by Nala Walla



“Art is not art if it merely decorates the coffee tables of the rich.”
- Unknown

At this point I would like to draw a distinction between improvisational dance, theater, storytelling, music and song—the live, participatory arts—and other art, trade and artisan forms such as painting, photography, writing, weaving, carpentry, gardening, etc. I distinguish between these not to devalue other art forms, but rather to emphasize the unique benefits the live arts have to offer us. To be sure, all art forms have important roles to play, and none of them are duly respected and remunerated in modern society. But I would like also to acknowledge the particular oppression of the live arts in our consumer culture, since they are very difficult to commodify. You cannot typically hang these arts on the wall, nor put them in your CD player, nor sell them in the market.

I have used the terms live, participatory, improvisational, and bodybased arts interchangeably in this essay, and I would like now to add the term immediate arts to this list. The concept of Immediatism—a term coined by author Hakim Bey—will be especially valuable to explore here (see Immediatism, AK Press, 1994.) The “live” arts are powerful because they are happening in the moment, and are experienced directly. There is no media between the art, the artist, and the viewer. Hence the term im-mediate, meaning both “now” and “no media.”

Consider a painting, for example, which you are admiring at a museum. In order for you to see this painting, the artist must first conceive the idea for the painting. After the idea, comes the paint, the brush, the canvas. Afterwards, the painting is sold to the gallery, where it is then sold to the buyer. It then hangs on the wall of someone’s home or a museum, where people may or may not have the chance to see it. How many layers of media stand between the artist and the viewer? Between the concept and the canvas? At each successive layer of media, there exists a greater and greater possibility of something becoming “lost in translation,” especially when any monetary exchange can often involve censorship.

The fact that live, participatory arts cannot easily be materially commodified, measured, or quantified is one reason why they are consistently undervalued by our society. Some artists can earn money selling a painting, sculpture, rug, or basket of fruit, but since performing artists offer little “product to take home” it is difficult to make a living in a society that places value almost exclusively on material goods. Performing dancers and actors, once occupying central roles in tribal cultures, are today arguably the lowest paid and least appreciated of all artists—maybe even all professions¬¬—in modern society, and might even be considered a type of endangered species.

Yet, this immediate quality is precisely the reason the live arts can be so valuable to us in trying to build a New Society. Exclusion from the marketplace has certainly suppressed the immediate arts, but at the same time, immediate artists are therefore much more free from the competitive and materialist pressures of the marketplace. By practicing these arts, we are offered a glimpse of a what a world based on cooperation, rather than commercialism, might look like, a perspective which can be difficult to find these days. Since anyone and everyone can experience the live arts for themselves, at no cost, there are far fewer opportunities for a consumerist culture to taint, co-opt or enlist this type of art for its own agenda.

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