Reflections on artistic connection
Editorial #2 from the Joseph Fiennes Fansite
In our own way, we’ve always had a love of art. A romantic appreciation for the profound emotion it brings to our overly analytical world. And when we say we have a love of art, we don’t mean, “Oh, that is pretty,” or “Yes, we enjoyed it.” We mean that we crave immersion in the experience of artistic appreciation until we can feel and connect with the soul that created it. Because that’s what gives art its timeless power—the connection, the understanding, the open vulnerability of expression.
We’ve been to the theater and seen musicals, comedies, dramas. We’ve watched photographers stage, shoot, and edit their creations into beautiful images. We’ve observed artisans sketching, molding, shaping, and enjoyed the finished art in displays ranging from the barely there to national museum exhibitions. And the music we’ve experienced live—ah, the beautiful preludes and the fiery finales, the intricate jazz and the thundering rock and roll, the simple twang of folksy bluegrass and the pounding pulse of percussive beats. The music most of all has taught us the happiness that connecting to a piece of art can bring, body, mind, and soul.
When it comes to feeling this deep connection, nothing compares to experiencing the art in person, firsthand. Raw and authentic. Elemental and exquisite. Accordingly, the performing arts are typically easier to connect with than stationary creations. And let’s be very clear that the difference between experiencing a performance secondhand and live in person, between listening to studio-recorded music and attending a concert, between watching a movie on TV and seeing a production in the theater, is akin to the difference between throwing a bullet and shooting it. Secondhand, the effect, while still felt, is a mere fraction of its possibility. When you witness live performances, the creative energy of the artists flows right in front of you, all around you, engaging all your senses in a full assault of beauty and humanity. The generosity of live performers is really quite astounding, because they stand in front of us and lay their souls at our feet. What a glorious gift they give.
We spent some time in Editorial #1discussing Joseph Fiennes’ virtue as an artist, his generous sharing of his creativity, so it’s no surprise at all that he has a full appreciation of the power and experience of live art, from both artist and audience perspectives. It’s honestly quite endearing how much he enjoys art in the world around him. If you’ve seen PBS’ Shakespeare Uncovered: Romeo and Juliet (2015), you saw a lovely display of his emotion for and understanding of music, visual art, literature, and drama. Certainly, some of that was scripted, but not all, and the joy and exuberance were completely his own. But Joe most eloquently illustrated that he shares our view on the depth of connection through close physical presence and proximity when he discussed live artistic experiences with Shakespeare In Love and Elizabeth costar Geoffrey Rush in a conversation for Interview magazine way back in August of 1999. (All while showing a mature, highly-intellectual appreciation for art at not even 30 years of age.)
“The camera deadens interaction to a degree, whereas onstage it’s all about chucking the ball and catching it.”
GR: What inspires you most about the actors you admire?
JF: I think it’s when someone infects you with their 100-percent commitment to what they’re doing. When you can see from the twinkle in their eye that if you throw them the ball, they’ll catch it. It is a kind of trust. So I guess I look for passion and trust and spontaneity.
GR: I know what you mean by the twinkle in the eye. Do you think you’re more likely to find it in theater than in film?
JF: Yeah, I do, because in film there’s this lens zooming in and out of your face, and so much of that twinkle in the eye is given to the lens and not to the other actors. The camera deadens interaction to a degree, whereas onstage it’s all about chucking the ball and catching it.
GR: When I was a student I realized that you can get something very special just from being close to the actors. I used to love going to plays and sitting right up front and just being able to see the moisture in the actors’ eyes. It’s like watching a fire or something. You just sit there, mesmerized.
JF: It’s literally seeing their breath, feeling their heat. It’s like this incredible experience I had over the weekend. I went to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg; there was an extraordinary collection of Van Goghs and Gauguins, and you can go right up to them. I was literally centimeters away from this Van Gogh, and there were about a thousand different colors on the canvas. When you stand that close, you see why he went mad—the madness is just screaming out. So I came away really invigorated just from having been so close to this oil painting. It’s like the same visceral, emotional feeling you have when you see the actors’ breath. ¹
Yes. Oh yes, Geoffrey and Joe! They touched upon some marvelous points in these few statements. Geoffrey Rush is completely right about two things. First, the front row of a performance is truly the only place to be. The back is probably better than nothing, but the front row sees a whole different show from the rest of the venue. From the front, it’s so personal, so intimate; you feel as though the performers are there only for you, and it’s breathtaking. Second, the mesmerizing eyes. The omniscient, omnipotent eyes. We call that moisture, that twinkle, inspiration, and when you connect with an artist’s eyes while lit with that inspired energy, well, there are few experiences in life that can compare. The entire soul is visible through the eyes when you look at them just right, at just the right moment. To borrow phrasing from Joseph Fiennes, “it [is] a connection beyond conversation.”² And to be completely honest, that moment of higher connection and understanding between two souls… it’s what we live for.
Of course, Joseph Fiennes has it completely right, too. Genuine artistry truly is about passion and trust, and not just from the artist’s perspective. So interesting that he brought up trust in this context. Not only can we understand how important that trust between performers must be, but we believe that for an artistic experience to reach those higher levels of connection, there is a vital, underlying trust between artist and audience as well. Personally, when we attend a performance, we trust the artist to give us that 100% commitment to their art (and frankly, if that commitment is lacking, the performer fails to meet our definition of an artist), and to give us the full power of their creativity thereby engaging us in ways we cannot achieve without them. And the artist, in a stunning display of trust, offers us extremely personal glimpses of their heart and mind and soul. Their very essence. And yes, Joe, we feel that essence in their heat and in their breath, in their sheer intensity. It’s emotional, psychological, fully sensual, pervasive, and wonderfully invigorating. And, to us, this complex and layered connection based on trust and understanding is vital proof of an inherent goodness in our humanity.
To that end, you may know that Joseph Fiennes is headed back to the theater this June for the first time in seven years. That’s the longest break from live performance in his career, and we suspect that break will make his creative energy, the twinkle in his eyes, the power of his heat and breath even more dynamic than they were before. So, yes, we are hopping across that big old pond, journeying more than four thousand miles, to sit in the very front row at the Chichester Festival Theatre and experience for the first time the power of Joseph Fiennes’ artistry live. There is nothing on this Earth that would keep us away. We are breathless with anticipation, tingling with excitement, and our imagination is aglow, lit with the happiness his creative gift will bring. It will surely be beyond conversation.
¹ Rush, Geoffrey. “Wherefore Art Thou, Joe?” Interview Aug 1999: 78-83, 118. Print.
² Esteves, Junno Arocho. “‘Risen’: The Resurrection from a skeptic’s point of view.” Catholic News Service Feb 4 2016. Online.