The Amsterdam Fund for the Arts has, in its meeting, again decided who deserves a subsidy and who does not. The Fund has various advisory committees, all of which have their say. Of course, the chairmen of the committees are the cultural top dogs: for example, the Music Committee is chaired by an ex-presenter of a children programme and the Heritage Committee is chaired by an ex-presenter of Breakfast TV.  This kind of cultural top dogs can therefore vote on the life and death of cultural institutions such as museums, festivals of Classical Music and orchestras such as the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir. The written justifications for the decisions are long, protracted, contradictory and of a seeming objectivity that is easy to dismantle. Striking are the indicators used, which have nothing to do with cultural quality: ‘diversity’, ‘inclusiveness’ and the eternal ‘innovative’. The latter is not defined or made explicit, but is supposed to be a generally accepted criterion for quality.

Opera Gazet has regularly paid attention to the abject “innovation for the innovation”, and its unspeakable consequences for the art form of opera. Recently we stumbled upon an excellent article by Mirjam Vriend, entitled “INNOVATION should be a forbidden word in art”. An excellent, sharply and irrefutably formulated article that is also and especially of eminent importance for opera. So that many may come to their senses. An article to take to heart, from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. We will follow the article in its entirety here.

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“INNOVATION should be a forbidden word in art.

It’s a dead end. A completely counterproductive concept. Moreover, the call for innovation is by no means innovative; this is by far the most common term in many cultural policies. For a very, very long time.

It is of the utmost importance that both artists and the public – all of us – vigorously revolt against this. Sadly, we now have the time for that.

At least forty years ago, my father, composer, put himself at a desk every year in front of a young girl. He had to argue why he was an interesting party to award that coming year a stipendium (grant). He was and is a fixed value as a composer in contemporary music and had built up a solid fan-base at an early age, both among musicians and among the public. But that didn’t matter at all. The young girl opposite him did not know him, it was a different young girl than the year before, but what remained the same every year was the ritual question whether he still considered himself “innovative”.

Ask someone to innovate and you ask him to start with the outcome. That doesn’t work in art. “Innovation” is firstly a very abstract concept, secondly it is very cerebral, and that’s deadly, because that’s not what art can be made of. In all art that really touches us – whether we cry with emotion or laughter – the engine is in the artist’s intuition and emotional memory.

End of story

Call it magic, call it alchemy, call it inspired by the cosmos or God, call it what you will, but a mind that takes over instead of being servant soon means end of story. It’s as lousy a clue as an editor shouting to a writer that the manuscript should be “catchier”, or a director shouting to an actor that he “wants to see tears”; you can assume that the writer addressed stares at the clouds for days without any thought in him, you can assume that the cheeks of the actor addressed remain as dry as the Sahara.

“Everything’s already been done.”

I don’t know whose statement this is, but it’s incredibly true. “Innovation” is largely an illusion. Going around in circles. This also makes striving for innovation such a forced process.

I know that the musical genius Prince also agreed. Also from him is this text: “There’s joy in repetition.”

A performance of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 18th-century Les Indes Galantes in Bordeaux.

Despite what commerce would have us believe, the majority of humanity does not like change at all. This has become, in the fifty-two years that I now walk the earth, my firm observation. We love repetition. Nobody says after kissing once with their great love: ‘Okay, now I want a new concept’.

The same goes for enjoying art; most people are not at all interested in whether it is innovative, even more so: they like to enjoy many times (variations on) a formula that has already caught them. They build a relationship with it, history, associations.

I hereby place one footnote. If there is renewal that occurs spontaneously, as a by-product, for example because an actual theme grabs you (emotional motivation!), then it is totally different. Of course, you don’t have to avoid innovation forcibly.

Nobody says after kissing his big love once, “Okay, now I want an other concept”.

Art is only about one thing: being human. The head and body of the artist appropriate technique in order to be able to use it to control their emotions. The cerebral part is at the service of the emotional part. Sooner or later, every artist who thinks he can dig up the cerebral part will be unmasked; the fire will be extinguished. You have just artistically turned your back on yourself.

What are we going to do? Dance Swan Lake with a bow tie around your bare penis? “We wanted to show how vulnerable this figure is, and the bow tie symbolizes that you should be proud of your vulnerability.”

Let your grandmother join you behind her walker? “We wanted to depict the passing of time, and the abrasive effect of the slow tempo versus the contemporary rush.”

Grant providers, be truly innovative by breaking with that “innovative” mantra. Immerse yourself in people’s cultural needs. Realize that craftsmanship never gets boring. That’s where we want to go, year after year, that’s where we want to keep kissing. The only thing that interests us is that it is made with heart and soul. That we look at passion, carried by craftsmanship. It is terrible that fixed values such as the Rotterdam Scapino Ballet or the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century dangle on the edge of the abyss.

Art is a matter of the heart.”

Miriam Friend
writer and connected as a theatre maker
at TheaterMakers Radio Kootwijk


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Olivier Keegel


Chief Editor since 2019. Does not need much more than Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti. Wishes to resuscitate Tito Schipa and Fritz Wunderlich. Certified unmasker of directors' humbug.

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