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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?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Larry Vigus permalink
    June 22, 2010 8:54 pm

    It’s interesting to me personally that you chose Andy Warhol as your example. He was an undergraduate in the Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon) College of Fine Arts as was I, but neither of us earned degrees. The other thing that we have in common is that neither of us would be hired to teach on a College or even High School level.
    I think it must be accepted that, whether you like his work or not, he was a successful artist. Perhaps he was the most successful fine artist of the last half of the 2oth century.
    I was never the success that Andy Warhol was but my experience as a “doer” has been quite exceptional.
    I worked with Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Danny Thomas and Dick Van Dyke. I’ve been directed by Spielberg, Michael Mann and the Coen brothers. I’ve studied with Stella Adler and chatted with Hitchcock, Capra and Huston over coffee at the American Film Institute. I’ve worked with Julia Roberts, Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks and appeared w/ Michael Jackson in the first American commercial shown in the USSR.
    I built sets and ran props for Alice Cooper, Madonna, Prince and Janet Jackson and a hundred other commercials and music videos. I’ve taught privately for 15 years and yet I can’t teach on the college level because I have been a “doer” and not the requisite “thinker.”
    Because the Arts require action far more that criticism and evaluation it’s ironic that artists often only receive support after academic accolades. The “Art” and the artist don’t need these accolades for artistic or personal validation, but artists often do need them for funding or for the academic acceptance which might allow them opportunities as a “guest artist” in the same academic world.

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