Monday, May 13, 2013

Put More Arts

In the great taxonomy of baffling statements a special place is reserved for those which guarantee that the author has no idea what he's talking about. Since the article in question reads more like press release, I'm not sure the author is so much to blame here. He does, at any rate, open with a doozy.
Increasingly, many colleges and universities are looking to put more arts at the center of campus life and in the process, foster creativity.
So short, so innocent, no? If only he were talking about park benches or lamp posts and not art. What galls me about this sentence is its flippancy, its subtle arrogance. What disrespect is there for nearly each of its words. Please, read the sentence a few times and pause on the words. Now see if the following definitions are familiar to it.
  • College - a col-legium, a speaking together, a collaboration of scholars for learning and fostering the liberal arts and sciences, involving the sharing of ideas in the presentation of lectures and debates. 
  • University - a community of colleges with various purposes whose sum total offers the corpus of knowledge of the day and some unity of pedagogy.
  • Art - techne, poiesis, expression of concept, outgrowth of spirit, through craft.
  • Create - to bring into being
Though the words are the same, the article uses not the language of philosophy, but of bureaucratese. There is no debt to ideas, only utility. Such a statement has more in common with an interdepartmental memo requesting a 2.5% increase in paper production for the month than any artistic credo. Here, college means "place where classes are taught" and university means "big college." Art means "anything called art" and create means "result of activity." The goal here is not love, virtue, beauty, honor, piety, or any such principle, but the cliche art. Art must be put in so art can come out and we'll have more art.

It's a Keyenesian approach to art, really. Never mind the details of life, human nature, and philosophy: put something in so something comes out. It doesn't matter what it is. More is better, so if you need more something put more something. What does anyone with an emotional reaction to art, a love of and fear for its power and fragility, make of such irreverence?

Of course the statement is perfect prelude to what follows where the really gobbledygook starts flowing.
[the] Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program was created "to seed innovative, interdisciplinary programs that brought together artists with a range of community and campus-based partners in order to stimulate arts-based inquiry and elevate the role of the arts in academic life."
So you seed a program to get artists partnered with people to "stimulate arts-based inquiry." Wait, what? What is that, how do you do it, and why would you? And they're elevating the arts on what principle? And why does bringing people together automatically elevate it?

Now it gets real.
While Creative Campus projects fell into both (cooperative and collaborative) categories, the truly collaborative projects proved most transformative for both participants and the larger campus.
Transformative? What did they transform into? Badgers? Muffins? I guess when you have no point to a project, whenever you're done you just say that you "did art" and that it "transformed you." Yay art. Because art.

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