Recently by Marian Godfrey

I know I am late to the party today but want to say this (besides saying thanks to Bill and to all of our bloggers).  I believe the dialog here has made important and critically necessary contributions to the process of developing a robust conceptual and intellectual framework for the argument that all individuals have a right to fully experience their creative capacity.  If I have quibbled with the term itself, that was in part because the question Bill posed to us was specifically about the viability of the term, and in part because I was hearing the words "expressive life" with the skeptical and bemused ear of a non-professional (a stance which I view as part of my job, and the thing I can offer to discussions such as this). 

BIll returns to the role of nonprofits in advancing the idea of expressive life.  I agree:  one thing this dialog has made abundantly clear is that for the idea to gain traction with policy makers, the first responsibility lies with us, who operate within the professional culture sector, to respect not only the idea of the cultural right to an expressive life, but also the individuals who pursue that right and the activities attendant upon that right.  For the time being, anyway, the media and other purveyors of commercial culture will acknowledge those individuals to the degree that they are, or can be converted to being, consumers.  It is the nonprofit cultural sector that has the already recognized responsibility to serve the public interest. and as such I believe that it is nonprofit cultural organizations that can and should be on the front lines of welcoming all kinds of creative individuals into the center of their missions and activities. The organizations who are thinking and acting most innovatively are already moving toward embracing this role.

PS to Jim:  I expect there is always a tension between voice and heritage; indeed, exploring such tensions is exactly what narrative is good at doing. 

I hope we can continue this conversation in other venues, it's a privilege to be in all your company.
January 29, 2010 5:12 PM | | Comments (0) |
I won't have time today to think about, much less respond to, yesterday's rich series of posts.  Will catch up tomorrow.  But just a quick thought about something that has been bothering me about voice and heritage.

Yesterday Bill reiterated his concern that "It feels as if "creativity" in all its permutations pushes us toward "voice" and "awakening the imagination."  It's difficult to bring heritage into creativity, I think..."  I don't agree with this and I think Bill's concern may have embedded in it a kind of cultural bias.  It is often true that within the institutions that purvey and sustain a mainstream European (forgive the reductive terms) culture and heritage, the notion of "creativity" privileges voice over heritage and as such an emphasis on creativity seems to pose a threat to the sustainability or equal weight of heritage.

But in other communities, for example the newcomer communities in Philadelphia that include Cambodian and Hmong groups, the enterprise of young artists is specifically to synthesize voice and heritage, or at least to negotiate a balanced relationship between the two.  These artists start from a stance of exploring their own creative expression but do so overtly within the context of the cultural heritage from which they come.  Russell's example of the graffiti artist's encounter with conservators is another example of a more nuanced relationship between voice and heritage. 

I keep returning to Jim Early's previous post and comment because one of the things he is talking about also seems to connect to this subject--that we have yet to give equal privilege and value to cultural expressions from all quarters in our consideration of the cultural landscape and our current, limited and flawed, cultural policies.
January 28, 2010 7:42 AM | | Comments (0) |
Great arguments have been made for both "expressive life" and "creativity" (creative vitality, creative capital, creative community...) as the best descriptor of a vibrant culture, with no consensus.  But what are the verbs that will call either the creative/expressive individual or policy makers to action?  Bill focuses us on the big policy problems threatening creative life:  the potential loss of net neutrality, and of the fair use doctrine in copyright law, for two.  I think it is difficult for the culture sector to get traction on these issues not only because big institutions don't see them as "their" issues, but also because advocates have not yet succeeded in making them kitchen table issues for the general public.  When we are talking about the importance of the creative or expressive capacity of the individual, how should we be talking TO that individual about what she or he has to gain and has to lose?  Does it work to say that if net neutrality is lost, big business will be able to suppress your ability to share your creative activities with your friends/network?  Can we inject some urgency into the situation through the language of action?  And by imagining we are talking to individuals, rather than about them, can we clarify the relative effectiveness of our terms?  For example I find it easier to use "self-expression" in such a sentence than "expressive life," but the problems with "self-expression" have been discussed. 

My nieces and nephews tell me they are more apt to think about their own "creative" life and activities than their "expressive" life, so I'm going with that one.  They also express a lot of self-reliance about their ability to pursue their creative activities--they don't see any entitlement to or need for outside support of the kind provided by our current subsidy-oriented arts policies.  But if they are informed that if big media succeed in suppressing net neutrality or fair use. and consequently they will lose the ability to access and share both information and creative expression, and if they are given something to do about it through an advocacy campaign, I believe they will act.
January 27, 2010 4:28 AM | | Comments (1) |
Lewis Hyde's and Steve Tepper's exchange about "reframing" concepts strikes me as a powerful avenue to pursue because it begins to knit together the question of naming a policy objective with the profounder matter of changing what we believe and how we think about what we are renaming.  I agree with Bill and others who point out that in accepting the idea of "expressive life" we must move to broader policy questions including copyright and mending the digital divide as a means of broadening access to tools critical to the individual's exploration of both "voice" and "heritage."  I also agree with Adrian that "Cultural policy in the United States is anemic in content and circumscribed in scope in part because big, noisy, self-interested organizations have pre-empted so much of the 'issue space'. They did it on the way up and they are going to do it on the way back down." 

Here's my question:  are we just going to ignore these organizations?  They are the bed we have made and are currently lying in.  If we are Darwinian about it, and just let them go down, we (and policy makers) could be heavily distracted by that depressing spectacle for another twenty years.  Or don't they need to be co-opted into the process of reframing both the place of expressivity in civic life, and the centrality of the expressive individual in our cultural life? 

What happens to our current non-profit cultural infrastructure will influence the success or not of the enterprise Bill has pointed us toward because in the eyes of many policy makers, especially at the local level, these big, noisy, dysfunctional organizations are the most important and visible carriers of cultural heritage.  Of course we can just wait the twenty years and let their fate resolve itself, but that doesn't feel like any way to pursue a movement, which is what it feels to me we are talking about.
January 26, 2010 3:14 AM | | Comments (1) |

I have been thinking about the concept of the cultural rights of all individuals, and the term "expressive life" to describe one such basic cultural right, since Bill began talking and writing about this idea several years ago. This concept responds to a universal human impulse toward curiosity and the search for meaning. It opens up a welcome space for people like me who lack the talent and/or tenacity to become professional artists, but need to be in touch with our own creative impulses and to be stimulated and elated by others' craft or artistic mastery. As such, it proposes a fundamental and critically important realignment of our cultural infrastructure to place the individual, and individual creative engagement, in the center.  But I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that the term "expressive life" itself will not accomplish what Bill wants of it, which is to shed the baggage of elitist assumptions that comes with the terms "arts" and "culture," and make room for a new policy perspective.

"Expressive life" could be seen by the same naysayers we are aiming to convert as broadly encompassing any and all forms of self-expression, creative or not, and even including destructive or anti-social self-expression.  In fact, it is even more general and abstract than "arts" or "culture." And I worry that the phrase, and Bill's proposal for "'heritage' and 'voice' as subdivisions of expressive life," could simply substitute new art-world verbal codes for old ones.

A new term such as "expressive life" could work if it is seen by the people whose activities it means to describe as actually representing them--and if it is embraced and used by them first of all.  This or any term needs to pass the smell test, particularly, of the young people on whom we place so much expectation for inventing new ways of blurring the lines between art and life, and between professional and avocational cultural activity.  If the people find both the concept and the phrase resonant, then there is a chance that policy makers will, too.

With that in mind I decided to conduct a short poll on the subject with my nieces and nephews, whose ages range between 17 and 30-something.

Here is what one of them said (in response to my use of Bill's earlier phrase, "vibrant expressive life," as my topic):

Vibrant expressive life - hmmm. As a stoic Mainer this phrase feels a little overdramatic to me. Maybe just drop the word "vibrant." Or say "creative life" instead. I do believe that everyone has creative gifts to offer, and unfortunately the circumstances of people's lives do not often support the bringing forth of these gifts. I know people who would be producing creative work if their time and energy wasn't devoted to scraping by.

I hope to offer other thoughts from other nieces and nephews in future posts.

January 24, 2010 12:50 PM | | Comments (1) |


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: 58 entries and counting


Recent Comments

Mary Trudel commented on What to Measure: Hello Bill, et al – Yes art does make better people, participants in this ...

Scott Walters commented on Do We Need Central Authority in Arts & Culture?: I agree with you, Bill. Your description here and in "Arts, Inc." of how wi...

Peter Linett commented on More Czars Than There Are in Heaven: All week I've been trying to pin down why this conversation -- as thoughtfu...

Dalouge Smith commented on Scorekeeping, by whom?: The problem isn't just a lack of think tank and data collection infrastruct...

Russell Willis Taylor commented on Contact us: Thanks for this suggestion -- I did read it and it is excellent! RYWT...

Jesus Pantel commented on Naming and Constructing the Frame: I'm still mulling over the term expressive life and I seem to understand it...

Research commented on Can we add Creative to Expression?: Consider that 'Creativity' is a given; it is common and shared with all lif...

Scott Walters commented on Where's the Action?: Speaking of young people, could a share a story that relates to this? Back ...

James Early commented on Twenty Years On...: First Step towards a Participatory Cultural Policy: Re-Engaging Diverse Com...

Latifah Taormina commented on Contact us: I heartily recommend that your bloggers go back and look up Shalini Venture...

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
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
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
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

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
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog