Theatre Design & Technology - Feb 1971 - 29

tion. For him, a major approach was to distort the reality represented in the production
by making the familiar seem unfamiliar.
A representation that alienates is one which
allows us to recognize its subject. but at the
same time makes it seem unfamiliar.1S

Throughout his critical thought are scattered
production suggestions which will promote
objectivity: actors wearing human or animal
masks, acting which is free of "parsonical
sing-song and from all those cadences which
Iull the spectator so that the sense gets
lost," 16 rehearsal techniques in which
actors swap roles or parts are played by the
opposite sex, episodes in the plot "knotted
together in such a way that the knots are
easily noticed" so as to "give us a chance
to interpose our judgment,"17 inserting projected subtitles, and the like. In short, for
Brecht, "If art reflects life it does so with
special mirrors."1a

2. "Aesthetic distance" as a feeling of
awe. Dolman, in his discussion of aesthetic
distance in the theatre, refers to a necessary
"psychological barrier between actor and
audience that is the basis of modern theatrical convention. "19 This "psychological
barrier" seems to be resolvable into physical barriers such as the proscenium arch
and a raised stage, and social barriers
such as avoidance by actors of dropping out
of character between speeches, no direct
communication between actors-as-actors and
the audience, and so forth-all characteristics of the so-called theatrical reforms of
David Garrick when he banished audience
members from their customary places on
the stage. The creation of greater physical
distance between the audience and the action, and the abolition of social contact between performer and audience during the
performance are key elements for Dolman in
"aesthetic distance," the characteristic
"illusion" essential to the theatrical experience.
Similarly, sociologist Erving Goffman
points to situations in everyday life where
the maintenance of social distance sustains
illusions necessary for certain social roles
and creates awe.
It is a widely held notion that restrictions
placed upon contact. the maintenance of social distance. provide a way in which awe can
be generated and sustained in the audience-a way. as Kenneth Burke has said. in which
the audience can be held in a state of mystification in regard to the performer. 20 .

This "mystification" or awe defines "aesthetic distance" in a way quite at variance
with other meanings.
A further implication of this definition of
"aesthetic distance" is a relationship with
I iteral, physical distance. Even in Bullough
there are references to "spatial distance"
and "temporal remoteness" as facilitators
of "aesthetic distance," and it is precisely
such features that, for Goffman, facilitate
social distance and the resulting awe that
every society has for its kings, presidents,
film stars, famous actors, and the like. By


this definition-and only by this one-does
there seem to be a direct relationship between physical distance and "aesthetic distance": the closer we are to the action, the
less illusion and awe we are likely to experience; the farther away we are from the
action, the more of these things we are
likely to experience.
3. "Aesthetic distance" as a feeling of
safety from practical consequences. In this
third and final meaning, the metaphorical
use of distance is that between a work
of art, such as the performance of a play,
and, in Bullough's words, "the context of
our personal needs and ends."21 This
meaning is perhaps one of the oldest and
most-often associated with aesthetic experience: enjoyment which depends in no way
upon the practical uses we usually have for
things or the practical consequences of our
awareness of things. This notion is embedded in the distinction between the
"fine" arts and the "useful" arts, and between "play" and "work," where art is
aligned with the playful activities of mankind. There is even a stronger implication
here, like a corollary: that indeed one cannot have an artistic experience characterized
by "aesthetic distance" if one is at all affected by the usual, practical personal concerns. The following example by Langfeld
is characteristic:
Let it be supposed that an individual is on
a ship during a storm. and there is serious
danger of shipwreck. It is Quite possible that
even in such a situation a man of artistic tem-

perment would admire the movement of the
waves. and the dash of the spray. entirely oblivious of danger. and with no concern as to
what the high seas may ultimately do to the
ship. . . . Suddenly, however. a wave larger
than any previous one approaches and the artist's muscles set in preparation to meet the
blow. Dr. Bullough would say that ... at that
instant he has entirely lost his distance. that
is. his aesthetic attitude. 22

This feeling of detachment from practical
consequences has a long history. Over the
centuries, one can discern two major forces
at work in attempts to describe the communication relationship between a work of
art and its audience. The primary force has
been the insistence upon designating as a
"work of art" that object, and that object
alone, to which the perceiver can relate
only as an observer. This approach assigns
a relatively or completely powerless role to
human perceivers of "art," implying no exchange of energy, no involvement in an interaction, no participation in the making of
the art object. The concept of the "frame"
-literal in painting and metaphorical with
respect to other art objects-is here the
fundamental feature which marks off "system" from" environment," and underscores
the difference between the role of perceiver-our traditional role toward the art
object-and the role of interactant which
is our more customary role in most other
aspects of our social existence. By this conception, the art object is a closed system
and we are outside of it, whereas the rest
of our social reality is an unfolding of num-


erous open systems into which we are
firmly set again and again.
In the static arts, it is easy to maintain
the posture of "observer outside the closed
system." Traditional paintings, sculptures,
buildings, and motion pictures seem aloof
and impervious, not to the ravages of time,
but at least to our perception of them. Live,
process arts, however, such as musical and
theatrical performance have always involved
minor exchanges of energy between the
performers and the audience. It has become
commonplace for actors and performing musicians to observe, and perhaps to revel in,
the presence of the "I ive" audience as a
spur to moments of high attainment in the
performance. Indeed, these enjoyments are
often so great that it becomes easy to forget the heavily programmed nature of the
usual performing art-the notes of music,
the lines of dialogue, and the patterns of
action that flow quietly but inexorably toward their predetermined ends. In short,
performing arts engaged in with live audiences are rarely ever totally closed systems.
They might better be thought of as partially
open systems where audience response and
performer adjustment to it provide a minimal
kind of interchange without throwing the
system wide open. The role of "audience,"
then, contrasts starkly with the role of
"participant" or "i nteractant." This latter
role is the one to which we are consigned
in the confrontations with others that fill
most of our daily lives and in which the resultant product-the shape of the conversation, interview, or the group discussion and
its outcome- is just as much up to us as it
is to the other person.
This third meaning of aesthetic distance,
then, refers, not to the luxury of affecting
slightly the ongoing art, but to the ultimate
luxury of remaining free from the concerns
and responsibil ities of participation ina
fully open system. It is in this sense, more
than any other, that for many there is a
heavy stake in keeping the system no more
open than it already is, i.e., in retaining
"aesthetic distance." Metaphorically, as
audience, we must remain sufficiently "far"
from the source of power-the performance
-to be affected by it and to affect it
slightly without having the usual responsibilities for the outcome of the product.
The opposing force has always been a
desire to make arts into fully open systems.
A minor indication of this can be seen in
schools of thought that have tended to
shift emphasis from the overtly passive behavior of a perceiver of art to the covert
activity involved in his perception. Then, to
think of the artistic experience as in our
own minds seems to give us the same
power to share in the making of the artistic
product as we have when we interact and
share in the making of social events in
everyday life. On the present day scene,
we can see other manifestations of this
opposing thrust at every hand. Aleatory
music gives the performer an open system



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