Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Art in the Midst of Artifice

I ran across a video on YouTube that I absolutely loved. It was a performance by Paul Potts of one of the most beautiful songs I know, Nessun Dorma. True it was on Brittain's Got Talent, a show of the type that I have a general disdain for, and true, the sweeping camera moves were mightily distracting, but the beauty of the music combined with the humility of the singer (both in background and in character) was overwhelming. It was filled with light. It was art.

I have marveled since at how powerfully that light penetrated my being. I have heard this song outside of the context of its opera before, but the last time it was sung by a man who, in my interactions with him that day, was arrogant, impatient, and condescending. To me, that tarnished the experience. Plus, the performance had a "look how amazing I am" tone to it. Mr. Potts never approached that attitude, although I have found such shows as the one that featured him to nurture the vice. His singing was service. It edified both him and the audience and they rejoiced together. He didn't do it (at least discernibly) for the attention.

I mentioned the camera moves. They were terrible. But the performance maintained its purity in spite of them. It also fended off the general clutter of YouTube, including an adjacent thumbnail ad for a video featuring topless photos of a well known celebrity. I normally find such things so offensive that I don't allow them any presence on my computer screen, but in this case it and all the other distractions were eclipsed by the purity (I'll use the word again) of the performance.

Perhaps it was a spiritual connection that I needed at the time, but it came back when I showed the video to my wife and children hours later. I originally came across it quite by accident, as I don't normally peruse YouTube. Maybe that had something to do with it.

Whatever it was, the experience is altering and improving, I hope, my ideas about art. I experienced how a single, unintentional, perhaps even unconscious element of a production can connect so powerfully with an audience that everything calculated and conditioned falls into insignificance. That element becomes art and the rest is just trappings. The art represents the soul of the artist as expressed through his art. It opens the spiritual channel that we've discussed here before. This reminds me of the mission I served, where I was taught that my imperfections as a messenger could be brought to naught through spiritual communication. Born of sincerity, this connection is, to my mind, wrought more by the tools that build character than the tools that build a film, or a vocal performance, or any other thing perceptible to the five senses. I wonder if we can't take a lesson from Mr. Potts' example of humility and apply it to our making and viewing of film.


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that once we cross the bridge from doing it unconsciously to doing it consciously our awareness of virtue strains our relation with the audience--and we, more often than not, end up patronizing the viewer.

I think we just need to be good folks who are thoroughly soaked in the gospel and the best the world has to offer in the arts--and let the chips shamelessly fall.


Adam K. K. Figueira said...

Thanks, Jack.

You've said it much better than I ever could have.