Songs for the Struggling Artist


Arts in Education
July 9, 2010, 1:13 am
Filed under: art, education, Feldenkrais, theatre | Tags: , ,

I’ve just come from another Arts in Education meeting for yet another Arts in Ed organization for whom I work as a teaching artist. It wasn’t a particularly bad one as these sorts of things go. It was, on the spectrum, one of the better ones. However, I fought nausea throughout it and came home with a kind of pent up anger and anxiety that has little to do with what this particular organization/project was about and more to do with how Arts in Education works in general.

I just watched a group of well meaning people get further and further away from art just now. Myself included. We’re artists. We got into this because we’re artists and we like to teach what we do. However – it feels to me that the more we talk about goals, blueprints, standards and benchmarks of education, the more we discuss our rules and regulations, our structures and our plans, the further away we get from art. There were problems with this program tonight, lots of people had problems at their schools and the meeting exists to help us solve them. We solve them by trying to create more and more structures. We solve them by formalizing things that were organic (or organically messy.) We plan for disaster and somehow take the fun of it all. More and more I feel like I work in EDUCATION and less and less in ART. And I’m not sure I believe in EDUCATION, so I’m a little at odds with myself in these situations.

EDUCATION tends to mean looking at stuff that doesn’t work and figuring out how to improve it. For example, kids don’t know how to read, so we must teach them. Teachers don’t know how to make a rehearsal schedule so we must help them. This kid is bad at math, so he must work harder on math. This is natural, normal education. But lately I’ve been interested in practices that work in the opposite way – my current training in the Feldenkrais Method for one. Dr. Feldenkrais said something along the lines of – work on the problem and you get a very good problem. In other words, by focusing directly on the thing that doesn’t work, that thing gets very entrenched and steals an enormous amount of focus.

Along these same lines, the Strengths Movement, which has taken off in the business world, is now opening up into Education. This too speaks to educating what is already easy. That is, if I’m sucky at accounting but awesome at generating ideas, the thing to do is not to teach me to be a better accountant – but to help me improve my idea generation. This so rarely happens in education, no one even knows what in the heck it could look like.

Tonight, at this meeting, I noticed that I was the only person at the table who didn’t have any real problems at her school. It was pretty damn successful all around. But no one asked me “What did YOU do to make this successful?” We all just assumed (myself included) that I just got lucky with my situation. The fact that this has happened twice now – in two different organizations with two different programs just makes me say “hmmm.”  It might well have been the roll of the dice. I had some other programs this year that were the worst residencies I’ve ever had. Guess which program got discussed more?

Sometimes I get asked what I think at these sorts of things – and when I do, it’s usually to explain why a problem was a problem. For the most part, because I’m a freelancer with no guarantee that I’ll be working again in the fall, I don’t feel like I can say what I think at these meetings. Partly that’s because I’m in a very precarious position (a topic for another post one day, I think) but also because what I think goes so far beyond the particulars of each residency or each program or even each arts organization. I don’t know how to talk about it. This problem is too big to fix. But, there I go trying to fix the problem! And it’s a very good problem. It looms very large.

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