Let’s Chat: Interview with Matthew Douglas Carpenter

By Liz Baughman, Staff Writer

March 15, 2019

“This column explores the relationship between students at The Theatre School at DePaul (TTS) and the rest of DePaul University’s community. Liz Baughman, staff writer, alternates interviews between TTS and Non-TTS Students to explore how people interact with art.”  

I have loved creativity, theatre, museums, music, and everything else called “art” my entire life. I am in my third-year studying political science at DePaul University despite my enthusiasm for art.When I entered political science my peers were interested in investigating the city of Chicago and the artistic expressions here. As classes got harder and my peers advanced through their degrees the arts became less of a priority. I noticed that my opinions about expression and art more closely matched those of the artists I know than students I met in my classes. This revelation led to a question, and eventually, these interviews. In conversations with students of art throughout my time in college, I find their fearless criticism of the art they interact with intimidating. I hesitate to contribute my own meager opinions in response.

I am introducing this column by interviewing a playwright, Matthew Douglas Carpenter, to overcome my nerves around talking about theatre to theatre students. Carpenter is in his third year studying Playwriting at TTS with a minor in Philosophy. This interview was fascinating to conduct. Many of Matthew Carpenter’s responses were opposed to my expectations. TTS students interpret art through their education in critical analysis. This column hopes to uncover to what extent that dialogue is actually accessible to students of other disciplines.

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Liz Baughman: Is there anything you would like to say to provide context to readers?

Matthew Carpenter: I’m from Dubuque Iowa, I have a solid middle class background, parents worked a lot, I’ve worked a lot, I’ve been in the theatre since I was thirteen. My family has been involved in theater for a decently long time. I’m in the middle of five kids.

LB: What was the last piece of art you saw, whether performative or non-performative?

MC: The last piece of performative art was Water by the Spoonful I wanna say. It’s a play. This is assuming we’re not counting things from class. Non-performative is a difficult question, I took another trip to the Art Institute over winter break I believe. I think the last thing we saw was the architecture section. I have been seeing a lot of propaganda because I am in a Soviet History class. They were state artists for the Soviet Union. We looked at what they created to create a religious identification of the state with Stalin.

LB: How would you personally define art?

MC: The biggest struggle with that is that I’m very unsure if art is something that can be made for its own sake or if art can be something to be made to fulfill a function. Art is to me…art has a very basic definition where I would have to go with something framed by an individual to be viewed. With the caveat of, that it has to be done toward the end of the process of revealing truth for the viewer: some kind of something. When you go to see a play or something that doesn’t exactly, like it kind of lies, I know that a lot of people explain plays as lies trying to reveal truth. Oftentimes you will see lies layered on top of more lies, that’s counterproductive to the point. You could subvert that and make a piece of art that reveals that art is meant to reveal truth: which in itself would be a kind of truth.This is why it’s important as an artist to understand what you are doing, because the intention makes the art genuine. Art is a process of medium and medium itself is a kind of rhetoric because it’s a communication between individuals, bringing truth to the fore, from one person’s perspective to another is a form of rhetoric. That makes me think of early Greek writings, where art was used to transfer ideas and that mode of communication.

LB: On a scale of 1-12, 1 being the lowest, how would you rank the importance of art in your life personally?

MC: That’s interesting because art is religious in a way, it’s affirming the human perspective in a way, it’s taking how we look upon the world as observers and forming it more towards the way the idea actually sits. The problem is that you can live without art; life is just incredibly unproductive without it. There’s no form of self- reflection without art. You have to be able to review your position as a Being. I want to say either 5 or 7; the egotist in me wants to say 5 because I like to think that I’ve reviewed the world and my life and all these things a lot and so me partaking in art would be unnecessary… but I’m probably a 6. I should just say 6.

LB: Do you think that your program encourages criticism of art?

MC: For those within TTS, certainly. I’m taking a Dramatic Criticism course right now. That makes [art] more valuable in a productive way. When you first interact with art, it’s very much emotionally based. It’s almost a revelation moment. Later in life as you study and study and study more you still might be using it to manipulate emotional stasis, but it’s always from a disconnected point of view. You become a third party observer. I think that makes it so that I value art more, but it makes it harder to find the valuable aspects, more rare, but much more potent.

LB: Do you think art is meaningful to students in their educations generally?

MC: I think that if you are getting an education to fulfill a function in a business that you know it exists and you know what they need to fill that function. Studying art makes it so that you can be much more innovative; you’re not trying to be the most efficient one in the room. Any one who works on their own should study art. It’s a matter of reflection and critique. You develop a multifaceted manner of being an observer in a way that I think is highly valuable, if the end is not so clear you can discover it. In summary, yes.

LB: Do you find differences in the tone of conversations about art of those within and without TTS?

MC: Yeah, definitely. For one thing we have a developed vocabulary. It’s an amount of familiarity with one another. TTS people have to make an effort to have genuine responses at times. We have to make an effort to make them uncommon. As to people outside of TTS, I love hearing their opinions, because we don’t make art for other artists. We want to create dialogue with people outside of the sphere of starving artists. Knowing what people think is incredibly valuable and often incredible different than what we were trying to do.

LB: Does being a playwright make theatre more difficult to enjoy?

MC: Yeah. Yes. Entirely. I don’t even know where to begin. I remember being a kid and having a genuine emotional response, and- anything that was trying to explain what it is to be a human being- it was so novel. I was amazed. I realized that there was a way to entertain in an un-shallow way. It’s really difficult to find those moments now though. I know all the tricks, I know when people are only engaging ideas to sell tickets. Not because they have anything to say. I’ll probably be guilty of that someday and I’ll be absolutely furious the moment I realize it. When a lot of people love a piece and it’s really hard to love that piece because you notice all those little moments that fall short. It feel like once you’re in the profession you can enjoy people’s successes, but you have to strive for the best. Always.

LB: Do you think art is meant to be enjoyed?(Yes/No)

MC: No.

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This interview was fascinating to conduct, because so many of his responses were opposed to my expectations. He did not see the same differences between art students and others, didn’t find himself superior in understanding, and even felt it more difficult to enjoy his craft as an audience member. Perhaps the difference in dialogue between art students and the rest of the student body around art is vocabulary, and consistent exposure.

In the next interview in this column, I will interview Neil Sengupta, a sophomore studying political science. I hope to see  the conversation develop without concrete classroom interaction with art.

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