difference and change

Melbourne-based choreographer-director Bagryana Popova and I joke that we only ever make one work (for the record, mine is about death and memory, hers is about power and solitude). The joke does bite a bit though, and reminds me of just how difficult it is to: 1) confront difference, and 2) actually change. Here’s W.H. Auden in The Age of Anxiety[1] as a reminder that this is not a new problem:

It’s about change, and a confrontation with change.
We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

How can artists create the conditions by which difference and change are even vaguely possible? We tend to use the word influence as part of a process of shaping that goes on in our development as artists. Influence has a softness about it – as if we are occasionally caressed by another – rather than the crack of change.

Why might I want change?

In part I think it’s about boredom with recycling the same ideas (be they mine or an other’s). The confrontation with difference that might elicit change is stirring and difficult, and it forces me to recognise things about myself and others that I don’t like, or that don’t register within the safety of personal identity.

These things sound like ideal situations for making something a little less recognisable (even if only to one’s self).

Addition 10 April 2013:

“Everyone was trying to give up European aesthetics,” he recalled, meaning Picasso, the Surrealists and Matisse. “That was the struggle, and it was reflected in the fear of collectors and critics. John Cage said that fear in life is the fear of change. If I may add to that: nothing can avoid changing. It’s the only thing you can count on. Because life doesn’t have any other possibility, everyone can be measured by his adaptability to change.”

— Robert Rauschenberg from his NY Times obituary


  1. Auden, W. H. 2011. The Age of Anxiety. Princeton University Press.
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2 Replies to “difference and change”

  1. Does your audience want change? Is it their business at all? Do their wants influence your reluctance or desire to change? Are the wants and expectations different in different art forms? (Do I want my favourite author to change the way she writes?) What is the value of change? (Never mind me. Just lazily poking a brain cell.)

  2. Hi Tuuli
    Thanks for your comment.
    I don’t really think of “my” audience. The idea of an audience having some kind of tangible singularity makes me a little worried. But, I do like your question! It makes me think of a band like Radiohead which has kept challenging itself to find new sounds, new modes of production, etc. And, for the most part, their audience(s) have gone with them for the ride. I guess, in this post, I was trying to express the paradox of aspiring to change whilst acknowledging the limitations of my capacity to actually change.
    Simon

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