（原文刊於2001年第三冊第六期Originally published in dance journal/hk 3-6 in 2001）
Loie Fuller. A pioneer of both modern dance and theatrical lighting techniques.
Won't You Share A Dance?
From my experience I have come to notice that in general, audiences often find themselves not knowing how to appreciate a dance. They respond with frustration and feel that they have little idea what the dance is about. Perhaps understanding in art has little to do with intellectual rationalization. It is more the result of one's aesthetic judgment. If a dance can successfully arouse exclamations of beauty, what the dance was about is then no longer of major concern.
Aesthetic Judgment Is Subjective
If aesthetic judgment is largely subjective, does this then imply that subconsciously within every one of us there is a private set of predetermined aesthetic criteria constantly monitoring our perception? Perhaps such predetermined aesthetic criteria in us are so-called "personal taste". It happens quite often that disagreement in taste can easily lead into egotistic dispute. For example, one might find seductive undulatory gestures attractive, whereas someone else might find them vulgar and indecent; or one might applaud with joy supernatural physical flexibility whereas another might find it unnatural and sickening. Everyone judges according to one's predetermined standard. We tend to believe in those with whom we agree, and disbelieve in those with whom we disagree. To establish a universal aesthetic standard beyond any prejudice seems difficult and highly unlikely.
Ability To Appreciate Dance Is Selective
Artistic judgment can be further complicated by preconceived expectation. If an audience member expects highly technical gymnastic feats in a dance, he would be at a loss when not finding any. Some audiences might demand to see graceful poses; some expect to see colorful kaleidoscopic group formation; some are looking for a human touch which moves them emotionally; some want to enrich their perceptual horizon, and widen their field of inspiration. When an audience member walks into the theatre, he brings along with him both his personal aesthetic criteria and expectations. When his standards or expectations are not met, he will get frustrated and question what the dance is all about. Therefore, one's ability to appreciate dance is selective and ties in closely with one's expectations and aesthetic criteria. The act of appreciating is almost like an innate intuition. It is the feeling one senses before one knows how to articulate it verbally.
Aesthetic Judgment Changes With Time
Making aesthetic judgment probably is about rationalizing one's intuitive sense of beauty. How does one acquire such ability? Is it innate or acquired through education and conditioning? Certainly aesthetic judgment changes with time. Art history observably reflects such evolution. While artists carry the responsibility to uncover the various strata of beauty and to broaden our sensibility and perceptual horizon of the world, the support or the disapproval of the influential figures in the high hierarchy also has a significant impact on the evolution of aesthetic. The twentieth century is the age where aesthetic attitude and judgment has changed most drastically. Individualism and rebellious frenzy are the major characteristics of contemporary art. Aesthetic judgment is constantly being questioned and challenged. Everyone strives to be inventive with one's creation. Contemporary art digs into different strata in life, and will not refrain from either controversial issues or the dark and evil aspects of humanity. Beauty and ugliness are no longer black and white.
Problems in Contemporary Art
While the revolutionary frenzy continues to challenge and stretch the boundary of art in the twentieth century, making oneself conspicuous and rebellious somehow has become an unconscious compulsion for many contemporary artists. A controversial topic is explored only because it draws attention. "WHY NOT" is their major argument for self-defense. Not to be outdone, everyone formulates principles to distinguish oneself as avant-garde. Artistic creation turns into a wrestling ground for the most fashionable. Artists base their creations on cleverness rather than aesthetic sensibility. One fashionable idea replaces another at high speed. Fashionable ideas usually get obsolete before their proposed aesthetic principle has had time to mature. What the audience sees is various forms of fashionable ideas rather than the discovery of a new aesthetic.
In general, how does a popular aesthetic attitude come about? In a market-governed society, is there always an intention behind a new standard of beauty? Why has "packaging" taken on such an unprecedented importance in our society today? Seemingly it is a necessity for commercial arts to please and to create fashion. In a competitive world where resources are limited, art works that are beyond the public's comprehension have a hard time surviving. All performing artists realize what a box-office success would do to their future funding and sponsorship. Without resources, it is hard to imagine how a project could ever be realized. There is a need to satisfy the taste and expectations of the funding organizations as well as the public. Yet if we are going to continue to expand our perceptual horizon aesthetically, we need to give artists an opportunity to follow their heart to explore, and to learn from their "trials and errors". Artists like van Gogh were not understood during their time and only appreciated years later. Dance as a performing art is both ephemeral and temporal. It is rare that an audience goes back to see a performance again because of not understanding it the first time. The first impression is the only opportunity to determine whether the work was accepted or not. It is hard for an unknown choreographer to have his work preserved so that people might understand him one day in the future. For a dance artist to fulfil his dream, he needs support, connections, and cooperation from many sectors of the community besides his own talent in the field.
Besides the need for fine artists in the field, what other kinds of support and coordination do we need to allow the art of dance to fully bloom? For instance, what significance could the interest and support from the community bring to the development of dance? How could the community's interest in dance be brought about and furthered so that the public can come to appreciate the aesthetic perception behind a creative endeavor? Who has the responsibility to educate the public dance appreciation? In particular, in the contemporary scene where aesthetic attitude changes drastically, how can the aesthetic gap between the audience and artist be bridged? Another influential issue for the development of art is the allocation of resources. In today's market-driven society, winning the majority is to be powerful and successful. To compete for funding, there is a need for the choreographer to satisfy the expectation and taste of both the masses and the patrons. On the contrary, if a choreographer is not free to experiment, and to learn through "trial and error-, how can there be a real breakthrough in creativity? In time of economic depression and scarcity of resources, how can different voices still find room to survive? In what ways could the allocation of resources be planned to ensure freedom and diversity in art making?
編輯手記 Editor's Note
This article points out how the aesthetic judgement of each person develops differently depending on their history, culture, social context and personal aesthetics. It also raises the question as to whether, in contemporary art, "fashionable ideas usually become obsolete before their proposed aesthetic principle has had time to mature" and discusses the impact of competing for funding on creativity. Twenty years after this article was written, within the current context of the art of dance in Hong Kong, the industry is still discussing endlessly how the ‘market-driven/funding organization-orientation’ dilemma affects the creative process -- whether to ‘play safe’ and repeat the same self in order to meet the funding organization’s expectations or restrict one’s creativity to satisfy the market. As a result, there is no experimental spirit in the way of ‘trial and error’, and artistic creation is left stuck in a rut, following the same old ways and making little or no progress. Administrators and artists have made courageous attempts to resolve these problems, but how can they move forward?
客席編輯Guest Editor: 劉秀群Cathy Lau Sau Kwan ｜ 翻譯Translation：施德安 Cecil Sze