The men descended into the pits –the coal mines– at age eleven. They never finished school, and rarely saw the light of day. Still, when they had the opportunity, they attended evening classes run by the Workers Educational Association. Eventually they chose the subject “Art Appreciation.” Their instructor had them make art. Their work became a sensation. They were called The Ashington Group. They were also known as The Pitmen Painters.
Last weekend I saw The Pitmen Painters at 1st Stage, in Tysons Corners, VA.
The playwright is Lee Hall, who also wrote the screenplay Billy Elliot.
The stage set is simple but effective, and I love how they display the artwork, which is so central to the story. The dialogue is superb, especially in the first act where there isn’t a single wasted line. I especially love the interactions between the men, and their trip to a gallery to see art for the first time.
The play asks questions like:
~ Who does art belong to?
~ Does art have meaning? If so, where does the meaning lie: in the artwork itself, in the viewer, or in the relation between the two?
~ Does art belong to an individual artist, or to a group, if the artist resides within a community?
~ How does formal education affect art? Is folk art “real art”?
~ What’s the difference between craftsmanship and art?
~ What is the role of emotion in art? What makes art “honest”?
If you’re a creative person — and honestly, who isn’t? — this play will delight you and give you plenty to chew on. The story line is all about Work in Progress.
The play opened last weekend and runs through October 13. If you live in the Washington DC area, I highly recommend it!