The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The setting of this one-act play is the main room of a Paris apartment, which serves variously as the residence of Serge, Yvan, and Marc. The focus is on a painting, a plain canvas covered with white paint. As the play opens, Marc explains that Serge has just bought the painting for 200,000 francs (about $30,000). He thinks Serge is a fool, but Serge explains that the painter, Antrios, is well known and that Marc is ignorant about contemporary art. Moreover, Serge is hurt by Marc’s vile and pretentious laugh.
Upset by Serge’s reaction to his comments, Marc visits Yvan, who is astounded by the news of Serge’s purchase but says it is alright if it makes him happy. Marc complains that Serge now thinks of himself as a great connoisseur and questions the conciliatory Yvan’s view of the situation: “What sort of a philosophy is that, if it makes him happy?” Yvan points out that the painting is doing no harm to anyone, but Marc insists that it disturbs him because he does not like to see Serge “ripped off.” He adds that Serge has become so humorless that when he laughed at Serge’s painting, Serge did not laugh too.
When Yvan visits Serge, he admires the painting and calls the price reasonable. They laugh together, and Serge admits the purchase was “crazy.” However, Yvan is evasive, not admitting that he has spoken with Marc. Serge reveals that Marc was sardonic and cold in his evaluation of the painting. When Yvan tries to assure...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Reza’s stage directions consist of five sentences, including these: “A single set. As stripped-down and neutral as possible. Nothing changes, except for the painting on the wall.” Much of the play takes place at Serge’s, where the audience sees the Antrios canvas. The painting at Marc’s apartment is a traditional landscape of Carcassonne, France. Yvan also has a painting, which Serge dismisses as “a daub” before remembering it was done by Yvan’s father.
Minimalism is the term for art characterized by the use of primary forms or structures. One famous minimalist, Robert Ryman, who was the inspiration for “Antrios,” wrote, “White enables other things to become visible.” By using a minimalist setting, Reza ensures that all attention remains on the characters and the painting. A production designer needs to worry about only the lighting, and in many performances the lighting is simple and the set is white, like the painting. As a result, the play stands or falls by the wit and angst of its performance. Since it is a “talky” drama with nearly no props (on a couple of occasions the men eat nuts or olives), the setting is not “also a character,” as most dramatists envision it.
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A central debate between the characters in Art is the question of the value of modern art versus the value of what in the play is referred to as ‘‘classical’’ art. Reza makes very general usage of these terms in order to create a strong and clear point of contention between Serge and Marc. However, the characters’ debate about the relative merits of ‘‘classical’’ versus ‘‘modern’’ art may more specifically be characterized as a debate between the merits of representational versus abstract art.
Reza uses the term ‘‘classical’’ art to describe Marc’s general preference for art that was created before the development of modern art in the midnineteenth century. Another way to categorize Marc’s artistic taste would be to say that he prefers art that is representational to art that is abstract. Representational art refers to a work that is intended to represent persons, places, or things recognizable from the real world, such as a portrait, landscape, or still life.
For example, in Art, Marc’s landscape painting and Yvan’s painting of a motel are both works of representational art.
Much representational art may also be categorized as realist, or naturalist. Realism, or naturalism, is characterized by representational art that aims to closely reproduce images of persons, places, or things, clearly resembling that which may be seen in the world...
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The events of Art take place alternately in the apartments of Marc, Yvan, and Serge. The stage directions indicate that the same set be used for each man’s apartment, with the only difference being that each has a different painting hanging in his living room. Reza uses this setting to highlight the ways in which the painting in each character’s apartment reveals key elements of his personality that differ from those of his friends.
The exact geographic location of Art’s setting is not indicated directly, but various details suggest that it takes place in Paris, France. One such detail is Serge’s mention of having recently visited the Pompidou, which is a popular national art gallery and cultural center in Paris. However, the national identity of the characters and the geographic location in which it is set are not especially significant to the theme and content of Art, which characterizes events that could take place in any modern Western urban setting.
At one point in Art, after Marc has physically attacked Serge, accidentally hurting Yvan in the process, the three men sit around eating from a bowl of olives. As far back as ancient mythology, the olive branch has long been a symbol of peace. Symbolically, then, the action of the three friends eating olives represents a moment of truce in their interpersonal conflicts. This is an important moment in the dramatic...
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Topics for Further Study
With a group of other students, pick an interesting or important scene or segment from Art to perform in front of the class. How does the process of performing the scene and speaking the lines out loud help you to better understand the individual characters and their relationships to one another? What insights or ideas about the play have you gained from this process?
Pick an artist who is known for abstract painting or sculpture. Learn more about this artist, including major characteristics of the artist’s work, best-known paintings, and how this work has influenced other artists. Some abstract artists you might want to choose are Jackson Pollack, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, or Helen Frankenthailer.
Art examines the different responses of three different people to the same work of art. At the library, find a book with reproductions of abstract paintings and pick out one that you find particularly interesting. Write down your own reactions to the painting: How do you describe in words what it looks like? What other images does it remind you of? What associations or emotional responses does it suggest? After you have written down your own response, interview five different people about their reactions to this abstract painting, taking careful notes on each person’s response. Then, write an essay discussing the different responses you found to the same painting.
Write your own original scene of dramatic dialogue...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Blume, Mary. “Yasmina Reza and the Anatomy of a Play.” International Herald Tribune, March 28, 1998.
Carroll, Noël. “Art and Friendship.” Philosophy and Literature 26, no. 1 (2002): 199-206.
Danto, Arthur C. “Art, from France to the U.S.” Nation 266, no. 23 (June 29, 1998): 28-31.
Schneider, Robert. “Yasmina Reza in a Major Key.” American Theatre 15, no. 9 (November, 1998): 12-15.
Stokes, John. “Art.” Times Literary Supplement, November 1, 1996, p. 19.
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