Monday, November 7, 2011

Surrender, Not Control

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on....................."

Wherein Lies Creativity?:
I found this quote by Artist/Writer Julia Cameron in This Week magazine:
"The creative process is a process of surrender, not control".

And that got me thinking that observation might be relevant to why we (as a sector or profession) seem to have so much trouble being truly creative in our responses to the ever daunting challenges that face us - why we never venture too far out of the box.  I think we are too often enamored with our past thinking, with holding onto ideas and concepts, approaches and strategies, based on assumptions that are largely born out of a need to control the situation.  Our thinking is often grounded on certain precepts and theories we have developed with which we are - to put it bluntly - in love.  We simply cannot give up notions we have long held dear and in which we have invested time, energy and even money.  And yet I think Julia Cameron is onto something of use to us.

A case in point that I have previously, and often, ranted about, is the antiquated, and absolutely false theory that all we need to do to impact public policy to our favor is to better make the case for our value - economically, educationally and for its' intrinsic worth.  For a long time, and to a large degree still, a huge section of our field fervently believe that if we can just make a better case (with data, facts, and homespun stories about the people positively impacted by the arts) that it is inevitable that decision makers (once they are aware of the realities) will find a way to support us.  Were that only true, we would be the recipients of huge amounts of funding from the local to the federal level.  Look around.  Anybody see that reality?  We must, I think, surrender our addiction to that falsity. That is simply NOT how politics works.  Public policy formulation and impact, as often as not, has nothing to do with the merits of one side of the issue or another - rather it has to do with how the political process works - which is, like it or not, fueled by money, influence and power plays.  Convincing arguments are necessary adjuncts to the process of exercising influence, but without political power they produce few results.  I think we may need to surrender our loyalty to old ways of thinking.  I think we may need to stop trying to control a game over which we have no control and play the game by its own rules.  Advocates win far fewer of the battles than do the lobbyists.  You want more money from cites, counties, states and the feds?  More friendly legislation for artists?  Form PACS, elect candidates, give money and call in "favors" owed.  THAT is how the system works.  We continue in many quarters to play an outdated hand - one we actually dealt ourselves,

Then too consider our addiction to semantics;  how for two decades or more we have steadfastly and stubbornly clung to the notion that the most effective way to help our community is to advance "capacity building" and "sustainability".  On its face, an almost unassailable theory - but it now seems clearer to many that perhaps we were as enamored with the "words" as much as the lofty aspirations they symbolized.  We need to surrender our penchant for words that encapsulate our aspirations, and be at least a little wary of the notion that any given current dogma is the final solution.  Thus, for example, in the area of Audience Development in the recent past we fixated on the "depth" and "breadth" of the audience participant's experience. Sure sounded good.  But for all the positive aspects of the theories and the research behind those hypotheses, fewer people sat in the seats in our halls in the last five years, not more.  Now I am not suggesting that the levels of audience experience or the ways in which audiences "engage" with art, artists and artistic organizations isn't relevant to our efforts to expand those audiences, but I am suggesting that we need to "surrender" how we embrace each new approach, theory and methodology we create as the "holy grail".  It just may be that the reasons more people don't fill our empty seats have to do with cost, convenience, time and a product that must compete with ever more and better alternatives to what we offer.

I know some people will be offended by my questioning of long held tenets of our thinking,  but honestly folks if everything we were doing was working that well, we would be in a Hell of a lot better position than we are.  We need - desperately need - to be more creative in facing the challenges that haunt us.  And I think Julia Cameron's advice is good advice - to be more creative we may just have to figure out how to surrender some of our deeply entrenched ways of thinking about things and allow for new thinking.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit.
Barry

3 comments:

  1. Thanks Barry, I agree, even having lived through all of the phases and phrases you mentioned. I do still cling to the issue of barriers both percieved and real to participation in the arts. But... you nailed this one. Thanks, Bob Booker

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  2. Politically savvy is something that many arts folks haven't quite figured out Barry. Then there is the funding and maintaining of organizations to help us collectively be politically savvy. That's part of the infrastructure for sector success that we need to implement better. You are so right.

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  3. I think we can sometimes be politically savvy, but simply reject the notion of political power being exercised as it actually is. A good case and rational approaches can work in good times --up to a point. There is also no reason why some of what is thoughtful and serious about what we do well cannot be combined with the more tough minded approach. But what organization, with board members also involved in their own political efforts, will be allowed to participate in the latter? I have repeatedly encountered that constraint. Like the comments, but would also appreciate a dialog about how to get past the obstacles.

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