Classical Art: Entertainment or Preservation?

Ballet shoes preservation of artA couple months ago I was in a meeting about creative disruption. The conversation quickly turned into a discussion about the differences between commercial art forms and educational art forms.

One thought was that some art organizations are really “museum” type organizations, desperately trying to preserve art forms that are no longer commercially viable. With so many symphonies, opera houses, and dance companies struggling, it might appear that the support for these art forms is dying. To me, it seems that the audience just wants to experience these art forms on their own terms. Last year, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Lumenosity proved that people are willing to hear an orchestra perform. The TV show So You Think You Can Dance has been on the air for 10 years, introducing people to the powerful storytelling capabilities of dance. SYTYCD has featured tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop, contemporary, and probably 20 more styles of dance.

What is the real purpose of arts organizations today? If they are not for profit, they fall under section 501(c)3 tax code purely because they are educational, as there is no category for arts and culture. But does this mean they should be relegated to preservation purposes only? Of course not!

Should we abandon art forms such as opera, ballet, and classical music because audiences are now less interested? This is where it gets harder to answer and begins to contradict itself. So much of the art that is now popular – contemporary dance, for example, has basis in the more traditional forms. Would we have contemporary dance as we know it today without the talent that came out of classical ballet? Probably not. At this point though, students are trained in contemporary without starting in ballet. Perhaps a ballet foundation is helpful but I will leave that to a dancer to answer.

Once again, my post has become a series of questions without satisfying answers – but these are the questions plaguing the next generation of arts organizations. I like to think we are slowly finding answers – putting classic art forms into the context of today seems to be part of the answer. I have a feeling that at some point classical arts will succumb to the pressure and go the way of Latin – taught only in classrooms as a basis for understanding our current language. I certainly hope this does not happen in my lifetime though!

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Mont Saint-Michel Courtyard

Mont Saint-Michel Courtyard

An empty courtyard from my March visit to Mont Saint-Michel in France. I think this was my favorite part of the trip. I just loved the buildings and the self-contained atmosphere of the island. It was a great place to explore. This particular spot was out of the way, giving the impression of being alone (minus the photog in the background, ha!) although the main thoroughfare wasn’t far off and had tons of people. (Click the picture to go the the wiki travel page for a history of Mont St Michel.)

It Must be for Good Reason

Something a coworker said yesterday left me unsettled. I’ve spent a lot of time sending separate contracts to the same people for different performances, mainly because these performances have come up at different times. Around the time I get all the signed contracts back for one performance, I have to put together a whole new set. And let me tell you: getting artists to return a signed contract in a timely manner is usually a matter of about a dozen follow up emails and calls. Multiply that by two dozen artists and multiple performances and I spend most of my time begging, pleading, and cajoling just to get a signed piece of paper.

So I thought out loud that it would have been so much easier to send one contract encompassing ALL of the performances… For me and for them. My coworker said, “Well if that’s how it’s always been done it must be for good reason.”

Not kidding. My unspoken retort: tell that to the inventor of, well….anything remotely useful. But I realized it was said automatically and so I just let it drop. However, this isn’t the first time this way of thinking has come up and I thought it deserved comment.

I could say it is generational (the coworker here is close to retirement), but I don’t know if that is really the case. Maybe it is just the perspective of someone who has worked long enough to realize that we have to do what we are told in order to get a paycheck, and trying to change how things are done is too complicated and time consuming to be justified (at least for those working in large, institutional type organizations). One thing I am learning: I do not want to work in the bottom level of an institutional organization for long.

Valuing Art-making

I’ve been browsing through articles today – and a couple caught my eye. First was about a study done on art-making by corporate executives, by John Bryan. Second was a post about when ballet dancers choose to retire, by Melody Datz.

The study about corporate executives was a little discouraging to me – after all, two-thirds of the respondents answered “No” to the first question, ending the survey altogether. But the second article reminded me that artists do not often enter a corporate workforce…many are starting their own businesses and companies, or looking for second careers that allow them to help others (nursing was one example in the article).

Should we expect the corporate world to value art-making? Do CEOs need to participate in art-making in order to value it? Why not ask CEOs the following questions:

  • Do you value art?
  • Do you consider art-making to be an indicator of creativity?
  • Are you creative?
  • Do you consider art-making or creativity when making hiring decisions?

Although the study seems to hint at the benefit of an executive’s art-making to his or her company’s bottom line, it doesn’t actually follow through with any sort of bottom line comparison of the CEOs who do and do not make art. I know that would be difficult comparison to make, but it still begs the question!

Mr. Bryan claims, “But while creativity is an attribute that is subjective and hard to identify, art maker is an objective attribute that is easily identified.” I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that statement. These days, so many corporate executives are enabling art by granting, sponsoring, and sitting on boards. Can we say that without them the art would still be made? Maybe. But as it is, it is often corporations and their executives that fund and lead arts organizations – is that not counted as making art?

The survey implied making art is a direct correlation to developing creativity, which is the basis of the increased bottom line performance statistic mentioned at the beginning of the “Art-Making” article. Can’t creativity be fostered through the enjoyment of art? Isn’t that what every arts org mission statement says anyway: “…to foster the enjoyment of <art form> and creative thinking and problem solving that results from <art form>”? (Oh, and if you are writing a new mission statement for your org, you’re welcome. I just saved you 12 hours of board retreat!)

These are a lot of questions, and I certainly don’t have the answers. It was just interesting to me that a study about art-making was so very specific in the definition that it likely didn’t account for any other arts participation at all. Maybe that was the point. Sometimes there is beauty in simplicity but this study was too basic for any real questions to be answered.