Sunday, March 8, 2015

Happy 2015 International Women's Day!

I love what I do and I'm so blessed to have so many other fantastic women who have walked this path before me and are on it now with me (and those yet to come!). I hope everyone takes a second to reflect on how far we've come... and then gets back to work on where we're headed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

High Art vs Low Art

“The masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator.”
--The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin, 1936

Is there any more contentious question in the art world than the concept of “high” versus “low”
I like venn diagrams.
And shouldn't art really be in the middle? 
art? Who gets to judge? What are the parameters in which to judge? There is no standard definition for either concept and personal explanations range from simple to incredibly complex.
One common theory about how to explain the difference is high art is “popular” and low art is “unpopular”, that is, appealing (or not) to many people. This also links to another version of the difference: that high art fosters the widest connection between people while a smaller subsection enjoys low art.
This is in direct contradiction, though, to the idea of low art being part of mass culture (raising yet another question of “is art culture” or merely a component of it?) while high art is elitist in nature, appealing to only those who have the proper education to appreciate it.
A more formal definition of high art is that with “a genealogy, a “lineage”, or history. It is the primary material with which any history of art in this century must contend.” Low art are those “forms and styles associated with urban culture in industrialized nations... whose primary social and psychological characteristics are self-conscious, streetwise, and commercial.” (Karp 14) Is Shakespeare’s canon high art because it has been produced, dissected, and critiqued for 400 years but both hands theater is low art because it is new and written collaboratively between two untrained playwrights and their actors?
Some critics contend that high art is that which is able to move people emotionally and low art doesn’t but this begs the question of how do you empirically know how any one feels about a piece of art? Without asking each and every person throughout history? The ballet of Diaghilev or modern dance of Martha Graham may be considered to be high art by critics. Does this make the breakdancers on the street or the Vogue dance movement from the gay youth in Harlem any less moving because they arose from the crowds or are not as widely taught?
This leads to another way of distinguishing between high and low: high is seen as something that only trained professionals can do whereas low is something anyone could do. Some critics want to dismiss folk art as unimportant. If the NEA funds it and internationally recognized schools and museums feature it, it can’t possibly be unimportant. Bach and Beethoven, classical music, is generally preferred as high art, possibly because highly trained professionals usually perform it. Does this make the local mariachi band at the Mexican restaurant or the jam sessions of Appalachian bluegrass players any less inspirational?
 “High art consists of the meticulous expression in fine materials of refined or noble sentiment, appreciation of the former depending on such things as intelligence, social standing, educated taste, and a willingness to be challenged.  Low art is the shoddy manufacturing in inferior materials of superficial kitsch, simply catering to popular taste, unreflective acceptance of realism.” (Delahunt) While this is a normal approach to defining paintings and sculptures by Renaissance masters as high art, where does this leave modern photographers such as Helmut Newton or Annie Leibovitz, arguably two of the most realistic photographers of our day? Just because their most well known work appears in the covers of mass-culture magazines (Vogue, Vanity Fair), does this mean that their work is low art?
Coming at this from an audience perspective, another description of the two is that high art “challenges and questions audiences’ expectations” whereas low art “comforts, satisfies, or reassures audiences’ expectations.” (Geerink) She uses the example of literature: Harlequin romance novels are considered low art precisely because they comfort the typical reader. James Joyce, however, challenges expectations, or, in other words, makes the reader think.
Perhaps, at the core, the difference between the two categories, should come down to just that: making the audience think. Marlon James, a Minneapolis based author, said, “We do not recognize or appreciate critical thinking nor do we think critically.” By including each individual audience member in the definition, it forces responsibility on every one to determine their own response to a piece. Good art is that which makes a person take a second look. This could be what are traditionally thought of as high art (Hemingway, Tolstoy, Balanchine, da Vinci, Picasso, Ibsen) but just as easily refers to what is often sneered at as low art (outsider art, comics and cartoons, improv and stand-up, science fiction). Some education is necessary for the process of critical thinking, not for the enjoyment of the art. Encouraging the audience to intimately engage with the art on their own terms is what we should be asking, rather than offering a determination for them.

Works Cited

Delahunt, Michael. “Art Dictionary”. n.d. Web. 11 Aug 2011

Geerink, Jan. “Pure Examples of High and Low Art”. 20 Jan 2007. Web. 11 Aug 2011

James, Marlon. “High Art, Low Art, and Critical Thought” March 13, 2007. Web. 11 Aug 2011

Karp, Ivan. “High and Low Revisited” American Art Vol. 5, No. 3 (Summer, 1991): 12-17 JSTOR. Web. 11 Aug
This was the first piece I wrote for the Master of Arts in Arts Administration program at Goucher College. I still love it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ignoring our nose to spite our face

What information are we not seeking?
R-O-B/Structural Oscillations
NYC Dept of Transportation
Creative Commons license
What feedback delays are we not paying attention to?
What incentives are we ignoring?

As well and artistically fantastic as subsidization is (through direct patronage or tax relief), it harms our organization and system because it severely weakens or removes several feedback flows necessary to a stable structure.

-the oscillations of ticket sales do not provide a reinforcing loop to performance decisions (when, where, what, marketing)
-the constant stock of free labor serves to reinforce the dangerous growth of itself, of unpaid labor
-the reasons companies collapse are ignored because of ease of new company creation

Yes, artistic growth can be hampered by the vagaries of market forces inclining artists to make comfortable choices.

But it is also stymied by an inefficient support structure that is incapable of properly responding to market forces.

Too little of a good thing is as problematic as too much.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Is there even a system here really?

I find myself pulling out Donella Meadow's Thinking in Systems: A Primer again, as I read the hundred billionth blog/newspaper/magazine post about the (admittedly) amazing local food scene we have here. I will own up the truth: I am bitterly jealous, an emotion I have tried to root out in all other facets of my life. And it's not even jealous for me, it's a jealousy for my beloved field, all those hard working actors and directors and designers and theater lovers. The irony, of course, is that because we do what we do, restaurants, food trucks, all sorts of food-related night-life related establishments spring up around us to take advantage of OUR audience, of OUR casts needing some place to grab a quick bite before a show call or gather together after the performance to discuss meanings, nuances, or how great the energy was in the house. 
So I go back and ask "What have they got that we ain't got?" (to coin a phrase). And that's when I get back to the whole system thing. While I think we are part of a system, and could conceivably be a micro-system unto ourselves, I have been able to identify that we lack the sheer number of stocks and flows that the local food system has. So that's one leg up they've got. 
It's also easy to discuss food. I mean ,food isn't necessarily easy (having attempted gardens, I can't begin to imagine a farm), but while we can attempt to put nuance to food, it mainly boils down (no pun intended) to "did it taste good? did I enjoy eating it?" The same cannot be said about Theater (and, by extrapolation, the Arts). By our very nature, we are a nuanced field, with shades and layers and differences and experiences that go into whether someone thinks a show is "good" and has an "enjoyable time" attending. And that's not to say we shouldn't be doing all we can to overcome that perception (and therefore stigma). But it's a hurdle that we have that the food scene doesn't.

There's more of course, but it'll take time to "get the beat of the system." It's easy to parse a system I'm not in the middle of. A lot harder when I have to keep the lights on in a venue and sell tickets for shows to audiences that we still have yet to identify.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Pie charts are fun

The teeny tiny beginning shoots of data capture/feedback to use for future planning. Can't wait to share with my production team.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 30: 10 Things I'm Thankful For

"Perspective" by Flickr user Justus Thane, licensed
under Creative Commons
It is the end.

Wait, that's not one of the things.

But it is the end of this blogging month. I remarked to a friend, "I was surprised to find out how much energy it took to write, being unaccustomed to it any more." Said friend, a writer by trade, chuckled and agreed.

I didn't hit my daily goal, but I did blog more than I have, well, ever. So I'm calling that a success.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, 10 Things I'm Thankful For:

1. Live theater 
2. A job in live theater 
3. My family who make possible my job in live theater 
4. My friends who encourage my job in live theater 
5. The interwebs, which make working in live theater something immeasurably different than it once was 
6. The best graduate program ever for those of us working in live theater who also have families 
7. Coming to terms with how I can best support live theater 
8. Learning how to advocate for live theater 
9. The donors and patrons with whom I've built relationships around supporting live theater 
10. All of the experiences and decisions I made (or didn't make) that led me on this particular path into live theater

I love what I do. I hope to be able to do it for more theaters, more patrons, and more artists.

Thanks for sticking with me for the month. I've still got six or seven (or more) writing prompts. So who knows where we'll go next?

Monday, November 24, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 24: The Most Important Lesson from Graduate School

I recently graduated with my Masters in Arts Administration from Goucher College's MAAA program. 

I'm not writing today to talk you into or out of applying for a graduate program in arts administration. I could espouse either side at length. 

I would like to tell you, though, my personal most important lesson learned from graduate school. 

Keep Asking Questions. 

As time- and people- and resource- strapped arts organization administrators, we get caught in the mundane tasks of answering daily business questions. Did the press release get written? Did last week's box office receipts get deposited? Did we ever look into that children's programming? 

Graduate school gives an arts administrator space to ask bigger questions. Questions like:
--What if?
--Why do it this way? 
--What came before that I can learn from?
--Who cares?
--Why isn't there [insert idea here]?
--Why now?
--What happens if we don't do [insert action here]?
--the 5 Whys (my personal anathema but so so helpful)

Mundane questions require a yes or a no; answers that don't necessarily lead anywhere (unless there happen to be severe negative consequences). 

Graduate school (the good ones, anyway) set up space for the provocative questions, whose answers could potentially shift not only a particular student's course of life, but the very foundation on which our arts world sits. We never know where the next Nancy Hanks or Hallie Flanagan may come from. 

I did not graduate with all the arts admin solutions. All I have are more questions, and a daily desire to live into the answers.