Sunday, May 15, 2011

On #1 and #3

On Twitter, a few people have responded positively to my previous post, "Educating Artists." Mostly, they agree with #2 and #4: "Entrepreneurial Skills" and "Community Organizational Skills." And those are extremely important, and largely missing from our current arts education curricula, which tends to focus on the self, and mostly on the self as an employee -- someone who is selling their labor (talent) in the marketplace.

And while I am delighted that somebody finds something of value in what I have written, I feel that I must assert the primacy of #1 and #3: "Philosophy" and "Facilitation Skills." Why? Because without these two elements, the curriculum is simply developing more artists to fit into the status quo, and I have no interest at all in the status quo. Which is why #1 is #1.

We've lost track of the real why of the arts. Like everything else in this materialistic merchant economy, we've turned them into commodities, something that is sold and consumed. Unless we're filling out a grant application, we talk more about "butts in seats" than we do about what we contribute to making human existence richer, human understanding deeper, human community stronger.

For this curriculum to have any value at all, the "why" of the arts has to be front and center, and ultimately  it can't be focused on money. Money is a side effect, it is what happens if you are doing something that is valued. It isn't something that is a target, a goal. It's use reflects the values upon which your art is founded. Money is a tool to accomplish something more important. And the use of money is about stewardship and philosophy. The balance sheet should be a mirror that reflects the soul of your organization. Someone should be able to look at your annual balance sheet -- the individual items that you spent your money on -- and understand your values plain and clear. But the balance sheet can't drive the art. To borrow the title of Zora Neale Hurston's novel, your eyes should be watching God. And #1, the "why," the philosophy, is where students learn to recognize and define their god.

Number 3, "facilitation skills," is equally crucial, because it reintegrates the artist into the community. Not only aren't they selling a commodity, but they are helping other people to be artistically self-sufficient. They are giving a gift -- they are gifting the community. Ultimately, #3 puts the artist out of business, or rather shifts the focus of their business in another direction: serving as an aspirational focus. The artist exists to illustrate what is possible, but is not the only thing that is possible.

Numbers 2 and 4 are practical and pragmatic, and as such they deserve strong representation in the curriculum. They represent the "how" that is necessary to make the "why" possible and sustainable. They empower the artist, restoring the control of their creativity to themselves, so that they are no longer groveling employees begging, as in A Chorus Line, "I need this job, oh God, I need this show." (It ought to give theatre people pause to note that, at the end of A Chorus Line, the reward for having survived the audition process and successfully gotten the begged-for job is to dance in lockstep wearing identical tasteless gold lame costumes and singing a song with some of the worst lyrics in history. To quote Peggy Lee, "is that all there is?") But without a purpose, the outcome is empty professionalism, butts in seats.

This curriculum exists to start a revolution.


Bobby said...

Yeah you're right Scott we need to find our why so that we don't do this profession without that hunger to show people why Theatre is fun and exciting. To show them something that will make them think and maybe grow from the experience.
Since taking your History of Theatre 1 class I have started my Summer reading with a list of plays that a friend and I came up with, like Shakespeare, Moliere, and Marlowe. What I am saying is that I am slowly finding some kind of a why and it was very vital because a couple days ago I sat down with my dad and told him I needed to switch my Biology Major to a Minor. I explained to him that I longer had anymore passion in that field and my grades were showing it as well. I told him how I knew Theatre is a hard profession, but I enjoy it so much and the people.
I remember talking to a girl a while back about how she was transferring to Chapel Hill and her parents were making her do that because basically she didn’t get in the first time. She just did not seem happy about transferring. I never heard her say once of what she wanted to do. Both of her parents are doctors and they wanted her to become one too. My parents also wanted me to follow that path, but every other parent wants their child to be a doctor or a lawyer, but I found out I want to do Theatre! I just wish my mom would be more on board. It will be tough, but life is hard and no one ever mentioned it would be easy to do something you love.

Anonymous said...


Focus on the "real why of the arts", and on art's integration into the (local) community is what both, the arts, and the discussion about the arts, desperately need!

However, I feel some wolly thoughts concocting in my mind... - may I through them in anyhow...?

I am afraid that the paradigm of The Market has already usurped the inner fabric of our societies in such a way that the classical values you are mentioning (rich human existence, understanding, community) have become commodities in themselves.

In an out-and-out competitive society - how can non-competitive concepts compete?

nick said...

"I am afraid that the paradigm of The Market has already usurped the inner fabric of our societies in such a way that the classical values you are mentioning (rich human existence, understanding, community) have become commodities in themselves."

Exactly. And our grantspeak is same in species to the hype of our PR to sell seats.

Scott Walters said...

And so I find myself in the position of proposing (and teaching) resistance to the paradigm of the Market. I refuse to accept Margaret Thatcher's statement that "there is no alternative" to the global marketplace. When I see towns all over the world focusing on local economies, local currency, resilience, abundant communities, and so forth I take heart, and feel, as an educator, I need to point to them and say, "Yes, indeed, there IS an alternative."

Anonymous said...

Trusting in the "long tail" of social media, I would like to append a nice quote I read yesterday on @shericandler's blog on indie film marketing:

“What happens when you rethink the nature of ____ [books, music, film, art] and organize it to spread, to become conversations instead of trying to create scarcity?”

-Seth Godin