In my earlier post, I voiced my hopes of finding artistic inspiration in London. I’m glad I found what I was looking for and perhaps a little more. While exploring the cultural landscape of London, I had the opportunity to visit the British Library. The library housed a literary sanctuary very rightly called the “Treasures of the British Library.” The gallery harbored handwritten journals, manuscripts, edited drafts by some of the most renowned authors. It was an out-of-body experience to gaze upon Shakespeare’s First Folio; Jane Austen’s comic account of the “History of England”; and the illustrated manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Within the dark room, with a faint light shining upon these manuscripts and journals as if illuminating some gospel truth, I felt like I had stumbled upon the very source of what has been driving me all these years: words. Not just any words, but words that have lived on in memory and in material—spoken, read, analyzed and remembered by people like me. And I began to wonder: why is it that it feels like I’m gazing upon the works of old friends? What is this affinity?
In “Theatre and Audience,” Helen Freshwater quotes Peter Handke’s address to the audience: “You are the topic…you are the center. You are the occasion. You are the reason why” (1). Thus, art almost always assumes some affinity with the audience. Extending that to all art forms, I would say that spectatorship and readership are central to the definition of arts. I believe ‘art’ is not just some inherent attribute of creative work—it’s also the interaction between an artist and an audience, with the artwork as a mediator. Theatre is a prime example of this kind of artistic barter— “the presence of an audience is central to the definition of theatre” (Freshwater 1). We participate in art by giving our attention to it, and that is a profoundly significant gift to both the artist and ourselves. It is perhaps what I meant by inspiration: where all art gives rise to new artistic thought and this goes on till eternity, producing new art in its wake.
Consequently, I realized that I was in pursuit of the arts long before it became a degree for me—I have been an artist for as long as I have been a reader. As Freshwater explains: “analysis… can be a creative act in and of itself” (24). Thus, readership, scholarship, analysis, and adaptations—elements of thinking like an audience—are all extensions of art itself. As I slowly moved across the treasures of the British Library, taking in Virginia Woolf’s handwritten draft of “The Hours,” Sylvia Plath’s edited drafts, Ted Hughes’ notes about Sylvia Plath, and Lewis Carroll’s manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Underground, I felt truly involved in their genius by the virtue of my spectatorship.
Hence, I had something like an epiphany in that darkened room. As readers and spectators, we capture and preserve, and thus, sustain and produce art (so no, this degree isn’t as futile as the cynics would have us believe). As Jaques says in Shakespeare’s As You Like It: All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” (II.VII.138-139, pp. 1647). While I always assumed that the famous quote meant that we’re all performers, perhaps it also means that we’re all creative audience members—all the world’s a stage because all the world’s an artful voyeur.
Freshwater, Helen. Theatre and Audience. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It.” The Norton Shakespeare, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, Norton, 2008, 2nd Edition, pp. 1615-1681.