tool logic aesthetic

By Andrew Wass

January 1, 2010, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

The idea for this triumvirate first started to percolate in my brain several years ago during an improvisation workshop. A discussion arose from a disagreement about determining if a score or exercise can be completed correctly. One of the participants was working with a score provided by the teacher. At the end of the exercise, the teacher stated that the participant had done the exercise incorrectly for reasons X,Y, and Z. Other participants disagreed and stated their reasons they thought the exercise had been done successfully. At some point in the discussion the teacher said (and I am paraphrasing) “Didn’t you also hire me for my aesthetic?”

Exercise, aesthetic – does the exercise (tool) have to determine how something looks (aesthetic)? No. The greatest thing I learned in that workshop was that I can appreciate and use another’s artistic tool but not like (as in agree with) his/her aesthetic. Following that, I also learned I can like an artist’s logic but not like how the artist presents it. The duality between exercise and aesthetic began dancing around my head (pun intended), but that relationship seemed lacking. Something was missing.

Three, three, 3. “Always look for three” is a useful mantra. Three pops up everywhere: the primary colors; proton, neutron, electron; Father, Son, Holy Ghost; the three dimensions; beginning, middle, and end. To make this two-part thesis into three, I ruminated on the idea of story, the idea of isolating what a performance, what a piece of art is about. I wanted to use a word other than story, first, to use different language that the Viewpoints workshop, where I first came upon these ideas, and second, to get away from the baggage of the word story.

Warning – Grand Statement Ahead – Warning
Dance makers are well trained in expressing their tools and aesthetics but not as well trained in clearly expressing their logic.

This happens because their logic is too wrapped up in the tools and/or the aesthetics. Frequently the art work becomes merely an expression of their tool or aesthetic. The triangle becomes a flat line, a duality between aesthetic and tool. For me a more successful work comes about when attention has been given to all three elements.

This leads me to consider how a tool can be an aesthetic or a logic. I could make a piece using the tool of contact improvisation. With that tool, I can explore the logic of momentum and connection. And the more I investigate those ideas, the more they are pulled out of the tool, the more defined the triangle becomes. And during this juggle of tool and logic in relation to momentum and connection within contact improvisation I can bring my aesthetics to bear. Do I want the piece to be faster and aerial? Or do I prefer lower, more subtle movement to express my idea/logic/story? And now my aesthetic is functioning as a tool, I am using what I deem valid at a given time and place, as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose.

The tool/logic/aesthetic relationship I also use when viewing work—breaking down the performance or object I am viewing into its logic, aesthetic and tool. Is the artist assuming too much of a relationship among the elements? Is the piece Butoh with mostly naked performers in white body paint, with mouths agape and themes concerning the human condition? Or is it a ballet with pink fluffiness with a prince and princess flirting? Is it a contact piece where the pants are baggy and the performers can’t or won’t connect with the audience?

Warning – Grand Statement Ahead – Warning
Tool, aesthetic, and logic are the most fundamental elements of art.

This article appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of In Dance.