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Artistic license (also known as dramatic license, historical license, poetic license, narrative license, licentia poetica, or simply license) is a colloquial term, sometime euphemism, used to denote the distortion or complete ignorance of fact, ignoring the conventions of grammar or language, or the changing of an established fact that an artist may undertake in the name of art. For example, if an artist decided it was more artistically desirable to portray St. Paul's Cathedralmarker next to the Houses of Parliamentmarker in a scene of Londonmarker, even though in reality they are not close together, that would be artistic license.

The artistic license may also refer to the ability of a poet to ignore some of the minor requirements of grammar for poetic effect. For example, Mark Antony's "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears" from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar would technically require the word "and" before "countrymen", but the conjunction "and" is omitted to preserve the rhythm of iambic pentameter (the resulting conjunction is called an asyndetic tricolon). Conversely, on the next line, the end of "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" has an extra syllable because omitting the word "him" would make the sentence unclear, but adding a syllable at the end would not disrupt the meter. Both of these are examples of artistic license.

In summary, artistic license is:
  • Entirely at the artist's discretion
  • Intended to be tolerated by the viewer (cf. "willing suspension of disbelief")
  • Useful for filling in gaps, whether they be factual, compositional, historical or other gaps
  • Used consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally or in tandem


Artistic license often provokes controversy by offending those who resent the reinterpretation of cherished beliefs or previous works. Artists often respond to these criticisms by pointing out that their work was not intended to be a verbatim portrayal of something previous and should be judged only on artistic merit. Artistic license is a generally accepted practice, particularly when the result is widely acclaimed. William Shakespeare's historical plays, for example, are gross distortions of historical fact but are nevertheless lauded as outstanding literary works.

Artistic license is often referred to as dramatic license when it involves the glamorization of real-world occupations for the sake of exciting television or cinematic experience. For example, CSI and other police procedural programs typically omit completely the more mundane aspects of the occupation such as paperwork, reports, administrative duties and other daily "business-oriented" aspects which in reality often comprise the majority of the work. They will also present other duties with much more action, suspense or drama than would be experienced in reality. The same is also true for many military-oriented adventure stories which often show high ranking characters being allowed to continuously enter dangerous situations when in reality, they would usually be restricted to command-oriented or administrative duties. Star Trek is an example of this with its treatment of the captain and senior officers.

Writers adapting a work for another medium (e.g., a film screenplay from a book) often make significant changes, additions to, or omissions from the original plot in the book, on the grounds that these changes were necessary to make a good film. These changes are sometimes to the dismay of fans of the original work.

References

  1. Harvey, Thomas Wadleigh (2008). A Practical Grammar of the English Language. BiblioBazaar, LLC. p. 263.
  2. Herzberg, Max John (1933). Off to Arcady: adventures in poetry. American book co. p. 35.
  3. Davis, Tracy C. (2005). "Do you believe in fairies? The hiss of dramatic license." Theatre Journal. 57 (1), 57 – 81.
  4. Goodsell, David S.; Johnson, Graham T. (2007). "Filling in the Gaps: Artistic License in Education and Outreach." PLoS Biol 5 (12). .
  5. Esaak, Shelley. What is artistic license? About.com.
  6. Toplin, Robert Brent (2002). Reel history: in defense of Hollywood‎. University Press of Kansas. p. 1.
  7. Barroll, J. Leeds (1975). Shakespeare Studies: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, Reviews. Ayer Publishing. p. 306.
  8. D'sa, Benicia (2005). "Social Studies in the Dark: Using Docudramas to Teach History." The Social Studies. 96 (1), 9 – 13.
  9. Film review (1999). Issues 14-16. Orpheus Pub.



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