Art is Specific

There is nothing like a stellar performance of Shakespeare at the Stratford Festival to remind you that art is specific.

Of course, Shakespeare’s As You Like It is plenty specific – specific lines, characters, motivations. 400 years’ of scholarship can give you plenty of specific ideas on motivation, blocking, interaction.

The production we saw went far beyond Shakespeare’s play. The creative team set it in the highly specific 1980’s Newfoundland, complete with traditional dance music being played, and costumes, props, and accents of the time. Inter-scene pantomimes and emceeing/song calling by Hymen (who appears only in Act V Scene IV of the play) heighten the specificity of the storytelling.

Art is specific, and the more specific you can be in the work you make, the better the chance of it having an artistic core. As You Like It strove consistently for such specificity in its pursuit of telling a 400-year-old play in an artistic and relevant way.

Of course, there is a massive pitfall here, as I was reminded in reading some of the reviews of this production. If it’s for everyone it isn’t specific. That requires the converse: if it is specific, it’s not for everyone.

In making art, we must understand that we’ll leave some people behind. Some won’t enjoy the audience participation paper crowns. Some want to see Shakespeare only in doublets and ruffled collars and hear only the most proper English accents.

Art is specific, and making it specific means losing some folks. But it also means crafting something that is worth remembering. Something worth making.

How can you make your art more specific? What will you gain–and what might you lose–by heightening the specific details in your art?

Who is your art for?