All models are wrong, some are useful

By Andrew Taylor
I've been an active user of ''expressive life'' since I first heard Bill discuss it years ago. The phrase captured the spirit of the more ecological and systemic approach I had been seeking in my teaching and research. And it offered a bigger frame that included our traditional set of ''arts and culture'' but with elbow room for other forms of artistic expression and experience as well. Its closest contender, ''creative life,'' didn't work for me, as creativity is really only a subset of expressive activity.

But in this week's conversation, I'm less concerned about whether ''expressive life'' is exactly the right phrase for everyone, and more interested in whether it offers a USEFUL frame for the real work of our field. The George Box quote used as the title of this post gets to the heart of that issue: Every model we use to engage the world is incomplete or incorrect in some way -- it has to be. What matters is how well those imperfect models move us forward in the specific task at hand.

For me, at least, ''expressive life'' has become an extraordinarily useful model -- in teaching my MBA students about policy and practice, in discussing issues in the arts with peers, in thinking about the cast of characters that influence how we create, present, connect, discuss, preserve, and support both human heritage and individual voice.

As Marian suggests, the phrase doesn't ''do'' much on its own. But I think it allows us to think about, speak about, and go about our work in more productive and connected ways. And that's a start.
January 25, 2010 12:01 AM | | Comments (1) |


I'm interested in more of your reasoning for "creative life" being just a subset of "expressive life." What is it missing?

Expressive life seems too clunky. Creative life is a little smoother. But I agree with Andras we should reclaim arts and culture and not throw it by the wayside. How about art, culture, and creativity? Or arts and creativity?


This Conversation Are the terms "Art" and "Culture" tough enough to frame a public policy carve-out for the 21st century? Are the old familiar words, weighted with multiple meanings and unhelpful preconceptions, simply no longer useful in analysis or advocacy? In his book, Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey advances "Expressive Life" as a new, expanded policy arena - a frame sufficiently robust to stand proudly beside "Work Life," "Family Life," "Education," and "The Environment." Is Ivey on the right track, or more

Our Bloggers

Adrian Ellis; Alan Brown; Andras Szanto; Andrew Taylor; Bau Graves; Douglas McLennan; Ellen Lovell; Bill Ivey, William James; James Early; Jim Smith; Lewis Hyde; Marian Godfrey; Martha Bayles; Nihar Patel; Russell Taylor; Sam Jones; Steven Tepper


Contact us Click here to send us an email... more

Archives: 61 entries and counting


Recent Comments

Jesus Pantel commented on All models are wrong, some are useful: I'm interested in more of your reasoning for "creative life" being just a s...

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary