I would like state up front that this is not a formal argument. I know I probably shouldn’t qualify too much, but I feel as if this topic deserves a well thought out and specific argument, which I do not have. My thoughts are still pretty scattered with some vague connections, but the subject has been nagging at me, and I have come to the conclusion that this forum is as good as any to attempt to suss out some thoughts. So if I end up with some egg on my face, so be it.
I’ve been thinking about this idea that people use theater to “hold a mirror up to reality “. I couldn’t quite place why, but the idea seemed off to me. There was a part of me that was skeptical of this way of thinking about theater, so I started to ask some questions about why I was so suspicious of this concept.
I started contemplating what it meant to “hold a mirror up to reality” and what its objective was. It seems to me that holding a mirror up to reality implies that you are trying to show an audience something that is real, or at least attempting to show them an imitation of something that is real. Perhaps a more useful way of phrasing it is that it is attempting to show an audience a truth about the world they are living in.
The idea that theater is in service to the pursuit of truth is an interesting one, but it has some implications that you have to acknowledge, namely, that it implies that there is an objective truth to be discovered and conveyed.
Now i’m not going to condemn this necessarily. After all I would be foolish to dismiss it, as so much of the way we think about theater is really embedded in this idea of objective truth. I thought about Plato and his ideas about theater in relationship to the platonic ideal, and it hits me that it hinges on this idea that there is an objective truth about the world, an ideal. I then consider that so much of the way we think about theater is still embedded in a religious context such as this, embedded in a world where there is a definite force that shapes truth.
Suddenly my initial impulse makes sense to me. My firmly held beliefs about the world and how it functions, (that there is no meaning, or god, or free will) has profoundly effected the way in which I view the world, and in this case, how I viewed theater and how it functions.
I won’t go into why I believe what I believe (though I love to talk about it as many can attest to) because this is not the point of this post, nor the proper forum. The reason I bring it up though, is that now, I found my self having a personal revelation that showed me that, the way in which you view the world, has a direct effect on what you think the very function of theater is.
So then I consider that I’m living in a growingly secular world. A secular world in which the idea of truth is starting to be seen as more of a subjective thing, and where meaning is illusive at best and more likely not there at all. That is to say, if you hold a mirror up to something that is meaningless, you will then get something that is meaningless in return. So then that forced me into the question, why art at all?
I struggled with this question, and then one day something occurred to me. I was talking to my brother and we discussing the question of whether art imitates life, or if life imitates art. My brother, being very aware about my beliefs of the world, then brings up a very good point. He says “well if life is meaningless, but art isn’t, then it seems that life has to be the one imitating art, and not the other way around.” Then it hits me. Suddenly the way I see myself as a theater artist becomes far more clear. I don’t believe that my task as an artist is to hold a reflection up to reality, rather I see my task as an artist is imbue meaning onto it.
However, like I said, this is not a formal argument. I am very aware that there are a lot of holes in my thought process here. How can you imbue meaning into meaninglessness, it doesn’t answer the question of where the meaning come from? If art can’t live in a vacuum outside of the world it resides in, then mustn’t its generation come from the world, and if that world is meaningless, doesn’t that make it meaningless too? If you believe that free will doesn’t exist (which is probably my strongest held belief, so much so that the very concept of free will doesn’t make any sense to me) then doesn’t that mean there is an objective truth, because if there is no free will then that means there is a deterministic, though not necessarily divine, force guiding all reality? And if so, how do you find meaning in that? Honestly, I don’t know how to answer these questions. But instead of feeling dejected by these problems in my thought process, for some reason I’m kind of excited. I could try to figure out why i’m excited by it, but for now, I’m not going to ruin a good feeling. This might have been a bit scattered, but I’m going out excited and for now, that’s what matters.
…………………but also I found this quote “art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it” – Bertolt Brecht……..or some attribute it to Vladimir Mayakovsky………….others say it was Leon Trotsky…..some even think it was Marx………I don’t know…………………I like the quote though…….I’ll leave it at that…..take care!