an ARTSJOURNAL weblog | ArtsJournal Home | AJ Blog Central

Monday, March 14, 2005

The education reflex

I had a blast last week participating in the special ArtsJournal collaborative weblog asking 'is there a better case to be made for the arts?' There was so much depth and context to the entries and the comments, I don't need to dwell on it here.

But one recurring theme kept striking me throughout: our immediate, seemingly reflexive response to suggest education in the structure and form of art disciplines as a primary key to engaging audiences. The general assumption was captured in one of The Wallace Foundation's bullet-point conclusions in a press release:

Encourage arts organizations to provide rewarding experiences that connect with audiences and educate them to appreciate the arts.

That last phrase, 'educate them to appreciate the arts,' sounds so natural, so obvious, that we often let it slip by without raising the question: is functional knowledge of an art discipline the primary and most relevant variable of meaning and connection? Do I have to know how about Brecht's 'fourth wall' to feel connected in the interplay of drama and audience? Do I need to know about a recapitulation to be enthralled by a symphonic phrase?

Certainly, my experience with the art form will change as I learn about what makes it work, but is that knowledge really the key to my passion for it?

I'd suggest that the deeper answer to engaging audiences is not just in teaching, but in learning...not just in talking, but in listening. Then we can all discover -- audience, artist, arts organization -- what meaning we make together, rather than one side defining the terms for everyone.

posted on Monday, March 14, 2005 | permalink