On artistic freedom
Contrived novelty and experimentation is a treacherous path. But let the geniuses create, us couch critics will always be on hand to rain on any misguided parade.
A follower of Expoflamenco wrote me recently asking what I thought about the idea that flamenco performers must be given absolute freedom to express their creativity and personality.
If I’m not mistaken, the subtext of that query contains barely concealed anger, or at least dissatisfaction. The grumbling of a disgruntled flamenco follower who wants the status quo of a certain era to be the gold standard upon which all else is based. And that’s not a bad thing. You saw or heard something. You were enthralled. You want more of whatever touched you and opened your mind to beauty and intensity.
Of course there are no actual rules that keep any interpreter from doing anything, so interpreters always enjoy absolute freedom, and are fully responsible for their own experimentation. The power of the word “must” marries poorly with artistic endeavors in general. Artists of all specialties have little use for rules other than their own, which are the only rules that have meaning and allow individuals to be faithful and true to their emotions. But that freedom comes with a price. The artist who dares to challenge the status quo, is continually facing the possibility of sudden (professional) death when something that seemed wonderful in the studio, falls flat in performance with an audience.
Younger interpreters roll their eyes when the topic of flamenco evolution is broached. And God forbid anyone dares speak the unspeakable word “pure”. Conversely, older flamenco fans may be repelled by some liberties taken by popular newcomers. What flamenco form is it when Israel Galván pushes over a stack of chairs? You bought and studied that online course to learn how to distinguish the forms, but nothing was said about the role of furniture in flamenco. Oh, sorry, one mustn’t be so literal. Or so acerbic. What about Rocío Molina’s improvised G-string made of a small bag of chips? Both Israel and Rocío are among the best, universally admired artists, and rightly so. Although deep down inside, admit it, many of us are thinking how great it would be if they would just dance conventional flamenco once in a while.
Wait…rules? What rules? Whose? What if a certified genius comes along and decides the 12-count rhythm structure is too limiting. Well, stranger things have been done in the name of artistic freedom, but not all strange things are successful. Which actually brings us to the focus of this article. Artists create and experiment, but successful results are more likely to materialize when the interpreter is rigorously honest, and explores the possibilities with respect and humility. Mario Escudero once said to me “never fall in love with your own work”. At the time, I was too young to understand what that meant, but I came to appreciate that bit of wisdom. Contrived novelty and experimentation is a treacherous path. But let the geniuses create, us couch critics will always be on hand to rain on any misguided parade.
What would flamenco be today without Paco’s harmonies and Camaron’s canastero delivery or Morente’s unique approach. The bottom line is believe in what you do, and present it honestly, but always be ready to allow room for change. (And that in itself is a rule.)
Top image: Israel Galván. Photo_ Estela Zatania