2014 was a hard year . . . . I left my job for the sake of art. In 2014 I wrote everyday, learned a thing or two about the craft, wrote one piece I was happy with, threw aside tomes of other work as heartbreakingly mediocre. In 2014 I saw a lot of bad theatre, mind-numbing television, and dull movies, but I did see a couple works of art that opened my heart and mind . . . .
Now as I enter 2015 I’m seriously wondering if art is enough. My year is all planned out: teaching writing at Wits and at the Market Lab, my play Two Women opening in July, new television, theatre, and film projects on the go. But I’m still not sure . . . sometimes I think maybe I should do something more concrete like shoveling a ditch or closing down a prison or even opening a mine . . .
I spent the new years catching up with old friends in England – an odd mix of chatting, visiting restaurants and theatre, crawling around the floor with babies and frantic toddlers. We spoke a lot about our lives, where we were going, the role of art. Afterwards I got this not from a friend:
“For me art seems more important than ever, looking at how people can fragment away from humanity and be brutal, it seems we almost have a ‘duty’ to maintain the amazing achievement that civilization is. A person could be in the mud killing each other or they could sit in a beautiful ancient building listening to an orchestra play a subtle and intricate composition of feeling and implicit cooperation. More than ever, art seems to me very much what it means to be human and to live – both for ourselves now and for future generations.”
I love the sentiment of the quote – art is what teaches us to be human. Although as I read her note over and over I realize part of why I feel far away (from my former self) and perhaps a little despondent. I’m not looking for art anymore in European buildings or orchestral concerts – I’m looking now instead in the textures of life in South Africa where I live. I’m looking for transformation in what Fugard describes as the toilet water English of his Afrikaans mother. Or I’m seeking hope in South African pre-colonial theatre traditions like the performance of a Pedi wedding negotiation with its speeches, praise poetry and dance. Or I listen intently to the ways in which stories get mulled and churned and structured at taxi ranks waiting for the buses in Joburg- I want to know what instruction this language and these stories can tell us about how to live. This is where I seek my art these days.
So here’s my plan and this is where I’m looking for meaning in art in 2015. It feels like a difficult and sometimes fools errant task, but we’ll see what I find . . .