Bridging the Creative/Critical Divides

By Vicki Callahan, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
I want to chime in on Lynne's "Jagger Effect" as this is huge problem that I have seen within the academic context and directly impacts the bigger question of creative rights and artists.  The notion that art and artists are separate from more prosaic activities and being is still one very much in place in educational, especially art schools but indeed most university, environments.  That is, art is seen as a specialized and isolated, or as Alex noted earlier, "self-referential," act.  The supposed divide between critical and creative skills is not only in play but deeply engrained within much of our arts and humanities schooling.  The implications, then, regarding the possibilities for the who and how of expression or any sort of larger conversations around the arts are enormous. Issues concerning public policy are almost completely absent from art school curriculum and while questions of social justice do emerge (often with disdain from many artists/educators who do not see this as part of the artist's mission) the practicalities of engagement are typically quite local and rarely link up with larger policy questions, goals, or groups.  Indeed at times obvious links are not even made across an individual campus.  The question becomes then how to connect and build on the larger liberatory impetus in much creative and scholarly work.>

I agree strongly with Nettrice and Brian on the need to bring new tools and technologies into the mix, not because these elements are in themselves inherently more democratic, but because they offer an opportunity to destabilize profoundly some rigid structures currently in place both inside and outside academia (and why we see such resistance and trivialization of their use at times).  The good news, sort of, is that alongside of what we see as an aesthetic divide is also a generational one.  Many young artists within academia are already taking up these new strategies, technologies, and ideas despite a lack of consistent institutional support, enthusiasm, or interest in innovative art practices.  I don't think we can afford to wait for change to happen via a generational turn over (since institutions do have a way of reproducing themselves ultimately when left to their own internal mechanisms).   What we do need is to find a way to open up the conversation on these divides - including, especially, the academic/outside world divide.  Brian's game suggestion is definitely a good place to begin.  I understand and applaud Bill Ivey's call for Department of Cultural Affairs as a way to centralize the issues for the arts and artists, but I would also suggest a parallel external, perhaps virtual, organization, consortium, or think tank, that brings as many diverse perspectives into the mix as possible but with the umbrella goal of reshaping arts policy along more democratic lines (politically and aesthetically).

July 19, 2010 1:18 PM | | Comments (1) |


Any time ArtsJournal adds a new blog, you can bet there will also be new additions to the list of things music schools don't teach but should: criticism, business, marketing, fundraising, tax law, non-profit management, and now IP policy. I think those are all worthy fields of study, but I don't think they belong in music school, at least not as required courses, which is what's often implied.

There are those who believe that the endgame of higher education is employability, that the value of an education is directly proportional to how much the graduate is able to earn after entering the workforce. One music professor I know calls this "hire" education, and he is not alone, even among musicians, in endorsing it. The problem is that in a world where "hire" education rules the day, the arts would not be taught in college at all; this is a world not only without art, but also without the idealism that makes it possible. We sell out this idealism at our own peril.

I'm not arguing against a well-rounded education. I took as many non-music electives as my school would let me get away with, and I wish they'd have let me get away with more. However, I did not go to music school to become an entrepreneur, a scholar, or an activist. I have a natural affinity for all of those roles, and have played them to varying degrees since graduating, but that's still not why I went to music school, and it won't be why I go back, if I ever do. When I was 18, all the older people were impressed with my "commitment," "dedication," "ambition," and it won me allies and favor; sometime in the last 10 years, it became "isolated," "specialized," "self-referential," and now I get into arguments about it. In any case, I can't see the benefits outweighing the drawbacks here: simply forcing more of these classes on a bunch of young artists guarantees nothing in the way of change, all the while putting them in the "hire" education box that us artists ought to be loathe to inhabit.

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