Monday, September 20, 2010

The Ethical/Unethical Artist

From Isaac's anti-Rockstar-attitude discussion (a very cheap summation of it), comes the question:
[The rockstar conversation] brings up some other issues that may be worth talking about here: the meaning and value of the image in art and in life (particularly the image of the artist); whether or not an ethical artist (i.e., a nice guy)creates better work than an unethical one (i.e., a preening asshole)--or put another way, whether, for the good of one's work, it is better to be nice than an asshole.
If I wasn't in the middle of the show, I'd write at length, but instead I'll just put out one point.

If we lived in a much more supportive environment -- read: indulgent -- for artists, then maybe the unethical artist could win. After all, rock-stars get ridiculously wealthy and can support themselves, therefore they can be big enfants terribles and there's no problem.

In the interdependent world of theater, however, for most artists their reputation is their business. I cast shows based on working relationships, based on how people relate to each other, more than I cast shows based on an audition, or based on some incredible success in their past.

If someone arrives with some incredible bullshit behind them, or with a reputation as being selfish, egotistical, or a poor team player, I will overlook them. Hell, if someone has a reputation for being consistently late, I will usually move on to more reliable folks.

Therefore, on the practical level, the answer is that the ethical artist will create much better work than the unethical artist. They'll work with better people, more people, and get more support -- support being the watch-word we live by. They'll build an audience better, build an ensemble better, and in the end it will make their work better.


Ian Thal said...

Definitely had the experience of choosing to leave a project because it involved dealing with somebody who was a nasty piece of work, or, on the other hand, not casting somebody because I was uncomfortable with inflicting this personality upon actors whom I by then, I had considered to be my friends.

I really never encountered an artist who could go far by being nasty. Curmudgeonly, narcissistic, perhaps, but never nasty.

CultureFuture said...

It's a fine line between curmudgeonly and being nasty. I have worked with some people who can get away with behaviors that I find impossible to work with either because their talent is powerful, because they're good salesmen of themselves, or because they fall in with people who somehow work well with it okay.

As a student, I was a stage manager to a very well known director -- I mean a very well known director -- who treated me absolutely terribly.
He threatened to shoot himself in the face if I didn't get the light cues perfect, and he almost forgot to say "thank you" to me at the end of the process until his AD prompted him to come over and shake my hand.

Yet the actors remember him as being very affable and fun -- he just is one of those directors who focuses his stress and frustration on his stage manager, combined with a very OCD demand for perfection in production. It occurred to me he must have a stage manager who is built not to care.

He definitely made it, and he made it with an ensemble of people who are devoted to working with him. If he were applying to work with me, I wouldn't take him on, but I can see how others do work with him.

Ian Thal said...

First of all, let me admit that I'm not the most socially skillful of people, but my feeling is that when I'm in charge is that I probably have very little to offer in terms of economic rewards so I really need to find ways of making people feel like their contributions are valued-- snacks, thank yous, being receptive to their observations and insights, et cetera.

CultureFuture said...

Absolutely agreed.