The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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 him that Marc is merely moody, Serge says that he does not blame Marc for not responding to his painting because he lacks training and has not gone through the necessary apprenticeship. What angers him is Marc’s insensitivity and condescension, “contempt with a really bitter edge.”...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

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...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

The events of Art take place alternately in the apartments of Marc, Yvan, and Serge. The stage directions...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

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 entire section is 437 words.)


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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.