November 26, 2001
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True and False

Mamet on acting.

If you want to go into theater, go into theater. If you want to have made a valiant effort to go into the theater before you go into real estate of law school or marry wealth, then perhaps you should stay in school. (In Books...)

While Mamet and Brustein disagree on the training of actors, it is interesting that they agree on the problem of hobbyists, what Brustein calls "the exaltation of the amateur." Mamet extends this to all artists who have become disconnected from (and financially independent of) the audience, artists who serve a muse (and a grant) without reference to actually moving people, delighting people, changing people.

Amateurs can afford to show contempt for the audience. They needn't bother with craft if they don't feel like it. They needn't get the details exactly right. They needn't do their best, because their intrinsic wonderfulness is expected to compensate. It doesn't matter if they're unintelligible -- just as long as the grant is renewed.

Taken too far, this line of argument leads to naive worship of the box office. It's essential, too, to distinguish the matters that matter from the trappings and the suits of the profession. Lunch at the Four Seasons and the endless book tour matter to nobody, and artistic progress often depends on turning our back on the encrustations of craft and technique and production values.

But there's a germ of truth here, and a source of concern. Too much electronic art is deeply amateur.