By Ann Marie Miller
Is art boring? Well, sure. Sometimes.
Joe Patti recently tackles this subject in his blog, Butts in the Seats. His premise is that audiences fear being bored by a performance, and that fear is shared with those who bring work to the stage.
Even with all the right ingredients, though, art can be challenging to each of us for different reasons. I have to admit my own personal weak spots are Shakespeare and classical orchestral/symphonic music, and yes, sometimes even jazz. And by weak spots, I mean I find it sometimes difficult to sit through a performance without losing patience. My undisciplined mind instead turns to the visual aspects on stage because that’s where I find pleasure. Whether it’s getting lost in the movement of a cellist in the front orchestra, exploring an amazingly detailed theatrical set, or being thrilled by intricate costuming, I can usually find something to satisfy my eyes while I try to follow the plot or find the musical thread. For me, this lack of focus rarely occurs in an art museum where feet get tired well before the brain.
I share this personal confession for two reasons: first, the admission of boredom at a cultural performance is as legitimate as admitting that nine innings of a baseball game is sometimes just too long (especially if the score is 10 – 0), or not understanding why the ref threw another flag down, or becoming impatient because that hockey puck is just flying around way too fast. None of this means I’ll never attend another sporting event…or another symphonic performance.
Second, there really is “something in it” for everyone, and exposure is the key (Joe Patti and others agree) to breeding sustainable audiences.
I can still remember my very first professional theatre experience: a high school bus trip to see The Merchant of Venice, and I was as impressed by the Gothic nature of the venue (guess the NJ location) as I was by the dark and mysterious performance. Foreshadowing, for sure! While I may not be a Shakespeare aficionado, I am still attracted to the aura of the Bard as a result of that trip. And while I may have been bored by a Pilobolus performance in my late teens, I am delighted now to witness their metamorphosis over time. The troupe, in existence since 1971, discovered a new way to appeal to the “less than three minute attention span” of YouTube audiences (if you haven’t yet seen their All is Not Lost on the Google Chrome browser, you are missing something!). At my demand, I watched their bodies magically spell out “Sometimes art is boring and that’s okay!” on my computer.
All of this points to the need for exposure early and often, or in other words, arts education. I was fortunate to attend a New Jersey high school that is now considered a “model school” in arts education. The written, visual and performing arts were fully integrated into a jam-packed humanities curriculum that allowed me to experience for the first time Fellini, Truffaut, Hitchock, and Bergmann, along with The Who, Zorba the Greek by Kazantzakis, and yes, Shakespeare too. That spirit of appreciation is still nurtured by enthusiastic teachers who share their zeal for the arts with students each and every school day.
I encourage you to visit the NJ Arts Education Partnership to learn more about how to assure that children in your life get the advantage of a full education that exposes them to all aspects of the arts.
And the next time you are at a performance and your mind wanders a bit, it’s ok. What may bore you a little this time might thrill you the next time.
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Ann Marie Miller is the Executive Director of ArtPride, the premier arts advocacy organization in New Jersey, and a regular contributor to the Dodge blog.