What can a new U2 album teach us about the purpose of Art?
In this, our first blog responding to Eliiot Eisner’s “Lessons”, playwright and acknowledged expert in educational drama – John McArdle; discusses how in art, small differences can have large effects!
Asked to create a blog in response to Eisner’s “Lessons” I begin by focusing on the question of purpose and intention because, when Eisner says that “in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed,” I feel I need to tease this out more, because it has implications for teaching, education and what youth leaders do with their groups.
For the sake of the argument, I need to create a distinction between the creator’s intention, which is a function of the ego and the purpose of the art-work which is inherent in the work itself. Let’s take an example: In the beginning, Bono and U2’s collective Ego, wanted to have a good band, be famous, make a lot of money. But as they engaged in creating songs, they realised that ambition can only be served by the work itself, which requires something beyond Ego. To look at what that something is let’s stay with U2.
Four years ago they set out to create an album about the Dublin they grew up in. Ego was still the driver; they still wanted it to be the greatest album ever, one that will make them the most famous band ever. By this stage, however, they know that Ego can only achieve its ambition by yielding to the artist part of the personality. So, as memories come flooding back – Bono’s mother who died when he was 14, Cedarwood Road, The Crystal ballroom, violence, kindness, much more – the purpose of the album becomes clearer: they want to find a new reality in music and song for those memories. Words, notes, music, silence and sound and the relationships between them mix with memory, image, emotion, feelings, sensations, thoughts. Music emerges, words, songs; they try things out, change words, notes. The purpose of the work becomes more refined: this feeling in this song, that feeling in that one; “how are these songs going to hang together?” “how do we want the listeners or audience to feel at the end?” “are we capturing the truth of life then or are we leaving something out or pretending emotion beyond the truth?” Sometimes during the album’s making Bono “wished we were a better band; that’s why it took four years to make.” Had there been rules to follow, it would not have taken that long, but there are no rules in art, only judgements. The Edge says “You’ve got to know when it’s not happening for you. The worst that could happen would be to get it almost right.” In art small differences have large effects. Through time they come to know the exact emotions and feelings the work should traffic in; they know the texture and form of the work and how they want it to be experienced by the audience. The exact purpose is known; minor adjustments are made to sharpen the achievement of that purpose. The Band’s Ego hasn’t gone away; it has been driving the process for four years and now they can come out and enjoy the glory that goes with a successful work of art that has, in a sense, been given to them.
We’ll look more closely at the relationship between the artist’s intention and the art-work’s purpose in the next blog.