How does one measure excellence in the arts? That’s a question that has always perplexed me. Certainly there are measurements of excellence that come into play in the various art forms but, once you go beyond the mastery of technique, how do you measure artistry? Who measures it? Must it be measured? Must it be “awarded?” What is the difference in being awarded and being rewarded?
Once upon a time there were precious few awards and even fewer awards ceremonies. Now, there are more award bestowals for which anyone can even keep track. You can’t help but wonder if these awards started as a true tribute to excellence or as a studio and/or producer’s press agents’ dream. Are we really paying homage to the individual inspired greatness that carries these presentations or have we developed a ploy to selling more tickets to movies, plays and concerts? And it’s one thing to award professionals trophy titles for their achievement to a standard of excellence, but what about all the dance and acting contests that are springing up in every category and genre for students? Isn’t it enough to study the craft and feel the sense of reward that comes from demonstrating your personal best skill in your craft without making a contest out of art? Can we think about being satisfied with the reward that comes from giving someone a pleasant evening of entertainment or having provoked their thought instead of receiving an award for our mantles?
In no way are my questions meant to belittle the nominees or recipients of these prestigious awards but merely my own search for answers. In fact these questions of “measurement” are similar to the ones I struggled with when grading acting and directing students or dancers. Is the ability to absorb and implement the technique the median/average? The expected? If so, then isn’t what goes beyond that subjective? Is every soul touched by an artist in the same way or does one react to artistry individually? If you’ve ever stood in the lobby of a theater during intermission you have heard the diverse opinions of individuals as they have discussed the first act! How many reviews have you read where you adamantly disagreed with the critic?
The New York Times Magazine had a very satisfying answer for me to at least one of my questions in its recent slide show entitled Breaking Through. The Editor-at-Large Lynn Hirschberg, in well articulated capsulized paragraphs, gives you the “ah, ha” moments of why an actor has been nominated and is being recognized for an outstanding screen performance. It is really worth taking the time to look at it before the Academy Awards. See if you agree.