Feelings... Nothing More Than

By Alex Shapiro, Composer
With the likely exception of the person penning this post, this blog has been filled with tremendously agile minds that offer brilliant and deeply held beliefs about how to keep the arts patient healthy. Thanks to Doug for hosting one helluva e-party. Can I have you all over for dinner next week?

For all our analysis and intellect, let's remember that ultimately, people experience the arts because they want to feel something. So, when we discuss just how to get them to support all these feeling-making activities, we benefit by approaching the solution from the loins of that same desire. Oooh!

Just like art itself: it comes from feelings and emotions, right? The intellect is just the part that kicks in to allow the artist to make sense of all those right-brain instincts. We're all mammals with pulses. When it comes to promoting art of any kind, thinking on the most visceral, base level will score us the most points because that's exactly what connects the artists' work with the audiences' interest: they all want to feel. Something.

People also want to be heard, and that's part of the profound connection made by art: it expresses for them that which they have no words to express for themselves (likewise, for the artist him or herself). Usually, the art that connects the most successfully is that which springs from the artist authentically and offers a glimpse of their uncensored, unfiltered heart.

It's rather like a productive psychotherapy session: we get the farthest when we talk openly about how something makes us feel. Now double this into couple's therapy: the more the two parties can talk to each other about their genuine emotions, the more successfully they'll be able to communicate and understand each other-even if they disagree. So if the couple in question here is the artist and the audience, given that both want to be heard, getting the dialog going on a very base level may be pretty rewarding.

Lynne's got it right when she describes our need to not only involve the audience to whom we look for support, but to reach them particularly directly by caring enough to ask, "how did [this art experience] make you feel?". Whether we're seeking funding, or just seeking attendance, we cannot expect the non-arts world to care about us just because we happen to believe we're valuable. Entitlement doesn't play well. What does come across wonderfully, however, is when we demonstrate that we actually care about the experience we're offering and its impact-or not-on the ears and eyes receiving it. Just like that couple in therapy.

To ward off any angry creative villagers now heading toward me with spears, let me say that with art, even if the impact is not the most, uh, positive one, in no way does that mean the artist should alter their work (unless they choose to do so) or hang it all up and get that veterinary degree after all. Nope. Artists can remain completely true to themselves while simultaneously showing that they take an interest in the feelings of those around them. Especially if they expect those around them to support what they do. File this under "being a good human."

So, the problem with that great therapy session, is when the third wheel-- and yes, it is one-- of policy, enters the room. Policy really has little business being there, and yet keeps showing up to interrupt the otherwise intimate relationship between the artist and the audience. Policy tends not to care very much about feelings because it's wrapped up in legal and technological issues that cause its left brain to swell to such a degree that the right hemisphere as well as the emotion-laden limbic system are terribly squished. I hope I'm amusing you. But take heart: while policy is unavoidable, it cannot be made without...

Mammals with a pulse, who feel.

My observation from lobbying experiences over the years in D.C. and elsewhere has been that a fair amount of the disconnect between the policy makers and the subject about which they are making policy, is due to a lack of enough contact with that subject on any personal, feeling-based level. To wit: most policy makers don't hang out a whole lot with artists. We are, after all, all in different worlds.

Or... not.

In response to Doug's challenge, I think it would be pretty terrific if arts service organizations would place a greater emphasis on putting art-makers and policy-makers in the same room, whether formally or, far better, socially. Non-artists really do derive a great deal of pleasure getting to spend a little time with those of us who do things that they love but cannot imagine being able to do themselves. Just as they might be a little bit foreign to us, we're a little bit exotic to them, and we fail to make enough use of this natural asset. Seeing someone light up when they get to talk about art after a whole week of talking about nothing other than business or legislative issues, is a real joy. Interacting with those in charge of the policies on an emotional, human level is one of the most effective things artists can do.

With all the excellent, potentially transformative, as Doug says, policy suggestions that have flooded these enpixelated pages, one of the most important transformative policies I can think of is that which takes place within ourselves: that of our perceptions. Many of this week's bloggers are themselves gifted artists (sorry to blow y'all's cover). I'm hoping that they're smiling as they read this. Technology has changed everything, and will only continue to do so. Policy battles will always exist. But thinking on a purely emotional level is something that will never, ever be altered no matter what the next paradigm shift may be, and emotion is what artists do beautifully. Let's use it!

Even if we're not policy-makers, we can be policy-influencers. To my U.S. artist colleagues reading this, I invite you to fearlessly call up the office of the policy-maker of your choice and schedule an appointment for a brief visit with them, either in your home state or in D.C. Tell the aide or assistant to whom you speak that you're a constituent (if this is an elected official- who you, as a taxpayer, employ). Or, if it's a commissioner or business leader, indicate that you want to say hello, introduce yourself, and just have a brief conversation about... fill in the blank. How has the internet indelibly affected your career? How have the latest hearings on C-SPAN inspired your latest piece of work? What is your life as an artist like, and what are the issues that are important to you? How about those Lakers? You don't have to know the scholarly details of anything, except of your own life. Because ultimately, it's your life that is going to be affected by their decisions. The more connected to artists those decision-makers can be, the more feeling and emotion that may, just possibly, infuse the framework of their policies. Let's appeal to the part that feels the best: they're all... human!
July 23, 2010 10:49 AM | | Comments (0) |

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