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The Importance of Artistic Courage

It’s very difficult to be an artist in this country. Whatever the medium, the artist’s job is to stand up and reflect humanity in all of its aspects- the most beautiful and the most disgusting parts of the human experience. Art is about the truth, and sometimes the truth isn’t very appealing. Society isn’t always concerned with the truth. We live in a pop-tart, superficial culture where money, looks, and personality dominate. To paraphrase Emerson, democracy descends to the lowest common denominator. This is why we rely on artists and the work they produce to cut through the disingenuous, duplicitous, and shallow parts of our interactions with one another. We need art to reflect back the truth of our shared human experience and challenge us to ponder how we live in this life.
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"Art is about the truth. We need art to reflect back the truth of our shared human experience and challenge us to ponder how we live."

Charlie SandlanExecutive Director, Head of Acting

The recent controversies at the Whitney Biennial regarding the outstanding painting Open Casket by Dana Schutz and The Public’s production of Julius Caesar are important reminders of the significance of artistic courage.
actors work ethic maggie flanigan studio 05The job of the artist is not to be fashionable, or sentimental, or trite. We are not here to make things easy, or to abdicate art’s responsibility for the general good. Schutz received death threats, protests, hostile letters, and a call for her searing and poignant reflection on the murder of Emmet Till to be destroyed. The Public Theater, one of New York City’s most treasured institutions had vital funding pulled, and protesters charging the stage to interrupt their timely and insightful take on Julius Caesar. What moved and inspired me were these artists backbone and integrity, their commitment to stand by their art and it’s message. They created art that challenges us to think more deeply, something our society sorely needs.

At my acting conservatory, the Maggie Flanigan Studio, I train actors, and I always ask my students; what kind of actor and artist do you want to be? What will be your contribution to this art form? A real artist must stand tall and illuminate humanity in all of its aspects. It requires a tremendous amount of courage, grit, and resilience to stand undeterred amidst the response that one’s art engenders.

Free Shakespeare in the Park – Public Theater

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I do not support Delta Airlines and Bank Of America withdrawing their financial commitment to The Public Theater. It says, “We believe in art and your mission as long as you create what we like.” Their decision shows incredible cowardice. Nor do I agree with those demanding that Open Casket be destroyed. But what I do love, what continues to inspire me as a teacher of artists, is the kaleidoscope of support, criticism, outrage, inspiration, and humanity that these provocative works have produced. It’s why we do what we do. And we should never stop.

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