Don’t knock popularity and high ratings
Artists and art buffs tend to look askance and even down on popularity viewership measurements like TV ratings and attendance figures for film and stage productions.
With eyebrows archly cocked, they sneer that popularity implies that the people involved in those popular productions have compromised their art and craft in order to make a lot of filthy lucre.
This is so wrongheaded and self-limiting. We should instead take our cue from William Shakespeare’s own experience at the Globe Theatre in London:
While he courted the patronage of perfumed royals, he also made sure that his productions connected with the raucous rubes who bought the cheapest tickets, and stood for hours in front of the stage.
So, popularity and profitability shouldn’t be dismissed as a lowering of artistic standards!
Quite the contrary, they can also indicate that a production has resonated and connected well with many viewers—which should be a performance artist’s best vindication!
Artists who look down on popular productions tend to be abstract and ivory-tower types who feel superior to the audience.
Unfortunately, some of them haven’t really lived life to the fullest, so the “insights” they share are not derived from experience—so, they’re largely theoretical and idealized, rather than earned.
That’s why many of their artistic efforts fail to interest the audience, and are raved about only by their fellow aesthetes.
Instead of seeing this as a sign of failure on their part, they blame the audience for not being “deep” enough to appreciate the amazing gems of wisdom they have, oh, so beautifully and artistically imparted.
We hope that young artists will make it a point to avoid this tragic and self-delusional fate in their own careers. Nobody is “born” an artist, he earns the right to be one after living a lot. People who shield themselves from the slings and arrows —and joys and passions—of life aren’t artists, because they’ve timorously chosen to “live” in abstraction, through books and other “second-hand” means.
Granted, some popular and profitable works are indeed cynical moneymaking efforts.
But, it’s instructive to note that even the most shamelessly “commercial” and mindless productions with top star value going for them lay a big, fat egg at the box office.
So, it isn’t a given that popularity means craven compromise. It could also mean that a production has succeeded in connecting with and becoming significantly meaningful to a wide range of viewers.
Popular productions with something meaningful to impart should be the goal of all artists in the performing arts.
If we believe in the value of the experiences and insights we want to share, the more people we’re able to reach and affect, the better!
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