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Motion, Emotion, and Love:
The Nature of Artistic Performance

by
Thomas Carson Mark

Gian-Farina

My new book explores the artistic activity of performers. It is aimed at performers and their audiences, for whom it will have immediate practical value. Insight into the nature of artistic performance transforms a person's practicing, rehearsing, performing and teaching. It also transforms the experience of the audience. Audience members at concerts, the theatre, or dance performances will feel a new involvement with the performers and with what is happening onstage. Explaining how all this comes about requires some examination of theoretical topics such as: Are performers artists in their own right? What do they create? What is the relation of a work of performing art to a performance of that same work? These are philosophical questions, so to make good its practical purpose the book must also dip occasionally into philosophy.

I take motion as a point of departure, because everything performers do is done by moving their bodies. Intentional bodily movement depends on a body map that governs it, and understanding the relation of movement to the body map is a source of power in practicing and performing. But performing is not mere movement, it also communicates emotion, so the book must explain how motion is used to convey emotion and how audience members comprehend and respond to emotion thus conveyed.

Lauinia

The concept of love is the third essential topic. Love does not refer to anything that performers directly do, but rather to the preconditions that must be met if performance is to be successful. Love enters the picture in several ways. The performer must be secure in himself, which can be seen as a form of self-love. In addition, the relation of performers to one another in performance has the earmarks of a loving relationship and so does the interaction of performer and audience. When performer and audience feel themselves in such a relationship the occasion becomes memorably significant and powerful.

Seeing performance in terms of motion, emotion, and love, and also making clear what it is that performers create, reveals that performance yields artworks different from anything available in non-performing art. A performance offers an experience with greater intensity and a more coherent structure than the ordinary experiences of life; in performance, one's experience during that stretch of time is shaped into an artwork.



The Etchings

Sguardo

Motion, Emotion, and Love is decorated with a series of 17th-century etchings titled Balli di Sfessania by Jacques Callot (1592-1635). These etchings are usually described as depicting characters from the commedia dell' arte, a form of improvisatory comedy that began in Italy before 1550 and was popular throughout Europe by 1600. Productions combined rehearsed scenes with improvised dialogue, along with song and dance, and acrobatics. There was a lot of humor, much of it bawdy. Plots followed a few standard story lines (young lovers aided by a pert serving girl in overcoming the resistance of a miserly, tyrannical parent or guardian, for example) and used a number of stock characters (the blustering captain, the pedantic doctor, the clown, the comic servant). Many characters wore masks, and the male costumes often included a prominent phallus, in keeping with the bawdy humor and depicted in some of the Callot etchings.


Cocodrillo

The word sfessania in the title of Callot's etchings has mystified many commentators, and some scholars now doubt whether the Balli etchings actually depict commedia dell' arte figures. It appears that by the fifteenth century a dance called the moresca, which could include furious gestures, wild poses, and mock battles, was popular throughout Europe. In Naples, at the turn of the 17th century, a form of moresca was known as the sfessania. Callot is not known to have visited Naples, but he spent some years in Florence and his images fit the descriptions we have of this dance, so it is plausible that it, not the commedia dell' arte, is the principal subject of the Balli series of etchings. For illustrative purposes in my new book, nothing hinges on settling that question. Whatever their historical subject, the etchings are marvelously gestural, full of movement and energy; perfect accompaniments to a book on motion, emotion, and love in artistic performance.


Motion, Emotion, and Love: The Nature of Artistic Performance was published in October, 2012, by GIA Publications, Inc. It is available from the publisher, or from Powell's Books in Portland OR, or from Amazon:

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