‘We created a culture of “pleasing” that is now hijacking us,’ she said. ‘We want to please everybody: the audiences, the subscribers, the sponsors, the press, the colleagues… a big mistake!
‘Art should not please. On the contrary. Art has to show where it hurts in our societies, in our world. We urgently need the courage back to pick up this role of disturbers again.’
Belgian festival director and curator Frie Leysen
When I used to teach improvisation for the stage, one of the guidelines I'd throw out there was that improv is funny by accident. The guy who gets up during an improv scene with the obvious agenda to get laughs is the least funny person onstage. He's trying so hard to please the audience that, like an eighth grade girl confronted with that kid who "falls in love" with every girl in class, his desperation to be liked is just too much and she walks away feeling objectified.
Artists have become that kid. Artists have become that guy.
Artists have become that guy out of a perception of necessity. Plainly put, we want money and security for doing what we do just like other people (like teachers or waiters or airline pilots...or maybe we want more than that?). Some artists think they deserve that fair and consistent wage. Some think that the larger the budget, the more technical craft on display, the better the art and that shit costs money so pony up.
But the more money that infects the Arts, the more the Arts becomes about chasing that juicy carrot - hence the philanthropy departments, the underwriting and sales departments, the marketing departments, and administrators brought in to keep pumping the microsystem with cash to prevent the ever bloated and increasingly monied institution afloat. No longer is the conversation between artists and audience; now the conversation is between the institution and consumers.
And in the consumerist perspective, the customer is always right as long as they are paying the bills. If the customer isn't entertained and pleased, the money dries up and the Catch-22 of attempting Art that challenges the status quo rather than slathers butter cream frosting over it becomes insurmountable. The weight of the need to sell more tickets, more subscriptions, and to add more major donors and foundation dollars in the monster's gut tips the scales against the creation of artists.
"The art of theatre is a cold hard thing at its heart. It is a knife-edge, not a feather or a salve." - George Hunka
Amusing people is easy. I can hop on stage, lift up my shirt, slap my belly and scream and it'll get laughs (I know...I did that schtick for five fucking years in Chicago ComedySportz). Making people think is hard. And worth the effort. And often unappreciated because audiences are being trained not to have a dialogue with Art but to consume it for their pleasure. Art has become so commodified that it is almost indistinguishable from a bottle of ketchup or a hot-stone massage. You buy it and demand satisfaction rather than provocation.
'We should valorise the risk, the adventure, the ephemeralness of theatre, the uniqueness of the experience, the temporary community that is created every evening again with the actors and the audience.’
- - Leysen
So should we for all Art.