on specificities (and not generalities)

Last year, in my Christian Imagination class, we were introduced to this quote: “Generality is the enemy of art.” And I believe that this phrase could be aptly used to introduce this reflection.

For I-don’t-know-how-long, I’ve thought that I was normal, or ordinary. For reasons that I could probably uncover with a little psychoanalyzing, I’ve assumed over and over that if there is some truth to the world, it is paralleled in my life in little ways. It’s hard to explain, but basically I’ve lived as though my life is just an ordinary repetition of life’s general qualities.

However, with what I’ve learned and reflected upon, to think this way is just wrong.

I believe that the creation of artwork is a beautiful metaphor for each human life. In a way, each human expresses themselves in ways that reflect how an artist crafts a masterpiece rooted in their thoughts and dreams and convictions, experiences, afflictions, which colours they like and don’t, the movements they prefer, the way they feel the charcoal ought to appear on the page.

As a Christian I believe that each human is said to be made in the very image of their Creator God. Yet, I’d like to now observe, we are not made in a “general” image of this God. Instead, each human is limited and precious, with individualized intricacies and talents and interests and gifts. Somehow, even though we are made in the image of one God, we are each specifically made and put in place. Perhaps kind of like a mosaic where each person only gets a portion of the whole’s qualities, but if we are our selves, we come together with others to together express the whole. As such, healthy human beings can spend their life cultivating and presenting and expressing this self that they are – and not seeking after a standard of “general” which they feel is acceptable. Indeed, if we think that we are supposed to be “general” people, or “general” Christians – liking what God would like, loving who God who love, being who God would be – we’d become machines, producers, and zombies, essentially.

So, in a roundabout way, I’d like to confess to being somewhat of a zombie. I’ve tried to be general for a long time, but I’d like to be more specific. I don’t think that my life is meaningful when I try to be general all the time – the “artwork” that I’m creating won’t convey much. Rather, if I think about this “artwork” as specifics which point to a belonging within a “general,” I might just be on to something.

To conclude, some words on theatre, which is one of my favourite mediums, here:

At its peril does a play begin with ideas, abstractions, themes, intellection. It is for the audience to take from the play the impressions and images from which to construct its concepts: by this act of apparent discernment it enjoys the excitement of apparent discovery. A play is poetry, something made; it is drama, something done; and theatre, something perceived. Schopenhauer argued that a work of art must be perceptual before it could carry allegorical or any other value, and to be perceived the work must be particular. ‘God preserve us from generalizations,’ was the watchword of Chekov the writer. Do nothing in general, for ‘generality is the enemy of art,’ argued Stanislavsky the actor. And Peter Brook, the most visionary directory of our time, has concluded that ‘through the concrete we recognize the abstract.’ The refrain persists among all who practise the art of theatre, and here is a sound guidelines for its students.

Drama, Stage and Audience, by J.L. Styan (1975)


photo © Pacific Theatre‘s production of Espresso (which I saw a couple of weeks ago and adored)



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