Taste, Race and Meaning Making

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Taste is influenced by privilege. And in America’s serious arts industry, that privilege is shaped by whiteness (or a type of whiteness based on European heritage). This is the final post in a triptych [What If There is no Excellence? and Everybody’s Got One] investigating what I am calling the “excellence equation.” In many ways it is the most difficult post I’ve written since I launched the … [Read more...]

Everybody’s Got One

Dude, opinion quote

The 21st century has delivered us into a world where we define “participation” as an invitation to post an opinion. And it seems that everybody’s got one to share. “People want meaningful opportunities to participate and contribute, to add their piece of information, view or opinion,” argues Charles Leadbeater in We Think. “They want viable ways to share, to think and work laterally with their … [Read more...]

What if there is no “Excellence?”

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What if there is only taste, which is only opinion formed through social constructs, which is only cultural learning influenced by a range of environmental factors? Over the past few months I’ve been writing about issues and ideas related to meaning-making and the arts. Exploring how meaning making happens is a complicated process, ruled as much by evolutionary biology and brain science as it … [Read more...]

Audiencing

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I’m off to London this week to do some full-time audiencing. Those of you who are familiar with Christopher Small’s work know that I am referencing his concept of musicking: an activity in which all those present are involved and for whose nature and quality, success or failure, everyone present bears some responsibility. It is not just a matter of composer, or even performers, actively doing … [Read more...]

Ex Uno Plures (or why we need to forget e pluribus unum when it come to the arts)

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From one, many. If I were writing a new constitution for audience engagement strategies, that’s the motto I’d apply to our official seal. When it comes to interpreting a work of art, the notion that our goal is to work toward the one true meaning is psychologically, cognitively and culturally misguided. We should instead be celebrating the wide variety of meanings that surface when audiences … [Read more...]

Monetize This: Tales from Two Convenings

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I’ve been on the road participating in two convenings and learning from a host of smart arts workers (administrator/programmers, philanthropists, scholars and artists). Several topics, plenty of compelling data (soft and hard), some competing agendi. Through it all I was struck, again and again, by how often the topic of interpretation and valuation came up. The words/jargon might be different … [Read more...]

Telling the World What Dance Means, 21st Century Style

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Want an example of how social interpretation (audience-produced meaning making that occurs in/through public settings and mechanisms) operates in the contemporary arts world? Check out the Audience Review portal at The Dance Enthusiast.com. The brainchild of former dancer and producer Christine Jowers, The Dance Enthusiast is a self-described “digital news site and arts service … [Read more...]

Across to the Other Side

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"What matters is not what happened but what people think happened."   ~Harold Pinter The human mind is always busy translating symbols (whether man-made or natural) in the external world. The Latin word translatio expresses the process beautifully. It means, “to carry across.” The human mind is also always looking for opportunities to integrate those symbols into a higher-order unity, in … [Read more...]

How We Got Our ‘Making Sense Organ’

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In Art and Intimacy, evolutionary anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake’s recent study of the relationship between art making and the “infancy of the human species,” she notes that meaning was first located in “what ‘felt right’—a full stomach, a safe environment, nearness of familiar others, or ways to acquire these.” Over a millennia of human evolution, the mind increasingly became a “making-sense … [Read more...]

What is this thing called meaning?

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Autumn brings the urge to change up my rhetorical strategy a bit, so for the next month or so I’ll switch from writing self-contained essays on different topics to posting a series of quotes, ideas-for-thought, and short provocations exploring the concept of meaning-making in the arts. As readers of this blog know, my mission is to open up the meaning-making process to and for our … [Read more...]