Sunday, May 11, 2008

Stomach aches and contest entries

Oh the resistance I have to the concept of "competitive" art. Whether it is writing, painting, music -- the notion that art wins prizes, and that there is good, better, and best expression rubs my fur backward just a bit. I acknowledge that certain accomplishment is genuine, and should be rewarded. But what if three wonderful novels are entered into competition, and they are all quite different? How is one the "best" of the three? And even more complex, what about the politics of the competition? Once I walked off of a journalism judging committee because first-, second- and third-place votes were all given the same weight, and since we each voted for a different first-place work but we all voted for the same third-place work, that author won the grand prize! It was absurd, and the institutionalization of mediocrity. I complained to the head of the awards committee, who shrugged and said it wasn't worth her time to weight the votes and try again. So several excellent journalists who had earned our various first-place votes walked away thinking they didn't make the cut, and one obvious third-placer is out there now putting "Grand prize winner" on his c.v.

So why after all that kvetching did I choose to enter the Arts Club of Washington's first-ever playwriting competition this year? First because I admire the organization. Founded in 1916, it is the oldest arts club in a city that desperately needs more focus on the arts in general. It has been tireless over the years in promoting opera, cultural programs, photography, and overall cultural literacy. Washington is a city of vast artistic treasures, yet not nearly enough practicing artists of national or international acclaim. There is room for many, many more, and in a city this financially flush there should be generous funding available as well.

I've heard some fanciful souls refer to Washington as "Paris on the Potomac," and it can sometimes resemble that city in its L'Enfant design if you stand in just the right spot, sip enough vin rouge, and squint. The Arts Club of Washington is doing what it can to make that hazy half-vision a full-fledged reality, so I wrote a play just for them, and submitted it, and prayed...

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