Artifice Can Be Art’s Ally as Well as Its Enemy
The artificiality that purists deplore may lead to entirely new kinds of art. If Ms. Spears isn’t singing much in her show, that liberates her to cavort about lasciviously and to interact efficiently with all that fancy lighting and stage machinery. What was music (folkies in plaid shirts strumming on acoustic guitars) can now be an extravaganza, the glitzier the better. Less is more has become more is more.
Those who prefer folk or blues singers find the operatic voice itself, even unamplified, to be highly unnatural. Operatic technique takes a natural voice and transforms it into something ornate and, to nonopera lovers (or opera nonlovers), weird. Some people are now so used to electronic coloration and amplification that they find that natural, or at least beautiful. John Adams’s inflections of acoustic orchestral instruments with electronic coloration and synthesized sound are a good example.
[...] Perhaps the real issue is deception. If a baseball slugger has taken steroids, why not at least say so? Everyone else does it, some players have claimed, and not everyone who takes steroids hits 73 home runs. If Ms. Spears lip-syncs, why not laughingly concede it and move on? At least the New York City Opera has been upfront about its doctoring of the State Theater acoustics.
But maybe, for all our moral posturing, we like a little mystery in our art, or even our sports. If everything were clear and aboveboard, what room would there be for skulking secrets, for the veiled obscurities of art? I have nothing against unamplified voices or pop singers who sing out tirelessly or unmodified athletic bodies. I just think there may be room for artistic deception, as well: artifice as well as austerity.
C.f., Janet Jackson, Almost Live!