It overlooks the role that arts organizations play in revitalizing neighborhoods, as best demonstrated by CPT itself and the following June 24, 2007, Plain Dealer article, "Energizing Detroit-Shoreway; Theater renovations, new building at the heart of neighborhood revitalization."

But all this is beside the point, and was strongly and defiantly pointed out by Bobgan who said, in the end, “art doesn’t need to justify itself.”  And he’s right.

Perhaps the strongest argument Bobgan made, and the one that sticks with me, is that art is to society what dreams are to individuals.  This is something I’ve heard before–I’m not sure where exactly–but the point is profound and it is accurate.  But Bobgan took it a step further and poignantly drove it home: when individuals do not dream they become irritable, lose focus, and even experience psychiatric and emotional disorders that can lead to a lack of empathy and aggression.  Taking the natural step, Bobgan evolved the argument’s premise to that of society.  A society without art suffers the same effects as the individual without dreams.  All we need do is look at the last eight years of U.S. History to see how harrowing the result truly is.

Beyond this, Bobgan looked at the local theater scene and made some very optimistic pronouncements and even made me optimistic too.  He gave shout outs to Theater Ninjas, convergence-continuum, and Karamu.

I found the evening enjoyable and the speech Bobgan delivered heartening.  I only hope he’ll post is somewhere.

I’ve done some strategic planning for convergence for their benefit and for the satisfaction of some class requirements at the Mandel Center.  I’ll post some of that material which discusses the impact of theaters on the economics of a neighborhood sometime soon.  In the mean time, here are some interesting quotes I found from George Dawson in his book Shakespeare and other lectures

Our greatest men, both in art and science, have been distinguished by the clear understanding which they have had, that their art or science was but the outward rendering of invisible truths. It is the common opinion of art that it is something laid on the surface of society; whereas those who watch deeply, see that art is to society as the colour of the check is to the body the result of full bloom and health; for art and all its appliances are the last sign of the full vitality of a people. If you have an unhealthy people or age, it is in vain that you, as it were, paint art upon it by Royal Academies or Schools of Design, and giving of prizes; for art is not so much the product of construction and skill, as the appearance of full health in the body corporate. 402-3

To the unawakened eye, that looks upon art as upholstery work, pretty furniture, and pretty colouring; to those who say, as we often hear them saying before the works of the great masters,  "They are pretty!" to all these such teachings are idle and absurd. 403

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