Yeah, I Have Weird Feelings, Too

Hat tip to the National Endowment for the Arts for linking to this video of an 11 year old taking The Bob Ross Challenge – basically trying to keep up and replicate Bob Ross’ painting instructions as he relates them during an episode of his show.

The kid, Khary Halsey, an avowed Bob Ross fan since he was six, is charming and hilarious just on his own. But it is right at the end of the video that he says something that encompasses what the creative experience should be for everyone, “From the looks of it, I did horrible, but I feel great.”

Okay, so obviously people shouldn’t always think they did horrible, it is the satisfaction and enjoyment of the experience regardless of the perceived quality of the product that I am advocating as the ideal.

Khary isn’t sure if he is supposed to be having this contradictory experience so he follows up saying, “I have weird feelings.”   The truth is, those feelings are quite normal and shared by a lot of people, including, I am sure many with long careers in the arts.  There are a lot messages we get throughout the day, both overt and subtle,  that equate quality with marketability. (And don’t get us started on “you shouldn’t expect to get paid if you are having fun.”)

Creativity Is Not The Last Thing People Need

When I mentioned organizations addressing issues of health and safety in my post yesterday, I was thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Between high school and my first couple years of college, I felt like every class except for foreign language and mathematics brought Maslow’s hierarchy up as a way to open up a conversation about what motivates humans. If you aren’t familiar with the pyramid below, Maslow’s theory said that the lower needs on the pyramid below had to be satisfied before people could move on to higher concerns. So you need to be secure in physiological and safety needs before you can work on intimate relationships.

It should be noted that despite the popularity of this model, there is no scientific data to back it and studies have found that different cultures prioritize needs differently.

 

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I mention these criticisms of Maslow’s hierarchy because it is easy to look at this pyramid and get the impression that creativity has to wait until all these other needs are met. This reinforces the idea that arts and culture are a luxury that should yield before all the necessities have been addressed. I think we all know there will always be something else that needs to be solved if you subscribe to that thinking.

I will confess that I engaged in that mode of thought at one time. I was elated by the idea that being able to engage in creativity was a sign that you were approaching your fullest self, but depressed when I realized you pretty much had to be independently wealthy if you were going to check-off all the lower levels in order to get to the peak.

I think the case can easily be made that creativity has an important role at lower levels of the pyramid. Shared creative activities contributes to belongingness. Social groups or clubs whether oriented around religion, service, sports or creative activities all create a sense of belonging.

So too does creativity contribute to the next level up, esteem. Feeling that you have mastered a technique or have enough of a grasp of the fundamentals to metaphorically start drawing outside the lines with confidence can bolster self-esteem.

Continuing to develop all your skills, be it creative, personal, emotional, professional, etc eventually leads you to self-actualization as defined by Maslow and others. However, creativity for its own sake, (as opposed in pursuit of securing safety and physiological needs), begins to factor in much earlier.

So don’t be fooled by this popular image into thinking that creative activities are the last thing that people need in their lives.

Can’t Comp And Discount Your Way To An Audience

You may have seen the video message by Guthrie Theatre artistic director Joseph Haj last week where he laid out why the Guthrie wouldn’t be offering their content virtually as other places had chosen to do. Instead, they will be producing three shows from March through August 2021.

In the video, he makes the case for the value of live performance based on the shared experience. Apparently there was a study in 2017 that showed audiences hearts beat in unison during live performances which generates a sense of trust and empathy you don’t experience when watching a video. (You also don’t get footnotes. I would really be interested in learning more about that study.)

I don’t know about you, but last week I started having a hard time remaining focused on Zoom sessions that were providing content that was of great importance and interest to me and my organization. Lord help me if I had pets or children around to distract me as well.  Trying to deliver educational content is likewise experiencing problems with participation and retention of information.

Granted, the fact that people are trying to use a virtual platform in the same way they conduct face to face meetings is probably to blame for this disconnection. In the future we may see presentation techniques and technological features that will make the experience more valuable. Think about the fact that the first motorized vehicles literally were horseless carriages because that was the dominant mode of transportation at the time. There has been quite a bit of refinement since then in terms of design and use.

The biggest cause for concern should be that human contact and empathy is what will be refined away as the virtual delivery experience improves. While there is definitely a romance to horse based transportation and the internal combustion engine has created environment pollution problems, I don’t think there were concerns that traveling swiftly and smoothly in an environment of improved climate control was going to undermine societal bonds. (Though certainly, it may have eroded the human-equine relationship.)

If anything, the challenges of these times is probably going to really clarify where the true value of the arts resides. It is going to be the relationships that organizations build with their audiences that will bring them back. Once organizations answer the questions of health and safety, the opportunity to share an experience with others is going to be the compelling appeal, not discounts and comps.  It is going to be important to listen and pay attention to what people expect of their experience. The expectations probably won’t be exactly the same as they were in January. The demographics of those most interested in inhabiting  spaces and participating in activities may be quite different as well.

 

The Visuals Of Open Arts Organizations As A Sign Of Economic Vibrancy

I noticed something very interesting on Friday morning as I was checking out different news sites. It appears that on at least a subconscious level a number of news outlets equate theaters with a return to economic vibrancy.

On the NBC News site, there was a picture of the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta.  Except for a single mention that movie theaters could open starting today, the entire piece was about the concerns hair salons, tattoo and massage parlors had about being permitted to re-open last Friday. Everyone interviewed for the story was associated with one of these businesses, no one from a theater involved in the story.

palace theatre atlanta

Within five minutes, I came across another article on Vox.com that was about unemployment benefits in Georgia, but used a picture of The Fox Theatre which had no association with the article at all other than being located in Georgia.

I sent an email out to the members of the state presenting consortium pointing out the use of theatre images as a type of shorthand for a return to vibrancy. I suggested we remember this fact when we moved to an operating environment which felt like the next normal. I don’t know if it is the result of good advocacy work by local, regional and national arts entities, but if there are positive associations between the arts organizations re-opening and socioeconomic vibrancy, it is something to leverage in communications with the community, donors, funders, and government.

In response to my group email, a colleague in Marietta, GA sent out a picture of his theater as it appeared on NBC Nightly News the evening before. Again, he said the broadcast didn’t mention the theater directly.

It can definitely worth paying attention to the images being associated with positive narratives to see if arts organizations are included. Perhaps even something to invite if the opportunity presents itself.

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