Here’s a bit of Mythologic license to brighten your day….
This post is in memory of Prometheus, who stole fire to give to mankind…..
Michael Kaiser, the President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, said this in a recent Huffington post article:
“The new (renewed?) focus on audience engagement appears to emerge from the sense that conventional arts organizations are losing their audiences to other forms of entertainment. Our audiences have the opportunity to be entertained at home on their personal computers and on television, to experience astonishing special effects at the movies, and to communicate with their friends non-stop via texting, cell phones, Facebook and Twitter.
“The sense of many is that things must change — our art must change, our approach to marketing must change and the nature of the audience experience must change. If we continue to operate in the same manner as we did in the twentieth century, the arts will die.“
There is real fear that establishment Art forms may not survive long into the future on the shoulders of the current generation of supporters. The more that Art is seen as being in competition with ‘entertainment’ the worse off it will come. Somehow we have placed art in the position where we confuse it with entertainment. Which I suppose is easy enough to do if all the public knows about art is what it consumes, no different than any other form of passive entertainment…..
Of the many responses out there I thought this one by Richard Evans had the most interesting things to say:
“Studies based on the NEA’s 2008 SPPA indicate that three-quarters of U. S. citizens participate in the arts through attendance at events, personal creation and performance, or through electronic media. But only 35% do so through attendance at “benchmark” professional arts events. There is then a vast territory of opportunity awaiting us, a likely participant pool much larger than the old focus on ticket-buying audiences that has previously obsessed us and painted us into a corner of the country’s artistic life. This enormous disparity means that, in order to capitalize on the potential, we must fundamentally change our personal and organizational assumptions as well as our strategies.
“Organizations as disparate as the Los Angeles Music Center (through Active Arts), the Saint Louis Shakespeare Festival (through Shake38), and STREB (through the Teen Action Club) have all done this. They’ve learned that the commitment which leads to new income (both earned and contributed) can be stimulated – on a large scale and across age groups – but only if they hold back old assumptions about monetization (as well as about artistic production). Instead, they focus on increasing their footprints in their communities, and create direct, passionately felt experiences of artmaking and participation that build expressive lives rather than just expose product.“
Let me repeat the idea behind that last bit: promoting creatively expressive lives rather than just unveiling art as but one more consumer good. Could it be that art isn’t there for us merely to be entertained by but as something for us to DO? In other words (and this is something I’ve been saying for a while now), is it just possible that we encourage an art interested community by keeping their own native curiosity alive? And that we nurture curiosity by keeping our community’s hand actively engaged in the creative role of imagination? The truth seems to be that we build more support for the arts by helping folks remember that they themselves are artists. We remind folks that they are not just consumers of other people’s creativity but are also capable initiators of creativity. We bring them the fire of Prometheus, not to watch others work with, but to play with themselves.
Well, that’s one opinion….
Unfortunately its an opinion that seems to scare some people. It may be of little surprise that the old guard of Establishment Art Professionals feels threatened by the wider focus on our universal native human creativity rather than the narrowly sanctioned products of professional artists. Treating the public as consumers puts the audience in their place and feeds them the Certified Art Objects that have been vetted by the gatekeepers. It keeps the public in line, puts them in their place on the bus, and it gives them no responsibility, authority, or creative input. “Let the professionals take care of it”, one might say…..
Here is Barry Hessenius, former Director of the California Arts Council, to provide a glimpse of this view:
“I wonder if – despite all the positive outcomes that our moving from being the ‘arts’ to being the ‘creative’ sector has brought, we may have blurred the lines too much and lost an exalted platform from which to operate. I wonder if creativity is an even more difficult argument in the long run, than the arts are. I wonder if we are in danger of forsaking one of our greatest assets – the perception of art as ‘special’ and distinct and exalted – an enterprise with a legacy more fully developed in the public consciousness – for the less defined, less meaningful creativity hodgepodge. I wonder if everyone is creative, then what distinguishes the artist.”
I’ll repeat that last foreboding filled sentence: “If everyone is creative, then what distinguishes the artist?” Heaven forfend we ever get to that point….(!)
The argument seems to be that it is dangerous to indiscriminately nurture people’s creativity. Like putting a loaded gun in an infant’s hands. Like putting the Mona Lisa up in Joe’s Roadside Tavern. We simply can’t trust ordinary people to do the right things with creativity. The public just can’t handle it. Things will get “muddy”. The natural order will be disturbed. Its the same argument the aristocracy had for the serfs. Its the reason Democracy disappoints us so much. Its the reason the gods kept fire out of our hands for so long….
For some folks out there it may simply be more important that some artists are treated as ‘special’ people, that certain Art be exalted, than that everyone should enjoy creative lives. Don’t let the unwashed masses feel they have a hand in creativity, for Art’s almighty sake! Strap them to their cushions while the High Priests, the REAL Artists, prance about on stage. Don’t we need professionals to show us what the ‘authentic art’ is? Pearls that may end up only getting cast before swine (or hoarded in the inner sanctum)? But the pearls are the important thing. Not the swine.
In some people’s minds it may be more important that we save some one particular threatened (yet somehow still ‘exalted’) Art form than that we indulge the wider public’s nascent creative abilities. We may even wonder how something posing as ‘exalted’ could be in the position of having so little currency with audiences. It may just come down to a choice between money spent propping up a failing industry and money spent building the wider public’s access to creativity in their own lives. Funding for the arts is so limited that we may be forced to sacrifice one to save the other. This is the fear that haunts the dark corners of the Ivory Tower, that we may decide to keep the wrong thing.
The keepers of The Orthodoxy might just consider it better to leave an audience passively entertained in their seats, and as creatively stunted and unenlightened consumers, than to invite them to take the stage (ANY stage) themselves. Keep them doped up on other people’s art. Put the fire back where it belongs. The High Priests have been trained to use it. The public will only end up getting burned. Its for their own good that the fire is taken out of the public’s hands.
And if that is true, it is obviously more important to reserve the right of creativity to an elite few than to dilute it among the peons. What the High Priests do is always more important than anything the untutored masses can come up with. It is almost certainly worth more to keep the plebs passively entertained and controlled than to let them be creatively or responsibly engaged. “Let US tell you what you need to know….”
That’s not my opinion….
And the funny thing I’ve noticed is that other creative types actually seem to be the most ardent supporters of the arts. The more connected they are to creativity… the more connected they are. They have the fire of Prometheus within them. They may not have the financial wherewithal that others have, but they already value the fruit of creative engagement. Potters buy pots, musicians groove on music, actors attend the theatre, etc. What could be more natural than that creativity inspires, nourishes, and supports other creativity?
Isn’t this the gift of fire? That it should be fueled and shared rather than hoarded in some priestly venue? Visited only during Temple store hours? Doesn’t fire naturally want to spread? Isn’t fire a gift to all humanity rather than to the chosen few…? Isn’t every child a natural vessel for creativity? Isn’t creativity what we all are owed, an inalienable human right, rather than something the adult public are spoon fed, and need to always pay the price of admission for? Isn’t creativity our own responsibility? Each of us?
Who does it serve that creativity is stripped from the general public’s abilities? Have the gods returned and stolen back the fire? Or their surrogates? Of course the fewer the people who have access to it the more it can be controlled. Like money in the bank. Like grain in the silo. And if we little people so thoroughly lack creative freedom in our daily lives, will we one day wake up and find out that not only are we missing creativity, but we are missing freedom as well? Think about it….
Did we possibly make a mistake when we gave it to the High Priests for safekeeping? Are we really so out of touch with the gift of creative responsibility that we now need a Prometheus to return and restore it to us? Will the flame wither, clutched in so few hands? Will the flame die out without the strength of the public to fuel it? Will the establishment’s greedy and selfish control of ‘exalted creativity’ eventually come back to bite it in the ass?
What do YOU think? How should art try to relate to people? As entertainment? As a sop? Or as something we ourselves are each capable of?
….set the controls for the heart of the sun…..
….the heart of the sun….
….the heart of the sun….
….the heart of the sun…………..