Arthur Penn on Artistic Suicide

Arthur Penn in Cannes/1996/Eric Robert

Interview with Arthur Penn
Conducted by James Grissom
New York City

Artistic suicide occurs in the layman when he fails to understand that he needs to develop and to maintain his artistic nature, which can be manifested in anything he happens to do: raise a family; conduct himself on his job; interacting with friends. If he also wants to paint or write or play a musical instrument, that's great, too, because it will make him a fuller, happier person. There are all these studies that indicate that we go through life using a very small percentage of our brains, and I would say it is equally tragic and wasteful that we go through life using such a small percentage of our artistic gifts. I think the world demands of us that we use our artistic gifts, and I believe that we are required to share them.

Artistic suicide occurs in the professional artist when he fails to realize that he is merely a conduit for the art in which he works. What I'm saying is that there needs to be a high degree of selflessness in the application of an art, because the ego tends almost always to destroy what is artistic. There is communion in the presentation of an art, and a consummation takes place between the artists and the audience, and you can't demand a bigger piece of the pie, so to speak, once this act has begun. You have to remove yourself, your ego, your needs, in the giving of this art. The art takes precedence.

This almost never, ever happens, which is why our arts continue to diminish.

It becomes much more important that awards are won, grudges healed, money made, attention given, and the art dies. This is the suicide of the art within the artist, but it is murder of the art for those who most need it--the audience.

The ego comes in handy when you are trying to get into a school or get a job or to craft a character. It has no place in the performance. By the time you get to the performance level, your ego needs to be grafted onto the play or the opera or the concerto or the canvas. The art has to take control.

Otherwise you kill it.

©  2014  James Grissom


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