Art As Shared Experience, Part II

Posted by Alan Nunez, Jan 08, 2009 3 comments

I'm tickled by the fact that my two year-old personal blog has two entries in it and this will be my third for Americans for the Arts in five weeks. I like to think of myself as the Terrence Malick of the blogging world. I guess when it comes to arts, I had more to say than I thought.

The thought of art as a shared experience has been in my head for years and years. However, inspired by my fellow bloggers, it's been busting to get out. Much of this has to do with the advent of web 2.0. It's amazing that we can access so much information, such as watching video on demand. However, I'll digress here and say that I still think it's a travesty that we can't see the famous George Brett/Pine Tar Incident without sending a hefty payment to MLB. However, as to prove a point on advent of greater accessibility and user-created content, I did find a low-key reenactment and another done by the Famous Chicken and Johnny Bench. For those of you who haven't seen it, trust me that the real thing is only slightly less surreal.

However, even before the Internet, the arts has always been able to be a shared experience, even and especially for those who weren't there. There are two such experiences that I've been thinking a lot about recently.

The first came to me today as I was trolling Facebook. A college professor of mine posted a YouTube video of the Joffrey Ballet's reenactment of the premiere of The Rite of Spring. The fact that we have to see this as a reenactment has nothing to do with MLB, but rather that no one thought to film the 1913 premiere. Composed by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, the debut famously caused a riot. Can you imagine that?! Starting with a few catcalls here and there, the crowd broke down into defenders and detractors. Camille Saint-Saens, seasoned composer, walked out in a huff (supposedly because of the 'misuse' of the bassoon in the opening bars). Now I'm not saying that I'd like to see blood in the aisles of Avery Fisher or on the gently-sloping spiral of the Guggenheim in NYC, but it's hard to deny that this was a visceral, momentous, shared experience.

The Rite of Spring - Sacrificial Dance

The Rite of Spring - Sacrificial Dance

Joffrey Ballet\'s \'The Rite of Spring, Pt. 1\' (Nijinsky re-creation)

The other one I've been thinking about for months. Here in New York City, we're just getting done with a multi-organization celebration of Leonard Bernstein's 90th anniversary. Carnegie Hall, the New York Philharmonic, our NPR affiliate WNYC and many others have put together events commemorating the man whom I think is our Permanent Culture Ambassador, a true American for the arts, if there ever was one. This year, 2008, is also the 65th anniversary of his Carnegie Hall AND New York Philharmonic debut. On November 14, 1943, after only a short time as assistant conductor, he was asked to fill in for the ailing Bruno Walter. As this was in the great Carnegie Hall, an audience expecting the great Walter and broadcast nationally over the radio, it was the rough equivalent of Babe Ruth calling his shot - in his debut game.


I think a lot about what it would've been like to witness these things, sharing in those experiences. But what I have, in terms of story and lore, isn't bad. And now I've shared it with you. I imagine that the real trick is not to lament not being there when momentous art-making is going on, but to recognize those moments as they happen to you.

One happened for me at the Tosca that was supposed to be Luciano Pavarotti's last. My friend had gotten free tickets to the seating that was set up in the Lincoln Center plaza and it seemed as though the whole city was wondering if he would show up. Truth be told, he had no business singing in those last few years, but for so many, it was like watching the Babe swing that last bat, whether or not he connected. Turns out, Pavarotti backed out and a rising young tenor named Salvatore Licitra (lay-CHEE-trah) was on hand to take over. I was, I promise you, probably the only one not crushed by the news.  I knew this was my shared experience, different from the one most people had been looking forward to. When tension was all built up (operatically and in real life), Mr. Licitra nailed 'Recondita armonia', the proof in the pudding. There was silence and then a full minute of ovation. The best part was that on a 100 ft. high screen, we could all see his sigh of relief.

I wonder if Lenny did the same thing.

3 responses for Art As Shared Experience, Part II


January 15, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Alan, I love the rhythm of this post.

The shared experiences you talk about are so easy to connect with. (I guess that's why they're shared experiences, duh.) Especially your last story from the Tosca. Who can't relate to the feeling of relief you so vividly describe from Licitra? Or the sense of accomplishment?

A lot of times when someone says "shared experience" in the context of art, we might think of overly cerebral or existential experiences. Your stories really reinforce for me that the arts are not "high culture," but basic and relevant to everyone.

Thanks again for sharing.

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January 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Great link of the "Rite of Spring" Funny how the rhythm of the feet don't make the accents in the score.
excellent use of embedding.
You've quite mastered the web 2.0 tools here.
And to another Lenny Lover - so good to re-read his many biographies - especially recalling the tales of his early (and quite bold) conducting moves. Proving once again, that history accepts artistic ego more than contemporaries.
Thanks for sharing this experience.

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January 23, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Hey Alan,

What a fun way to bring together some different events in performing arts history! I appreciate the link to the Rite video- one of my favorites (I think I saw this in NYC in the late 80s, early 90s, so I'm glad to see the video's available).

On the topic of shared experience, I think that was exactly what compelled 1.8 million people to travel to Washington, DC, this week. The people at the Washington Monument couldn't have had a good view of the Capitol, even with a jumbotron. But they were in a large crowd of people who like them, wanted to be there, as a particular person spoke some particular words.

The power of the live event and the power of being amid others who appreciate that event is something that brings us together for artistic, political, religious and even sport events. It's something that reminds us what it's like to live in the world of time and space (vs. the world of digital simulacra, which can be equally powerful in another fashion), and I think it's something the human spirit will never outgrow.

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