The notion of “tolerance” presents a unique set of challenges when taken up by the artistic community. To begin with, the definition of the word itself becomes an obstacle to interpretation. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, tolerance is defined first as “the capacity to endure pain or hardship,” and second as “a sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.” While some people may feel comfortable with merely being tolerated, tolerance does not usually carry positive connotations. If anything, tolerance is a settle or a compromise. This term brings with it the feeling that something is being allowed that perhaps should not be under normal social circumstances. The definition even goes so far as to call it an “indulgence.” This type of language may leave the persons being “tolerated” feeling inferior to whomever has decided to “tolerate” them. During the creative process of Counter-Composed, our initial discussions focused on these matters, making something clear: whether or not promoting tolerance should be the artist’s goal is a difficult decision.
If promoting an idea via artistic means exposes certain attitudes within a given audience, and if those artistic means leave the audience with a more sympathetic view of that idea than they had when they entered the artistic space, then it can be said that the artist has found success in promoting her idea. Artists speak in a more universal language – one that goes past words and speeches and uses the language of the body – and this language often serves to communicate on a deeper level. It can be argued that it resonates on an even more “human” level. This language has the capacity to be used to successfully promote ways of thinking. When an artist uses her command of such a language, she can elicit empathy concerning a certain people, group or idea. In this way, the artist can skillfully encourage tolerance, if not acceptance.
Will such tolerance last, though? The artistic production risks inciting a passion that fades all too quickly. People are often swept away too easily by a performance. If an artist succeeds at creating a compelling piece but fails to impact the way her audience thinks, then what merit does the performance have? Therefore, creating art that compels an audience to question a way of thinking, without forcing ideas upon them by didactic means, is a challenge to those trying to create art that promotes “tolerance.”
When promoting tolerance, one question that must be addressed is how much should be tolerated. When discussing what this edition of The Involved Stage hoped to achieve, the issue of drawing boundaries within toleration was approached. While there do seem to be boundaries to what is to be tolerated, those boundaries are often unclear. What should we tolerate? And more importantly, what right does the artist have to say what is to be tolerated?
So, while skilled artists stand a chance at fostering tolerance as to instill sympathy towards ideas or social groups, promoting tolerance without forcing it may become a hard task. As we have also discovered at The Involved Stage, there is an inherent challenge in promoting “tolerance” itself – perhaps a word that carries a different feeling would be better