Arts & Culture(Archives)
To Applaud, or Not to Applaud - this is the question!
Is it ever good not to applaud? Is it ever bad to applaud? Yes! Here’s why.
Most people don’t realize it, but the audience is an important part of the arts - not just to buy tickets, park their butts in seats and cheer “bravo”, but to engage the conversation to which good artists are endeavouring to contribute. Audiences can attend a show simply to be entertained but, to better understand why, and how, an audience is actually obligated to provide feedback (encouragement or even rebuke as required, critique and translation) it’s helpful to first step back and consider art’s value.
Ask five art philosophers what art is, and you may end up with several answers, all defendable. One workable definition of art is “a uniquely human, deliberate, codified expression of an idea or feelings that require the cultivation of skill(s) to express it.” (Aubin, 18). Short of digressing on a tangent to test the merit/tenacity of the definition, let’s just quickly take from this that
- the arts celebrate what it is to be human; and
- insofar as an idea is being expressed or communicated, communication requires a receiver – and conversation is two-way.
Yes, art is one of the few things that separate us from other animals. Artists have driven anthropological, technological and socio-cultural advances across continents and cultures for thousands of years. Examples abound, here are but a few:
- poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge dared to speak ill of the Industrial Revolution, championing, at a time when treason was punishable by guillotine, freedom of speech that we take for granted today;
- Upton Sinclair Jr, the author of The Jungle (published 1906), provided the force behind the formation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We eat today, and don’t die from food poisoning, thanks to the work of an artist;
- The television sitcom All in the Family was one of those that advanced conversation in areas considered controversial, even taboo, and ushered America out of the demure quaint era of confidence into the new world of more open communication.
In order to have derived the many benefits from the work of artists that we have, those artists had to hone their skills; doing so required discipline, deportment — etiquette.
What is done is a product of process, of how things are done. In the Fort McMurray region, safety demands that we slow down and not approach a task from a “git’er done” mentality; to do so can be costly, if not fatal. Also, a person can be charged with murder, but have his case dismissed if the judge determines that the prosecutor has not handled the case properly – process, etiquette, matters in civilized society. Etiquette is a part of what makes society civilized. The arts, therefore, as a driver of civilization and society, must continue to be a champion of etiquette, on both sides of the conversation.
And so we come to the question of applause. If an artist has conveyed ideas that resonate with a member of the audience, applaud; if the message is overwhelming, one may not feel compelled to applaud – that’s okay; we saw this in Keyano Theatre’s production of Cabaret back in 2015, with its final scene so powerful, so gut-wrenching, that many did not know what to do at the end.
At the same time, if the thought or feeling is muddled, or was conveyed poorly, the artist should get that feedback - applause could be subdued, restrained – one doesn’t always have to give a standing ovation at the end of a performance. The artist has a profound responsibility to contribute meaningfully to society. Theirs is the burden of developing a voice, something to say, and the skills to say it. How they know they’re on – or off – track, is through audience feedback. We want more of the good work, less of the poor work, right?
Having said that, there should emerge among any audience those members who become critics (“fans”?) of an artist, which is to say, those who have immersed themselves in the works of the artist, understand the code, the symbology, the language, of that artist, in order to facilitate the artist’s conversations long after the artist has skipped town, or shuffled off this mortal coil altogether.
Again, art is not just about entertainment, which is not to say that art can’t be entertaining; it, is, however, to say that art is, or should, provoke and engage thought above and beyond just having a good time. As such, to the degree the artist is burdened with responsibility to come correct and provoke thought, the audience too is burdened with responsibility to express the degree to which they’ve been provoked, and know if in fact the artist did a good job of it.
Aubin, Duane (1999) The Essential Artist: Necessary Voice in Every Age. Unpublished manuscript.