Friday, October 15, 2021

Flashback Friday: An Engaging Dialogue On the Role of Art in Society

John Heino
10 Years Ago Today

During the noon hour yesterday a half dozen of us met for a Red Interactive Brown Bag Lunch Dialogue about art around the theme “Engagement or Chaos?” The main objective was to get clarification on what appears to be a problematic dichotomy in the arts. Is anything and everything art? Or is art only considered art after it has been “blessed” by the appropriately certified critics from on high? John Heino served as moderator of the discussion as we explored these two apparently contradictory propositions. 

At the beginning of the hour we were each given a red marker that we were asked to place on a line that indicated where we personally stood with regard to this dichotomy. The line was numbered 1 through 10 with 5 being the middle of the road. On the extreme left we had Elitism and Control. On the extreme right we had Engagement and Chaos. 

The dot placements proved surprising. One was toward the left, most were toward the engagement/chaos side of center and one was off the grid completely. Erika indicated that her unusual outside-the-box placement came from a lifetime of observing that many false dichotomies have been created when we make either/or assumptions. She sees the need to re-phrase the paradigm and see it as a circle with room for all perspectives. It was the first of many unexpected insights. 
What follows are some of the notes John sent to me from yesterday's dialogue. An hour clearly proved too short and it became evident to all that we were just scratching the surface. Much more can be said. 
What was especially valuable, and not recorded here, were the many stories and experiences that informed our personal perspectives. It was helpful, too, that John set up the dialogue in a manner that provided a level of non-judgmental trust in which everyone felt free to be open. John's notes from the discussion are here.

AND (vs. or)
Think of a circle [or perhaps a sphere] instead of linear spectrum
• Room for diverse expression
• Avoid judgment
• Inclusive

Pretty much room for everything

• Whatever criteria you come up with, there’s always something that doesn’t fit
• Reserve the right to call something “crap”

Don’t like either word—“chaos” or “elitism” in the context of art

• Everyone has something “art” within her/his being
• What is “art” will always remain subjective
• Engagement is the better choice


• There is a place for “high” art
• Appreciation at certain levels requires training
• BUT creativity is innate in all of us

Engagement may be the future of art. People want to engage. Where is art going in postmodern society?

Capitalism run amok is a problem.

• It seems to be all about the money
What happens with organic growth when it begins to look like chaos?

We need a new paradigm.

• Spirit-based, flowing
• Listen to each other
• Really see
• Pay attention to the intuitive world
• Notice where everyone is coming from

Social and economic dynamics over the past 25 years or so have resulted in art being less valued and less of a priority in society.

• Schools can’t afford art classes? It’s a choice. Political dynamics have allowed that choice, but that wouldn’t be the case if a majority of taxpayers and political supporters insisted that the arts be made a priority.
• Everybody loses when the arts are treated like discretionary spending. It’s more than just the sad shortchanging of something very important that makes us human. The insights students gain in the arts give them a broader tool kit no matter what they eventually do for a living. One-dimensional students become one-dimensional employees and unimaginative managers if they make it that far.
• Think of the cumulative negative impact of turning out less creative graduates. What has it done to earning potential of our young people? To business productivity improvement? To the wellbeing, competitiveness and economic performance of America? In reality, we cannot “not afford” to include arts as part of a well-rounded education.

What is value?

• Utilitarian?
• Aesthetic/beauty?
• What about the assumption that if a piece of art is expensive, it must be good?

"I don’t accept that anything is art."

• But I want to decide. I don’t want to be told why I should appreciate a piece of art.

I don’t really think of myself as an artist, but I have impulses to make things.

• If someone else enjoys it, that’s great.

If something called art is strange or inaccessible on its face, it may be because we’re not trained to understand what is happening.

In the end it proved a most interesting discussion. What happens next is anyone's guess.

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