A Question of Relevance

Monday, 17. April 2017 2:10 | Author:

Pippin, in the musical of the same name by Steven Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson learns that the problem with a creative life is that “you’ve got to be dead to find out if you were any good.” What he should have learned was that, no matter your skill level, in order to be any good, you have to be relevant. And if your art is to last, it has to stay relevant, or at least be relevant to periods other than the one in which you lived.

Relevance does not mean “generalized” so all people in all ages can understand it. Rather, it means that the artifact, while being specific to its own era, can also speak to audiences in other times and places. The words of Confucius, of Jesus, of Gautama Buddha are relevant today, not because they are generalizations, but because they are universal and apply to humans no matter what time or place.

If you look at the sayings of Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, you will find that they are very specific, referring to particular people and situations of their respective times. What they have to say, however, is, with certain small exceptions, applicable to people and situations far removed in time and place.

This is also true of works of art. Certain works speak to people of different places and times and others do not. The works of Eugene Scribe and Victorien Sardou, for example, are not well-remembered. Famous in their own time, their plays are not revived outside of France, and even there they are not well received. You never hear of a play by either man being produced. Why? Because they are no longer relevant. What they wrote was relevant to their times only; reports are that they were very well received at the time, but they were too much tied to the times, too closely linked to the people and the place in which they were written.

Other artists are still relevant, or can be made so. Shakespeare is the first to come to mind. But not all audiences are ready for the language and the milieu of his scripts as written. If the producer and director can get the audience past those barriers, Shakespeare has much to say to the modern audience; his insights into the concerns of many of his characters are concerns of people today.

Relevance is not an all-time thing. Because of the current political situation in the US, work which has seemed irrelevant to many in the past suddenly provides understanding and perception. Take the work of Chekhov. Unlike some, film critic David Edelstein thinks that Chekhov is always relevant. However, he says, “But maybe there is something more relevant now….  Change had to come – but at what cost?

It is difficult to believe that Shakespeare or Chekhov or Picasso or Michelangelo or Rodin sat around and worried about whether his work would speak to generations besides his own; the work is far too specific for that. What mattered to each of these artists is that the work spoke to his own audience.

Unless we can do the same, our work will lack significance. As Pippin so clearly pointed out, only time will tell whether we speak to future generations. In the meantime, we must work to make our own work relevant to our tribe and perhaps a larger audience of our own time. Only then can we consider ourselves serious artists.

Category:Creativity, Originality | Comment (0)

The Necessity of Commitment

Monday, 3. April 2017 0:29 | Author:

There have been a number of posts here about obsession and the necessity of obsession for an artist (here, here, and here, for example). The problem is that obsession is not enough. Obsession does not necessarily engender action. There are a number of people whose obsession leads to nothing but mental preoccupation with whatever the object of the obsession happens to be. These people can include “artists” who sit around obsessing over the “next piece” but never actually doing anything about it.

What such artists need, in addition to obsession, is commitment to the work, a dedication to practicing their craft. It’s the thing that puts artists in the studio for x number of hours a day, every day. It’s the “going to work” part of making art. (In at least one previous post, I talked about the necessity of working at one’s craft—every day.) Artists have to show up and do the work whether there is inspiration or not, and that takes commitment. Commitment demands action, and action is exactly what artists need to move from the idea to the creation stage of art-making. The artist who is able to couple commitment and obsession is one who is likely to succeed.

A digital artist I know is completely obsessed with creating really intricate pieces; as far as I know, her obsession has never waned. However, not long ago she had a period of self-doubt; she was “down” for several weeks. But during all that time she never missed a day at the computer. She sat down and did her work, which she filed—because she felt that she was in no mental state to evaluate it properly. Fortunately her depression was short-lived, and soon she was back to her usual self. In the meantime she had continued working and had produced what turned out to be, with a little editing, some excellent pieces.

On his double album The Gold Medal Collection, singer and social activist Harry Chapin talks about Pete Seeger’s commitment. Seeger was committed not only to music, but to social activism as well. Chapin says (and it’s difficult to determine whether he’s quoting Seeger or commenting on Seeger):

Who are the people who are your best friends? Who are the people you keep coming back to? Who are the people who make your life worthwhile? Usually the people who are committed to something. So in the final analysis, commitment, in and of itself, irrespective of whether you win or not is something that truly makes your life more worthwhile.

Seeger and Chapin were talking about commitment to a cause bigger than oneself, but the same thinking applies to a person who is committed to his/her art (which is usually larger than oneself). It’s a person who doesn’t just think and talk about creating, but a person who does, a person who creates, a person who produces—and keeps on producing.

And to do that, the artist must be committed. And that commitment demands that the artist show up at the computer or the easel or the keyboard, or the sketchpad or the studio or the theatre or the rehearsal hall regularly and work at his/her art. The artist must follow the lead of Louis Armstrong, who said, “Even If I have two three days off, you still have to blow that horn. You have to keep up those chops… I have to warm up every day for at least an hour.” Artists must be committed.

The digital artist mentioned above said that she thought that sitting down and doing the work every day was responsible for her returning to normal quickly. We would do well, I think, to follow her example.

Category:Creativity, Productivity | Comment (0)

Art Evolves

Monday, 13. March 2017 0:01 | Author:

Occasionally, someone will ask me if the show is what I wanted it to be. The short answer is “no,” but that always seems a little abrupt and not what those who ask really want to hear. I think I am supposed to say something thoughtful and positive and “artistic” as an answer. The truth for shows is—as it is, I think, for almost all art work—that it never turns out exactly the way you thought it would. There are simply too many variables.

Neil Gaiman in Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, says much the same thing about writing stories: “once the story was underway, the real ending became inevitable. Most of the stories in this volume have that much in common. The place they arrived at in the end was not the place I was expecting them to go when I set out. Sometimes the only way I would know that a story had finished was when there weren’t any more words to be written down.” Gaiman is not the only author to make such a claim. Many writers talk about how the characters in a book or play or short story take the narrative in an unanticipated direction.

In the case of theatre anything can happen: an actor gives an unexpected line reading. The costume designer comes up with something completely surprising. The lighting designer wants to do something “fresh.” The assistant choreographer makes an off-hand comment. The musical director changes the tempos.  And it happens in other arts as well: the model shows up with a tattoo the photographer didn’t know about. A light burns out in studio and the subject looks different in the new lighting. The film editor got a new idea overnight. The sculpting medium has a mind of its own and doesn’t carve the way the sculptor anticipated.

This idea is not unique to me. An art professor that I know tells students that things arise in the doing that cannot be anticipated.  His opinion is that the act of making art creates a situation in which something “worth doing” might happen, even if that thing is the realization of what the artist really should be doing.

The artist, of course, has the choice of ignoring the unexpected and forging ahead with whatever his/her vision is. Or the artist can respond to the unexpected either by treating it as an interference and working around it or by incorporating it into the work. In either case, the work of art evolves according to the artist’s response—often for the better.

Insight (I hesitate to use the word inspiration, because I’m not exactly sure what that is, except unreliable) can come from anywhere. It can be something overheard, something read, something seen. It can be the result of an interaction with a collaborator or with a friend or with a stranger. It may come from talking to oneself or a dream or a daydream or out of the air.

Art does not spring fully-realized, Athena-like, from the head of the artist. Insights happen. Serendipity happens. The unanticipated happens. Happy accidents happen. It seems to me that part of what makes us artists is sensitivity to all of the things that occur in the process of doing our work and choosing from among them to create art that is far richer and has far more depth than the piece we had in mind at the beginning of the process. We must learn that part of our job is to let our art evolve.

Category:Creativity, Theatre | Comment (0)

No, It Doesn’t Always Come Together

Monday, 20. February 2017 0:16 | Author:

Just over a week ago I was sitting alone after a fairly trying rehearsal, thinking about what we had accomplished and where we ought to go next. Probably I was scowling, which seemed appropriate. It was then I heard someone say, “Don’t worry; it always comes together.” My first impulse was to give a really snarky reply, but I thought the better of it. What would be the point in abusing someone who was not really a theatre person and who was living in the happy delusion that shows always come together?

Then this week after a choreography rehearsal, during which much progress was made (choreography had been a bit behind schedule), the student assistant director made a statement that seemed to indicate that if all the pieces were caught up, the show would somehow mysteriously fall together. This was a little better, but not much.

The fact of the matter is that shows don’t always come together. And those that do, don’t come together by accident or magic.

In most cases there is a certain shared energy in a company that seems to grow as opening approaches, and this helps a production come together. But most directors know that that energy is not enough to build an artistically cohesive production.

Shows come together when someone makes them come together. Ideally it is the director who causes the show to come together, a director who guides/forces/coerces/manipulates the company into coming together, which may be more or less difficult depending on the cast, the designers, the production, and the interpretation.  I have even known directors who purposely initiated director-focused company ire in order to weld the performers into a unit. That works because shows can also come together if a cast, as a whole, is reacting to an incompetent/hateful/unbalanced/weak director. Failing one of these scenarios, the show will not come together, and the results will not be pretty.

A show not coming together can manifest in different ways: often the actors seem to be in different universes or all going in different directions artistically or thematically. The musical numbers may not fit seamlessly into the show. The lights or sound may not coordinate properly with the acting and staging. The costumes may not work with the rest of the show.

But a work of art not coming together is in no way limited to theatre. If the conductor cannot somehow bring together the separate elements of the orchestra, the score, and the interpretation of the score, the concert will fall flat. The same holds true for a choreographer and the dancers.  And a film director is very likely to produce a disjointed movie if he/she cannot bring all the various pieces together.

Nor is the problem limited to the collaborative performing arts. If a photographer and subject don’t somehow come together the result is probably a wasted photo session. The same is true of a painter or sculptor and his/her subject.

In fact, no good art “just comes together.” The disparate elements of any work of art—whether it is performing or visual or plastic or written, whether it is a script or a poem or a novel or a musical composition—must be cajoled, massaged, manipulated, orchestrated—and sometimes forced—to come together. This is the source of a great deal of an artist’s angst—knowing that all the parts must somehow coalesce into a unified whole—and having to work to make that happen. Sometimes, it is not intuitive, or even instinctual; sometimes it is the greatest challenge in making art. And it’s a challenge that we must meet repeatedly—every time we create.

Category:Creativity, Theatre, Uncategorized | Comment (0)

Art is Powerful and so are Artists

Tuesday, 7. February 2017 0:37 | Author:

This week a conversation with a friend who is an actor and a writer turned to politics, as so many conversations do these days. He said that he was being very cautious lately because “Federico Garcia Lorca was shot in the street.  You know that sometimes they take the poets first. Why do they do that?” “Because artists are powerful,” was my response.

I was thinking at the time about Patsy Rodenberg’s comments in the video Why I Do Theatre. She says much the same thing as my friend, that often repressive regimes want to suppress the artists first, because artists are powerful and use that power to tell the truth, which is something intolerable to those same repressive governments.

Make no mistake, art is indeed powerful. And that power ranges from the trivial (Hitler’s toothbrush mustache was reportedly copied from Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy) to the profound  (Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, among others moved people with their photographs of American farmers during the Great Depression. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as a response to the witch trials of 1950s McCarthyism. Shepherd Fairey’s Hope poster became for a time one of modern America’s most influential and imitated pieces of art.)

And powerful art is not limited to the US. Leo Tolstoy has been an influence on a significant numbers of other writers, philosophers, and politicians. Anouilh’s Antigone “became a symbol for the [French] underground during WWII). Rodenberg’s South African actors had all been imprisoned, presumably because they spoke the truth and had influence, at least in the view of Apartheid.  Ai Weiwei continues to make art that is “highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights.

And the power of art translates into personal power for the artist. In a Tiffany’s ad during the 2017 Super Bowl, Lady Gaga says that her transformation into an artist was due to the power that she felt; she goes on to say that talking about how creative one is is “empowering and important.”

Perhaps it’s time that we too recognize the power that we have, that we understand the nature and the potential influence of the creativity we possess. The artists that produced many of the Super Bowl 2017 ads did just that. In addition to making ads to influence buying, several made ads with political content, one of which was so powerful that Fox Sports deemed it “too controversial” to present in full so it ended with a web address where viewers could see the conclusion. The ad generated enough traffic to the 84 Lumber website where the entire ad was posted to crash the website. That’s power.

Certainly all of us do not set out to make political art—but it may be anyway. Nobel winner Toni Morrison has said that “all good art is political.” And she makes a pretty good case for there being no other choice. Morrison is not the only person who thinks this is the case. Regardless of whether we agree, we must remember that by virtue of being creative and artistic, what we make is important and influential and we, ourselves, are powerful. How we use that power is up to each of us individually.

Category:Aesthetics, Communication, Creativity | Comment (0)

If I Don’t Make It

Sunday, 22. January 2017 23:40 | Author:

If I don’t make it, I can always teach.” Maybe, but you may not be any good at it—because it’s a different skill set. And you may not like it, because it’s not only a different skill set, it requires a different mindset.

And be assured, just because you’re good at one (producing art or teaching art), does not mean that you will be good at the other. In fact, I have recommended that certain people go into teaching who I would never recommend be performers; likewise I have suggested that others should set their goals on performing and forget the “security” of teaching.

And speaking of that whole teaching security thing, it doesn’t really exist. Teaching has become far less secure over the past 10 years for a number of reasons. And then there’s the educational bureaucracy, which has become far more onerous in roughly the same amount of time. These factors, taken together, make teaching in the arts a far less attractive occupation than it might have been several years ago.

Well, if I teach, I will have time to do my art afterwards.” No, you won’t. Those who try this find that the only way to pull it off is to slack on one or the other or relegate one or the other to part-time status. Good teaching takes enormous time and preparation. Yes, this is true even in those studio courses where it seems is that all the instructor does is wander in and offer a few suggestions and some critiques. Any instructor worth his/her salt has already been thinking about members of the class and how best to facilitate their development. The class is merely an implementation of those strategies. Thus there is little time left for creating art.

Likewise, if you spend the majority of your time, effort, and ingenuity on producing your art, you will be less than a good teacher. Teaching requires just as much time, effort, and creativity as producing art, so when one spends all of that artistic capital on making art, there is less available for teaching. Students may not understand this until years later, if ever. They may never know they’ve been short-changed—until they try to compete with others who had teachers and coaches who were more concerned with training their students than with their own success in the artistic marketplace.

The other thing you will likely be after a day of either teaching or making art, is tired. You simply may have insufficient energy to do whichever one comes second, at least on a daily basis.

While it is possible to be a really good full-time teacher and a really good full-time artist at the same time, the individuals who can pull it off are very rare. Unless the teacher somehow combines teaching and making art, the quality of the art or volume of output is sure to suffer.

And that may not be a bad thing. The world can still enjoy the work of the artist/teacher, just not as much of it. In the meantime, the world gains the benefit of a person of a person who not only imparts information, but who attempts to shape the experiences of students so those students can realize their own potential, a person who guides, encourages, and challenges his/her students to become the artists and teachers of tomorrow. And those are valuable people.

Category:Education, Productivity | Comment (0)

Science Offers the Proof

Sunday, 8. January 2017 23:38 | Author:

Although we seem to be living in a post-factual, science-denying society, I still have a tendency to put faith in scientific findings. And one of the things that science has found is that art is good for us—neurologically. While there are numerous studies that tell us how we benefit our brains if we make art (for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), what is more interesting—to me at least—is how art impacts the mental health of audience members.

My interest in this topic began with a Salon article on “Why Abstract Art Makes Our Brains Hurt so Good.” The article, written by art critic Noah Charney, describes the work of Nobel-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel, which says essentially that abstract art forces the viewer to engage in bottom up thinking. This is thinking that “includes mental processes that are ingrained over centuries: unconsciously making sense of phenomena.” Bottom up thinking stands opposed to “top-down” thinking which is based on personal experience and knowledge; such thinking is used “to interpret formal, symbol, or story-rich art.” Thus “looking at formal art is actually a form of passive narrative reading;” abstract art, however, “strips away the narrative, the real-life, expected visuals [and] requires active problem-solving….It makes our brains work in a different, harder way at a subconscious level.” Charney concludes his article by stating, “Abstract art is where we began, and where we have returned. It makes our brains hurt, but in all the right ways, for abstract art forces us to see, and think, differently.”

But it’s not just abstract art.

One British study concentrated on “beautiful paintings” and found that simply viewing images of beautiful paintings increased blood-flow in the brain “just as it increases when you look at somebody you love.” The study concluded that there is now proof that “beautiful paintings make us feel much better.”

Study after study has found that the benefits of experiencing art include decreased stress levels and “a significant improvement is psychological resilience.” One study concluded that “The brain hardwired to process art” and generates pleasurable emotions while doing it.

Kevin Loria writing for Business Insider looked at a number of studies on the impact of viewing art. They found that:

  • “Viewing paintings triggered responses in brain regions associated with visual understanding and object recognition, as might be expected, but viewing artwork also was connected to activity associated with emotions, inner thoughts, and learning.”
  • There was an increase in critical thinking and social tolerance after visiting an art museum.
  • Arts programs may help older adults stave off cognitive decline. Viewing art can “relieve mental fatigue and restore the ability to focus.”

Some studies have evaluated brain response not only to visual, but to auditory arts as well and found that the benefits, though slightly different, were still there. “When you’re doing [either experiencing or making] art, you brain is running full speed.” Other studies have shown that any art is of benefit in making the brain healthier. For example, there is new research that makes “a strong case that engagement with music, dance and other arts may be just as powerful [as exercise and taking on new challenges] for preserving mental health and acuity throughout our lives.”

And studies are ongoing. New technologies are being developed to measure exactly how and how much benefit we receive from engagement with the arts.

The conclusion is that what we as artist do is important, not only because it allow us to say what needs to be said, but because the artifacts and performances we produce have a positive neurological impact on the brains of our audiences. Studies are just beginning to measure the degree of this impact. We do important work; science offers the proof.

Category:Audience | Comment (0)

TIL

Monday, 12. December 2016 0:25 | Author:

Any day that you learn something is a good day; any day that you learn multiple things is an amazing day. I had one of those recently.  The day was to be the opening of a show I had directed; I was planning a personal project that was giving me problems; and there was heavy rain in Houston area. As the day progressed, I learned not one, but five important things. Maybe learned is the wrong word; some of these things I already knew, at least theoretically, but having them so strongly reinforced was like learning them all over again.

  1. Trust your subconscious. The first lesson of the day had to do with that personal project and occurred while I was in the shower. The solution of one of the problems that I had been beating my head against for a week suddenly appeared—not tentatively, but full-blown and complete. I can only assume that since I had all the associated facts in my head but could not consciously find a solution, my subconscious took over and worked on it while I slept. I don’t know that this is the ideal way to solve all problems, but letting the brain do its thing is highly recommended.
  2. Worry is pointless. About 2:30 pm, one of the lead actors in the show texted to say that he was flooded in and might not be able to get to the theatre that evening; he would try, but his appearance was far from certain. I texted the stage manager and told her to alert the understudy, who, I was sure, was underprepared. That she could not find him was cause for concern. I suggested she try his girlfriend, and there he was. At this point I realized that I had done all I could do. The actor would appear or not, and the understudy would go on or not. There was literally nothing I could do at this point to impact the outcome of the evening. So instead of fretting, which would have been my usual path, I asked everyone to keep me posted via text and took a much-needed nap; it was a far better choice.
  3. Trust your staff. Knowing that the understudy was probably underprepared, the stage manager called him early and had him come in to freshen up blocking and lines and to familiarize himself with the show props he had never touched. Evidently, she did this quite methodically, knowing that it would help not only his preparedness but his state of mind. By the time the actor appeared, the understudy was a prepared as he could be, because the stage manager had indeed managed the situation.
  4. Truth can be found in unexpected places. You may have had the experience of reading or (if, like me you are an audio book fan) listening to a book, and having truth jump out at you. It may have been something you thought and the author put into words for you, or it may have been an observation about people or life that struck you as terribly insightful. (Sometimes, such statements impact me so much they appear in my blog posts.) Those moments are to me like finding jewels in the gravel. This happened on the same day. The book was The City of Mirrors (Book 3 of the Passage Trilogy) by Justin Cronin. Cronin had put some observations about people that struck me as remarkably insightful into the minds and mouths of his characters. It was like getting an unexpected present.
  5. Project completion is a joy in and of itself, and worth celebrating. I went to the theatre for opening night. My part in the production was complete; the show was now in the hands of the stage manager and the actors. That, for me, is always a bitter-sweet experience. The joy comes from having experienced the process and from knowing that completion of one project always opens the way to the next project.

Try as we might, it’s not every day that we get to learn something, and in my experience, any day that brings multiple learnings is worth celebrating, or at least remarking upon. So I did. Hopefully, the things I learned last Saturday will resonate with you as well.

Category:Education | Comment (0)

Politics and Art

Sunday, 27. November 2016 23:49 | Author:

The Sunday after the US election, I got a text asking whether Unnatural Light would be commenting on the election. I replied, “No, at least not this week.” I had thought to wait until the election was really over (when the Electoral College votes on December 19 or the counting the electoral votes on January 6). But as the days passed and more and more things happened, the more I felt compelled to at least say something about my thoughts and feelings.

The arts community seems to be primarily liberal, or “progressive” if you prefer. I am no different. The election and its immediate aftermath are, in my opinion, horrific. As Austin Kleon put it, “It’s been a rotten week.” This is not because the “other side” won. I have lived through many non-progressive administrations. What has been most disturbing about this election has been the potential regression and repression. There seems to be unceasing talk of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny, as well as suppression of criticism. Equally disturbing are the members of a variety of minorities who have, in the last week, talked to me about acquiring defensive weapons because suddenly they no longer feel safe in the America-we-are-becoming.

That said, there are those in the arts community who are political conservatives. Indeed, there are some who are supporters of the President-elect. I have no real explanation for this other than that art and politics are not necessarily aligned.

Most artists have some opinion of what art is and how it should respond to the politics and culture of the time. The President-elect feels that a plea from the Broadway stage for inclusion is harassment and requires an apology, that the theatre should be “a safe and special place“. Others feel that Edward Albee’s assessment of theatre is the correct one: “Well, I think if you don’t offend some people, you’re probably failing in some way.” “A playwright has a responsibility in his society not to aid it, or comfort it, but to comment and criticize it.” “All plays, if they’re any good, are constructed as correctives. That’s the job of the writer. Holding that mirror up to people. We’re not merely decorative, pleasant and safe.Patsy Rodenburg thinks that the power of theatre in general and actors specifically lies in the ability to tell the truth to people who may not want to hear it. She explains in a must-see TED Talk video.

There have been several posts on the internet purporting to advise artists on the appropriate response to the newly-elected administration. There have been calls to give the incoming administration a chance, to work with the incoming administration, to oppose the incoming administration at all opportunities. And, of course, there have been innumerable articles on how artists are responding (here and here, for example).

Personally, I am not convinced that there is a “correct” response for artists. In a 2011 post, I defended artists who chose not to create political art. This is because, at the bottom of it, I believe that art is individual and that each artist speaks with his/her own voice and concerns him/herself with those subjects that are important to him/her. From time to time, I have made political art, but it does not make up the bulk of my body of work by any means; I only do such work when I feel very strongly about a political topic and when making that art coincides with my current artistic interests and goals.

So, no, I do not think that proper artistic response to the recent election is that artist make anti-administration art. What I do think is that each artist should follow his/her artistic instincts. Each artist should speak to his/her audience in whatever way is appropriate to that particular person. I agree with Rodenburg; art is powerful. So my wish is that each artist use that power and present the truth as he/she sees it. My belief is that that is one of the only requisites in art: whatever our topics, no matter who it offends, we must present truth to our audiences.

Category:Communication, Creativity | Comment (0)

What about the Un-Obsessed?

Monday, 14. November 2016 1:30 | Author:

There have been a lot of posts about artists and obsession and the integral connection between the two.  But what of those who are not really obsessed in a single direction? They are not driven to engage in a specific art, i.e. to paint or act or write, but they are driven to make art or some kind. These are those who recognize that they “can’t not art.” What are they to do and how are they to do it? Or how about those who decide that multiple personal revenue streams make sense (as a number of contemporary financial advisors suggest).

We are not set up for polymaths.

Some of those who “can’t not art” have a vague notion of what art they want to work in. They may want to do two-dimensional art or they may want to work in music or they may want to do theatre. What they don’t know is which specific area or specialization of the overall field they want to work in.

We are not set up for undecides.

By we, I mean arts training programs.

Collegiate systems and, to a lesser degree, private training programs are all set up to train students in a single area. With few exceptions these programs expect students to come in with a specialization in mind so they can be slotted into the exact program that trains the student in that specialty. In a few programs there is concern that students be exposed to all specialties within an art, but, for the most part, programs are supporting a very specific type vocational training or area of concentration.  The only concession to a truly educated student population is the forced core curriculum. But even that does not foster a real well-rounded education, and there certainly is no exposure to all the sub-disciplines within an art.

This approach coupled with mandated hour requirements for a degree restricts students’ exploration. For public institutions, the state legislature determines that only n credit hours and not more can be counted toward a degree, and those hours and their relation to the degree plan are subject to local, state, and federal scrutiny for financial aid purposes. So the student is not allowed to explore a multiplicity of areas.

How is the student supposed to find the right path when the system requires that he/she establish an educational path to a career when he/she is eighteen years old? And how many eighteen-year-old know what they really want to do for a career, particularly when the choices are restricted?

So the polymaths and undecideds are just screwed…

Unless they can find a program that requires that they learn all areas of an art. In such programs students can experience a number of sub-disciplines and then make a far more intelligent decisions about which of those sub-disciplines is the best fit for them. Some even choose multiple areas to generate multiple revenue streams. There are a number of actors, for example, who support themselves when they are not in a show by doing technical theatre or management work.

But such programs are in the minority.

So the polymaths and the undecideds have to do it themselves. They can take courses outside their degree plans or online or in non-credit programs to obtain background. But the best way to learn is to actually work in the field; the explorer can get an internship (paid is better) and find out if a particular area fits. A young person I know who “can’t not art” is going to do exactly that. She told me that she was going to take the time to “dip [her] toes into several ponds” before she made a final decision. A wise approach, I think.

 

Category:Education | Comment (0)

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