Art vs. Craft

(NOTE: Originally posted at Seattle Comedy Nerd)

“Nothing is as poor and melancholy as an art that is interested in itself and not its subject.” –Santayana

Tony Beeman recently posted a list of quotes from non-improvisers that could be applied to improv. The quote above sparked a comment on a Facebook post from my friend Adina:

makes me wonder…it is so important for us for the audience to constantly be reminded and appreciating that HEY, [WE] ARE MAKING THIS UP RIGHT NOW, AREN’T WE AMAZING. So my topic/question would be, is Improv a weak art form, as so much of it is about showing off our skills and being funny, vs. having something interesting to say/a message?”

And that brings me to the title of this post. I think that the argument above is analogous to the question of art versus craft.

To me, the desire for the performer to make sure the audience understands that we are indeed making this stuff up as we go is very much the performer as craftsman talking. The craftsman wants to show off his technical skills. The knitter and the blacksmith do not purl and forge to express themselves, but rather to show off his or her skills. The improviser who reassures the audience member that this is all made up, or the one who worries about the rules of the short-form game is doing the same thing: concerning themselves with the craft.

Now of course, this is not to say that knitting and blacksmithing are not artistic. Certainly art can be created using the skills of knitting and blacksmithing; there are obvious examples of both in the real world. The difference lies in that the artist who knits concerns herself not with the skill with which her knits, but rather the feeling or whatnot that she wishes to express.

The years of craftsmanship I would argue are paramount to becoming an artist who smiths or knits. Once the craft becomes ingrained within the person, that is when the art can flow without the interruptions of limitations of skill. Can the art happen without the craft? Certainly, but the quality of work from an artist with intense passion but little skill will pale before the work of one with years of craftsmanship under her belt and equal passion.

I would say the same applies to improv. The years of craftsmanship are important: doing the short-form scenes where you sweat the rules, reminding the audience that we are indeed making this up (whether by actually saying those words, or by frequently coaxing suggestions from the audience and implementing them as the show progresses), concerning yourself with the reaction the audience gives you. Once the craft becomes ingrained within the performer though, I think that is when the performer may begin to yearn for something more than the showing of craft. That’s when the performer wants to say something to the audience and creates a method for himself to do just that, whether it is solo performance, creating a show that speaks to your sensibilities as an artist, or whatever other way she can think of to connect with others.

I think I am at this point in my improv career, as are many of my fellow improvisers in Seattle. We have completed our apprenticeships and are full-fledged journeymen, though perhaps not yet masters. I think that is why we strive to find ways to break games in our short-form shows, and why the tone of the scenes swing wildly from one to another. It makes the whole thing much more interesting and much more fun. My only concern is that we may be throwing those fellow improvisers who are still focusing on their craft headlong into our experimentation. Whether this is detrimental to their apprenticeships is up for debate.

Carnival of Improv: Getting to Know You

It’s our first Carnival of Improv Blogging! Here’s how these things are going to work:

  1. One of our fine editors will post a topic that they would like everyone to write about.
  2. Head to your little corner of the internet and write something about that topic.
  3. Publish that thing so anyone can see it.
  4. Leave a link to that thing here in the comments before the due date.
  5. The editor in charge will read all the entries, and write up a nice post summarizing and linking to as many of them as possible.
  6. Read what your fellow improvisers have written and start commenting! If you can’t comment on their blog, go ahead and comment on ours.

Our first topic will be “Getting to Know You.” All we need is a post that lets us know a little more about you, both as an improviser and just as a person. We’d love to know where and how you got your start in improv, and all the things that have lead you to where you are today. Again, post a link to your writings in the comments below before Sunday, September 2, and on September 3, I will post the round-up.

Hello World

Hello, and welcome to Around the Block, a blog devoted to improvisational theatre. We have a collection of six fine improvisers, all from the Seattle area, eager to start to really talk about improv here on the internet. Our hopes are to get thoughtful conversations going regarding all aspects of improv, from the artistic to the more business-centric. We also hope to host weekly-ish blog carnivals, wherein we get as many people writing about the same subject in one week as possible.

We would love for you to join in the conversation, as healthy debate is the best way to get ideas exchanged, so by all means, register with the site and start arguing with us!