THE ART of acting is probably the most popular of all the arts, and yet it is the one about which there is the least formal and organized knowledge. Its popularity is firmly established with those who enjoy it as spectators and those who enjoy actively participating in it, but there are no generally accepted criteria for judgment and evaluation on the part of the audiences, nor is there any generally accepted system of technique to aid the performer. It seems to be an art without rules, an art in which anyone is qualified to be an actor and everyone is an acceptable critic.
This lack of humility is not confined to those who want to be actors. Almost everyone in the audience feels himself to be a competent critic. In the lobbies of concert halls and in the art galleries, people are hesitant to express an opinion. They begin their criticism with apologetic phrases, such as, "Of course I don't know anything about art. I only know what I like . . .," and then they pass judgment. But in the lobbies of the theaters, and in the living rooms where radio or television sets are turned on, the untrained critics express their opinions with a finality which is devastating. This kind of criticism is usually unsubtle. A show is good or it is bad.
This attitude of the general public toward the art of acting is not without some justification. Everyone has seen satisfactory and more than competent performances given by actors who are appearing upon the stage for the first time, and almost every year the motion-picture industry discovers a girl working as a waitress or a clerk and "builds" her into a star by having her pose in bathing suits on the beach at Santa Monica. If by any chance the young lady is given some acting lessons, the public is not informed of this, and so the myth of the "born actor" is given further credence.
There is quite generally a schizophrenic attitude toward acting, for while the theory of the born actor is widely accepted, so is the theory that acting is a difficult and complicated art which can only be learned