Empathy within the creative landscape

In the creative landscape, regardless of what niche you may fall into, be it sculptor, painter, author, illustrator, the end goal is to invoke a thoughtful and visceral response in the consumer. That response can be anything from the bewilderment of why a work exists, to awe at the depth or beauty of a work, to revulsion and loathing. It doesn’t matter what that response is, so long as it is a response. The American Heritage Dictionary defines empathy as “The projection of one’s own feelings or thoughts onto something else, such as an object in a work of art or a character in a novel or film.” (Dictionary, 2021)

Art conveys a message to the consumer. That message can either be a thought or a feeling. Indeed, as Herbert Marshall McLuhan once said, the medium is the message (TV, 2021) in that it is the medium that determines how the message is perceived, and while the artist has a specific intent when creating the work, it is the consumer that ultimately decides the intent of the work. This does not necessarily signal the death of the artist though.

Hamlet for example, specifically act 2, scene 2.

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals — and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me —
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

William Shakespeare had a specific context in mind when he wrote those words, yet how it is received is dependent on the intonation and inflection of the wording, which in turn lends itself to the audience interpretation of the monologue.

The audience, however, cannot arrive at an interpretation unless they have a temporary empathic bond, a sensitivity, to the speaker of the words. Without it, the words are hollow and flat.

In this case, the medium is the play, and the message is conveyed in how the play is enacted.

Mention The Club (IMDB, 2021) though, and you will be largely met with either blank stares or asked which one. Few people can tell you that it was an Australian film in 1980. Fewer people can tell you it is about an Australian Rules Football Club. Fewer people can tell you it starred Jack Thompson and Graham Kennedy, and even fewer people still can tell you that before the film it was a play, written three years earlier by David Williamson.

I must confess that the only reason why I know this is because it was an assigned text in both 11th and 12th grade and collectively spent approximately 12 months dissecting the film and the play much to the chagrin of my classmates and myself. I remember often that the teacher would tell the class to pull out the play, assign roles, and instruct us to begin reading and then leave the classroom for most of the class.

But if the medium is the message, and it is the medium that allows the consumer to perceive the work in a particular way, then an answer must be sought to the question of why is it so forgettable.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this.

Conflict of socio-economic class cultures.

Clash of formats.

Conflict of socio-economic class cultures:

Socio-economic class culture has existed for as long as there has been a social order. Throughout history, cultural activities have shifted between social classes, and the definition of those social classes has varied over time as well. For example, in medieval Europe, there was a strict social hierarchy and the plebians could be used and abused as was fitting their lord. Below the lords were the knights who were also above the plebians and thus subject to the whim of the knighthood who were in turn subject to the lords, and above them, was the monarch. Within those social classes, there were gradients, with the men above women. In general, men had their own thing such as hunting, and women had their own thing.

Those class distinctions are largely gone now only to be replaced by others. Arts and entertainment being one. Those who go to plays or art galleries are often seen as higher on the socio-economic ladder of today’s cultural standards, and it has been that way for several decades.

Instead of going to a play, an individual would say I’ll just wait for the book to come out. This progressed to an individual saying I’ll just wait for the movie/tv series to come out rather than read a book. This brings us to the next reason.

Clash of formats:

There is a prevailing wisdom that books rarely translate well to film. Assuming they can be translated to film at all. Tolkiens The Silmarilion is one such book that is often considered unfilmable. The same applies to video games to film, and anime to live-action. The visual format of film/tv just doesn’t allow it very well. There are of course exceptions. Ask a sample of people and you will likely have groupings of different answers. I think The Club is one of those things that didn’t translate well.

The play is set in the board room of an Australian Rules Football Club over a day. The film is set throughout an entire season. Approximately 6 months. Both in and out of the board room. The film ran for approximately 136 minutes whilst the play ran for approximately 122 minutes, so the film had to have filler which I think detracted from the drama of the board room. Then there is the idea that some things are better alluded to rather than explicitly shown, like an early horror film before the slasher era where you didn’t see blood and gore but rather it was alluded to which allowed the audience to participate by filling in what they don’t see with their imagination. It was visceral because of that audience engagement.

Between the play and the film, the empathic link to the audience was lost because the play was visceral. You saw it unfold in realtime. Stretching out a timeline and adding in events only serves to disrupt the audience by adding a layer of abstraction.

The phrase “lost in translation” comes to mind.

References

Dictionary, A. H. (2021, January 27). Empathy. Retrieved from The Free Dictionary: https://www.thefreedictionary.com/empathy

IMDB. (2021, January 27). IMDB. Retrieved from The Club: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080546/?ref_=fn_ft_tt_3

TV, A. (2021, January 27). the Medium Is The Messsage. Retrieved from Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/196275249

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