At some point, every artist is asked, “What is good art?”
Sometimes, the question arrives in the form of a supportive next-door neighbor-type, who comes to the show and kindly says it was “…really interesting!” Sometimes, it comes couched in higher education self-exploration, from a professor demanding articulation in addition to intuitiveness.
As a dancer steeped in dance academia, I’ve asked and answered it in many different ways, and at many different times. There is no objective answer, just as there is no objective art (feel free to argue with me; I love discussing this stuff).
Lately, my thought on the question is that good art makes a person want to do something. Participate, learn, read, cry, laugh, vomit, hug someone, punch a wall, eat a pie, smile, move, argue, shake and—for me—make art.
Good art makes me want to do what I love doing.
My “love doing” is dance. And I am lucky to live in a city where I can do it often.
Since I believe watching is a huge part of doing, I try to see a lot of shows. (A friend of mine manages to see nearly 200 dance and theater shows every year. That’s almost a show a day. My day-to-show ratio is nowhere near that high, but I enjoy knowing it’s possible.)
Being a watcher is an inherently judgmental position. Anytime there is a separate doer and watcher, the watcher has to contextualize and compare the doer’s actions alongside all of his/her other experiences. The more experiences the watcher has to draw from, the more inlets s/he has into the current one.
With dance, there are lots of subjective elements to judge—Do the dancers seem engaged? Do I relate to the quality of movement? Do I want to? Is the choreography well structured? How well does the lighting enhance the atmosphere? Do the costumes fit the dance (and the dancers)? Are the aural elements complimentary? Is the intention clear? Is the intention supposed to be clear? Do I like this? Ad infinitum.
Without realizing it, I’ve stopped asking complex questions and opted for two much simpler ones:
Does this make me want to dance? Does this make me want to make a dance?
If the answer is yes to either, it’s good art in my book. And the more art I experience, the richer the experiences get.
Photo by Bill Hebert. From Tree Brain/Ice Body by Erin Cairns and Ashleigh Penrod.