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Moving On

August 18, 2010

After receiving  professional feedback, I have decided to reorganize and refocus my blog.  

See my new location at:

the ARTS: meaning and mentoring

A Whole New Mind

July 13, 2010

If you haven’t read A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink then run out and get it. It is already 5 years old and was a NY Times and BusinessWeek bestseller. It’s probably at your library for free.   Then buy a copy for the administrators at your campus or whatever school you may be at right now.   Here is the first book I have ever seen that makes the case that the right-brained creative types, like us, are the economic hope for the American future.  You heard it right.  Our time has come.

Pink logically walks us through trends of our recent history. First, America has experienced enormous abundance and studies have shown that Americans are not happier for it.  “The United States spends more on trash bags than ninety other countries spend on everything.” [quote from business writer, Polly La Barre]  Second, the technology age in America is reaching an understandable end because knowledge skills can be outsourced to other countries for less money.  India graduates 350,000 engineering students annually.   And finally, technology has reached a point where computers can beat the masters at chess — and a whole lot of other logical thinking as well.  

 So Pink continues by making the case that any commodity that can be done cheaper by someone overseas, computed faster with technology or adds to an abundance of products that we don’t really need is not where the future lies.  Where is it?   The future is in design – right-brained thinking, problem-solving, creative types like you and I are the future.  We don’t make the product, we make the product better and more desirable.

Part two of the book continues on with what Pink calls the ‘six senses,’ skills that will provide us with the advantage over our left-brained counterparts: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning.  Sounds a lot like a theater class, doesn’t it?   Or maybe an art class? Music class? 

So raise a glass to the guy who finally equated economic advantages with the creative skills we have taught for centuries.   And by all means, read the book.

Screaming without sound

June 29, 2010

Once, many years ago, I was in a room in a Physics Department that had wall surfaces designed to absorb all sound.  You could hear yourself talk, but there was no reverberation.  It is very unnatural.  It feels like you are out in space in a vacuum.   For some reason this popped into my head today.  I think it correlated to my frustration with advocating for the arts.  I feel like I am back in this room —– and I scream —-and I barely hear myself —– and it falls immediately into nothing.

Are the doers a lower class than thinkers?

June 22, 2010

Academic institutions for centuries have rewarded great thinkers quite highly and rewarded great doers moderately.   If, for example, a graduate student wrote a thoughtful, in depth dissertation on the work of a great artist like Andy Warhol, that student would be able to achieve a PhD and be in the highest faculty salary brackets on campus.  If, however, Andy Warhol were a graduate student, he would only be able to earn a Master of Fine Arts as a terminal degree and he would be in tier 2, always second class to the one who earned the PhD.  Ironically, when universities award honorary degrees, it is to people who have accomplished great deeds in addition to being great thinkers.  Boston College, for example, awarded degrees to two CEOs, a president of a foundation,  a nun of a parish and a deputy head of school for girls in Africa.   None of these people would have received honorary degrees if their thoughts had not been turned into action.

Academia must learn to recognize that thinking and doing must be taught concurrently to avoid the disconnect between what you have learned and how you behave.   Imagine those who have just taken their required ethics course, passed with flying colors and then fail to apply any principles of what they have learned to their daily life.  Have you seen the TV show, True Beauty?  Every ousted contestant seems surprised when they discover the judges don’t find their actions beautiful.  Even after seeing the film evidence of bad behavior, the contestants continue to defend themselves and say they really are beautiful on the inside, even when the evidence is clearly against them.

Art and performance are natural bridges across that divide separating thought and action.  Great art cannot be successful without a perfect marriage of the two. So why does the academic  favoritism for thinkers continue on indefinitely?

Searching for the right words?

June 3, 2010

Often we are asked by our academic administration and others to justify support for the arts at our institutions.  It is difficult to quantify successes in the arts and yet, if we did not believe passionately that it has great value, what reason would we have to continue creating art?   With graduation ceremonies still fresh in our memory, students are already lamenting leaving the artistic womb that has nurtured and shaped them.   They seem to understand that their four years here has been a unique experience that has formed their lives in ways they cannot even begin to fully comprehend or express.  They have been shown a means to happiness and fulfillment  that does not depend upon materialism for success; a model of business whose focus does not have to be profits;  a way to make connecting to human kind that  is greater than e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.  I am fortunate enough to be a professional artist and academic and plan to spend my lifetime enjoying creative endeavors.

Still, many of you are under attack by your institutions and your creative arts need justification.  Here is some help.  Harvard University created a task force a couple of years ago to examine their arts on campus.  Their arguments for expanding the arts, even in a time of financial crisis, are eloquently stated.   Perhaps some of their ideas will help you frame your own arguments as you discuss these issues with your administration.

http://www.provost.harvard.edu/reports/ArtsTaskForce-Report_12-10-08.pdf

If others of you know more resources of this nature, please send them along.

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Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.
Buddha

The Dream Lives On

May 31, 2010

I don’t know if any of you saw it, but at 7:30 PM tonight WCVB (Channel 5)  broadcasted the Boston Pops playing a newly commissioned piece called the Dream Lives On.  It was a tribute to three Kennedy brothers and featured a sampling of their political speeches.  Not only was it a lovely and  moving piece of music, but it included giant projections of the Kennedy’s lives and times.  It was narrated by Robert De Niro, Cherry Jones, Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris and created  the perfect blend of great music, images and words.

http://www.bso.org/bso/index.jsp?id=bcat5220105 for more information.

So often I get caught up in the political difficulties of creating and teaching art that I forget to step back and look at the bigger picture.  One thing the Kennedys were always good at is making Americans look at the bigger picture.  I watched and listened to this lovely tribute and was once again inspired to focus on the real meaning of my job – creating art and enabling others to do so as well.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

May 27, 2010

I have been reading a book called ARTS, INC., (thank you for the gift Maggie Carr) that has some interesting thoughts on the arts in our society today.  The author, Bill Ivey, was the Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1998 to 2001 and director of the Country Music Foundation from 1971 to 1998 among many other credits.  On page 58 he writes, “If citizens have a right to a broad engagement with artists across the spectrum of public life, what elements must be in place for artists to flourish in American society?  I believe three things must be present.  First, conditions must be conducive to originality; artists need to be able to find a way to enter and function in our complex arts system.  Second, they need respect for their ideas and their approach to problem solving, and respect in the form of sufficient compensation to maintain a creative life.  Third, artists must be free to draw on — to synthesize — the work of contemporaries as well as creativity  from the past.” 

This book  really strikes a chord within me.  Many of you know that I have taken a very winding road to arrive at my current position.  I have worked in the fields of parade floats, construction for movies, stage management, props artisan, scenic painter, interior designer, event designer and spot light operator just to name a few areas.   At every step of the way I struggled to survive as an artist.  Today I survive because I am an educator — who just happens to be an artist.  

There is little respect in America for artists.  Working in Russia once I realized that artists are seen more as leaders than as subversive elements in society.   Where did we lose that European sensibility?  Way back on the Mayflower? 

Americans are all about monetary lifestyles.  If you can’t get rich off of it, then why do it?  Who cares if the arts allow you to express yourself, to develop self-esteem and community building skills?   If it doesn’t pay, then find something that does.  Right?  

Well, I can tell you that all my years of struggling as an artist made me a very happy person.  I don’t regret a minute of it and I would not trade places with any person working 9 to 5 in an office complex doing repetitive jobs — no matter how much money they make.  As a creative person I feel I have a healthy curiosity about the world and people I meet that has made me very successful at my job. 

However, I also feel that I have spent most of my life trying to justify my profession to people.  After years of raising me to believe that I could do anything I wanted to, my parents worried terribly about me choosing theater as a profession. “You are so smart,” my father once said. “Why don’t you go into science or math?”  I was always trying to prove to them that I would be OK.  To the theater companies I had to prove that I was a worthy artist to hire and had respectable creative skills.  To the outside world I had to continually explain that being a theater artist did not necessarily mean I was an actress.  To the academic world I have to continually try to explain how creative work should be respected as an intellectual endeavor and just because I don’t publish papers does not mean that my research, my art, is not worthy of equal respect.  

Bill Ivey writes that “everyone wants a Picasso hanging on their wall but no family wants a Picasso in the living room.” 

Despite being an artist, I continue to succeed.   I believe my artistic abilities have made uniquely qualified to play many roles in my lifetime – and play them very successfully.  Ironically, my family tells me now that I am the most  ‘normal’ one of all of us.  Who would have ever guessed that one?  But I certainly believe I am the happiest of them all. 

production photo

My scenic design for Sunday in the Park with George at The Boston Conservatory