Gus Cuddy | Essays:

Don't make art in terms of 'taking risks'

07 November 2018

“You don’t come back from seeing Beyoncé saying, ‘I was kind of bored’. She always delivers. Theatre loves to talk about its ‘right to fail’ and I sometimes think that can be used as an excuse for lack of rigour.”

Robert Icke

Many people fetishize risk. Take chances! Take big risks! We’re addicted to theatre and art that feels “risky”.

Artists should, of course, take risks. But risk for risk’s sake – or, risks that are not properly thought through – makes for boring art.

The best art, in all forms, take breathtaking risks. But to its creator, it is not a consciously derived risk. It is simply the way it had to be; it is personal expression, perhaps mixed with some bravado.

Beyonce is a perfect example of this. Her Coachella concert, for instance, was a stunning live show that reached deep into the unconscious with incredible force and clarity. There were “risks”, but they were all completely bulletproof, completely thought through, completely her.

Great art does not simply “take risks” as if it’s something you just decide to do to fulfill a quota. Instead, it makes bold choices with confidence and clarity.

Clarity doesn’t mean that everything needs to be explained – that would mean every David Lynch film would fall under the category of “pointless risk”. Instead, clarity can be equated with a certain sense of rigor and confidence.

Lynch is just making art the only way he knows how, personal and weird and disturbing. He creates from the unconscious. But he is actually creating with immense clarity from the unconscious – his decisions are rigorous – which is why his films are so effective.

Thus, great art that “takes risks”, is actually accessing the unconscious regularly, and with great clarity.

We could even phrase it as a pithy formula, like: Great Art = Unconscious + Clarity.

If I consciously decide “I’m going to make risky art”, I will be working from the conscious, and it will be patchwork.

The art you can make is the art only you can make. It’s always you. Make bold art from the unconscious, and strive for clarity and rigor. The rest is kind of BS.