The assumption inherent in asking, “Is this too sensitive for art?”

Yesterday’s “You’ve Cott Mail” is focused on art that crosses, or might come dangerously close to crossing, a certain perceived societal line.

In one of the quoted articles, Alexis Soloski writes for the Guardian theatre blog about “the line between artistic necessity and exploitation” in light of Decade, director Rupert Goold’s upcoming (in September) “immersive” exploration of 9/11 and the time that’s passed since.

The only thing I’ve seen that you could call a “9/11 play” is The Mercy Seat, about a year and a half ago at a little theater in Chicago. I’m not sure I would call it an exploitation. But it did feel, to me, cheap. Though, full disclosure, I’m no Neal Labute fan; no matter what the topic, he pretty much always feels cheap to me.

I’m trying to find an online reference for it, and can’t – but I’ve heard more than once that many theaters closed their doors in NYC in the days immediately after the 9/11 attacks, saying that this time is a time that’s too serious for theater.

These ideas – art as exploitation, there are subjects too grave for the stage – are troubling to me. It’s not to say that there aren’t situations in which a director or playwright, for example, or painter, or poet, could be considered as exploiting a person or an event. But to say that there are some subjects that art should not touch – that’s not only a form of censorship, it also slaps a certain label on art. It puts art in a particular box: a box of frivolity. It assumes that art is not a necessary form of expression and examination of society/the human condition, but – there’s that word againornamental.

And I’m not saying that ALL art is necessary, that NO art is ornamental. But art that engages deeply and seriously (seriously isn’t to imply “without humor,” because damn it, we need to laugh at the bad stuff!) with an issue or event is an incredibly important part of public consciousness and debate, and a vital form of expression.

Soloski is expressing concern that Decade could end up not engaging appropriately. Absolutely a danger. But as far as the question she poses – “whether or not there are places art shouldn’t go, scenes it shouldn’t stage” – to me the answer’s a resounding “No.” Art can and should dare to go anywhere, everywhere. With tact – yes. With respect – yes. With an awareness of all the complexities surrounding the issues with which it’s engaging – yes. Absolutely. But go there. Engage with it. As a thinking, sensitive, caring human being. If newspapers and journalists are engaging with it, we should be as well. Because discussion and a willingness to look at a thing from all sides and hope amidst sorrow and laughter amidst tears, these are the ways to a solution, or to heal.


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