The Arts in Higher Education
Tough challenges, the very hurdles that seem to restrict, fuel and give significance to artistic endeavor. Individuals and society seek understanding, inspiration, beauty, reflection, interpretation, challenges to norms, and vision from the art we seek. The world is growing more complex and the need for creative vision as we rush forward could not be more important to our individual lives, communities, and civilization.
Artists studying in our colleges and universities live and create in the emerging post-industrial global civilization. This revolution is chaotic and challenging, as well as exciting and full of promise. Together with our faculty, today's students are interpreting our past, discovering the rhythms of tomorrow, and helping to create this new world. I believe that in order to answer this challenge, today's artists will need to flourish at the intersection of three key areas: art, commerce, and technology.
Training artists for the twenty-first century should include a commitment to artistic discovery, mastery of both traditional craft and evolving technologies, innovation, commercial application of creativity, and a substantive emphasis on the relationship between art and society. Formal study should encourage and give shape to creative expression combined with critical thinking, rigorous investigation, and historical perspective as common threads. It has been my experience that achievement often rings hollow without informed perspective and resulting inspiration.
The arts provide a critical avenue for discovery on the wider canvas of a university's mission. Knowledge, from the most practically applicable to the most esoteric, is understood and valued ultimately in its context to human perspective. The arts provide unique insight to the human condition. In addition to the making of new creative work and scholarship, the arts at a university are also a natural and important component to all of the avenues of scholarship, teaching, and service.
An empowering reward of inquiry at a university springs from the numerous paths of investigation possible. An exploration might look at slavery in America through the revelations to be discovered from one, or a combination of many possible paths of inquiry, including; anthropology, economics, human geography, linguistics, political science, psychology, et al. Yet, could a full understanding of the human cataclysm of slavery be achieved without exposure to the art created about slavery and by slaves themselves? Is an understanding of slavery's toil really complete without experiencing art sprung from this caldron, like music born from their daily toil and horror? Art, in all of its forms; music, painting, sculpture, dance, drama, fiber arts, drawing, and ceramics all reveal essences of the human experience. Scientific objectivity can reveal accurate facts, but understanding is not complete without the perspective and power of the human dimension.
Artists in turn should explore the tools and uses of the scientific method and structured inquiry as surely as they should master the tools of their specific art. Critical analysis is the cornerstone of substantive understanding. The university must inspire artists to investigate, to collaborate, to experiment, to innovate, and to discover both the strength and limits of artistic expression. Once so armed, artists can blossom as individuals while fulfill our unique and critical role to reflect and shape broader understanding.
Art certainly does not need commerce for success, nor should commerce be an anathema to art and artists. The creative motive, that art has a transformational power that can inspire and energize people, naturally brings artists to the people and therefore the marketplace. The university should empower artists with the vision and the skills to succeed in commercial creative industries and as entrepreneurs.
I have had the good fortune to collaborate with many skilled and impassioned artisans on professional theatrical productions. Commerce, in service to an organization's artistic mission, is the engine that brings these creators to the same project. These, often remarkable, convergences of creators are made possible by a producing organization's economic enterprise. Each organization's artistic accomplishment is provided by, and ultimately can be enhanced by, its commercial success. Meaningful opportunities abound for artists in music, dance, theatre, film, electronic media, print, exhibition, and other commercial creative industries.
In addition to opportunities in the traditional creative industries, today's artists live and work in the interconnected age, an era where rapidly changing technologies have fueled an explosion of individual and small group entrepreneurialism. Newly affordable advanced creative technologies have increased access and ignited imaginations. Artists now use these tools to connect directly to the public. The decentralization of information and increased access to technology has created an exciting landscape for entrepreneurial creative vision.
Clearly, modern technology has released an explosion of creative innovation. It is quite natural that technology be as ubiquitously integrated into art as it is to modern life. The infusion of technology into art is revolutionizing traditional forms and creating new avenues for expression.
When I began my professional theatre design work in 1982, the computer was more of a hindrance to the execution of elegant design concepts than an aid. The early and mostly clunky design software often led to less than pleasing results. While the computer will perhaps never fully achieve the expressive gesture of the hand drawn line or the emotional finesse of a live clarinet, it and other modern technologies have evolved into extremely useful artistic tools.
The fusion of art with technology transcends and combines traditional academic disciplines. Mathematicians, social scientists, humanists, and the other scientists are, now more than ever, the collaborators for technologically sophisticated artists. The very fabric of the university is enriched by the exploration on these frontiers.
Even as technology becomes more central, the human imagination remains at the heart of artistic achievement.
For, after all, art is not a superior kind of chemistry, amenable to the rules of scientific induction. Its component parts cannot be classified and tested, and there is a spark within it which defies foreknowledge.
Lytton Strachey - Books and Characters, 1922
Art is at once an expressive act, a craft, and an ever-changing technology. The university needs to assist the faculty and students travel the multiple avenues that spring from the convergence of art, commerce, and technology. If students are to succeed personally and contribute meaningfully to our collective future, we owe them the quality experiences necessary to bring the needed creativity, skill, personal depth and credibility to this charge.
I believe that quality in the arts is the result of real intellectual rigor, expert craft, and impassioned imagination. Preparing for a life in the arts demands much of student and teacher. Each on this journey must be committed to not only their own individual growth but to the advancement of colleagues and the greater community. We should expect from each member the highest level of professionalism, dedication, responsibility, collaboration, and alacrity.