If there is a decline in the Arts, when did it begin? As I have said, to propose a decline implies some prior period when the arts were at a higher level of quality. However, a decline in the quality of each category occurs at different periods of time, for the simple reason that some arts emerged long before, or after, others.
For example, the art of film-making only emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, whereas Theatre was popular since BC, in Greece and Rome, followed by 17th century England and France.
Indeed, of all the arts, theatre is the most difficult to access in terms of a decline because it has largely been associated with the celebration or re-enactment of collective peasant lifestyles, and social dramas involving the interaction of classes, or individuals. This tradition has made Theatre, for many, the traditional art form to adopt and continue without much significant changes to the method of presentation of its ‘story’ as content; so that as an art form it either stagnates, or simply changes its historical time reference.
THEATER IN THE ANGLO-CARIBBEAN, AND GUYANA
In Anglo-Caribbean territories, theatre up to now has largely been a way of acting out the ‘revival’ of various ethnic cultural values submerged beneath European colonialism, or, simple class conscious tragedies and comedies. In late 1950s British Guiana and 1960s Independent Guyana however, theatrical productions at Georgetown’s Theatre Guild by the late Jan Carew and Slade Hopkinson (among others), also the brilliant Guyanese stage production called ‘Brinktop’, indicated the beginning of a vibrant contemporary theatrical direction led by dynamic and intelligent Guyanese cast members, such as Beryl Pereira, Joan Dummett, Raschid Osman, Ron Robinson, Clairmont Taitt, Helen Taitt, Vic Insanally, and the late Godfrey Chin, who delivered contemporary, or modern theatre in a Guyanese context, that remains unequal in quality to date. This decline nevertheless, should not be seen as inseparable from the Guyanese social and political disturbances of the period, its effect on immigration, and the resultant lessening of intellectual pursuits and influences ushered in also by the closing of outstanding book stores, libraries attached to Embassies and their cultural centers, and especially the end of public cinemas, all of which has affected the progressive artistic knowledge and potential of later post 1960s Guyanese generations.
Left on their own, without consistent guidance offered by PUBLIC offerings of outstanding literature and film-culture, past and present, via bookstores, libraries, and especially the nine top quality cinemas which served Georgetown alone (apart from dozens along the coast), no one can expect such emerging generations to match the quality of past generations who were exposed to a huge public everyday celebration of the Arts.
NEW VERSUS OLD THEATRE
In contrast to imitations of its traditional methods and sentiment, theatre changed towards an exciting and visually effective avant-garde style and content via late 19th and 20th century plays written by Oscar Wilde (English), Luigi Pirandello (Italian), Eugene Eunesco (Romanian), Bertolt Brecht (German), Samuel Beckett (Irish), Harold Pinter and John Osborne (English), Eugene O’Neil, Arthur Miller,Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and David Mamet (Americans), Leroi Jones (Afro-American). By the late 1950s and 60s, television sit-coms, dramas, and comedies, would increasingly absorb as ‘entertainment’ much of traditional theatre’s methods under the film-camera’s eye, and the genre would survive seriously only as isolated productions of avant-garde playwriting and staged dramas representing an estimation of progressive ‘quality’ in theatrical art.
ORIGIN OF CREATIVE WRITING
On the other hand, when it comes to the writing of poetry and creative prose fiction, which goes back to BC in ancient Greece and Rome, quality existed as a fresh exploration of language written down (not simply spoken) as an ungoverned and undirected possibility; since it is the individual creative writer alone who invented and determined what creative literature is, and can be, via imaginative poetry and prose. The excitement of knowledge and learning via language and literacy, was spread mainly by the discovery and translation of texts written by other writers, in other nations and cultures such as Greece and Rome, who first explored the new invention of what came to be known as ‘short stories’ and ‘novels’, in particular.
THE PROCESS OF DECLINE
During centuries of the spread of creative literature from ancient Greece and Rome to other parts of continental Europe, and the islands of England, Ireland, and Scotland, the concept of a ‘decline’ obviously did not exist, since the art of creative literature was in the accumulative process of ‘development’. The evidence of a decline in quality only began to emerge with the intrusion of ‘critical’ and organizational imitative institutional teaching, along with their publications, which dissected into various categories the previous eclectic and gregarious creative and original freedom of ‘writing’. Restrictive and domineering notions therefore began to impose definitions of what constitutes a ‘short story’, a ‘novel’, or even ‘poetry; and what Roland Barthes called “a mass banalization of language” began to be propagated with repetitive ‘rules’, which in turn decided whether examples of creative writing were ‘amateur’ or ‘professional’, based on whether they adhered to an ‘institutional’ definition of literature, or continued to maintain the ungoverned and undirected freedom of both literary style and content.
by Terence Roberts