Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Art and Rent

Artists are stuck. Either they sell out, make a decent living from their work, and never produce something true to their own artistic integrity, or they continue to produce their own art, real art unique to them, and find themselves starving and homeless when no one supports their work. It would seem that, given my definition, either art cannot be created as a commodity, or artists must find a way to make their living besides pursuing their art.

There is still a third option; perhaps people will like and support an artist's creation simply for what it is, not what they want it to be. Personally, the art that I enjoy them most is art that is deeply personal to the artist himself which also resonates with me.

The most current example of this is the movie/musical Rent, originally an off-Broadway production which gained widespread fame, acclaim, and many awards. While it is difficult to say what Jonathan Larson actually believed in writing his most famous work, Rent deals with a variety of particularly pertinent modern age concerns, as well as old world issues, in a current and effective way. Rent recreates the world as Larson saw it as well as offered insightful commentary on the values embraced by that world, and values as they should be.

Rent is loosely centered around Puccini's opera "La Boheme," and tackles, at heart, the dying ideals of Bohemianism. The musical's antagonist, Benny, even proclaims at one point that "Bohemia is dead." The characters of the musical go through a period of disillusionment with the ideals they embrace and eventually refind them, all set around a series of love stories and a struggle with a deadly disease.

The story itself is compelling, for me, in that it addresses issues so pertinent to my generation yet rarely addressed in mainstream media and art. Furthermore, the music is catchy and contemporary, and the presentation is modern. Rent is are, especially notable given the primarily entertaining nature of musicals.

The movie adaption recently made is not especially true to Larson's original intent. Larson could be most closely associated with his character Mark, and it is this character which I personally identify with. Yet the creators of the film decided to remove important character development for Mark and do away with his central conflicts, leaving him as a quasi-narrator, a plot device more than a character.

Also, by removing the song "Contact," the creators of the film both netted themselves a PG-13 rating and effectively removed all of Larson's commentary on the nature of sex in relationships. There is an important statement about love and sex that Larson made in Rent, but that seems to have been left out.

That being said, I think that most of Larson's original story shines through, which speaks to the integrity of his story. Despite the heavy commercialization of his work, Rent has remained art more than entertainment. If Larson were still alive, he would be making a great living.

The only way to realize this art-as-profession is to hope that someone, somewhere, appreciates your art. The livelihood of the artist becomes a crapshoot, dependent on who sees or hears their work and hoping that those people happen to resonate with it. This is why the life of an artist is so difficult, too much is left to chance.

On an only partially related tangent, I will talk about art and intellectual property in my next installment, about music sharing and pirates.


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