Response to Linda (and, obliquely, to Werner)

Taney Roniger/

Linda, your question about what art can do and whether it’s being hampered by its own conventions resonates with me very deeply. I’ve been thinking a lot about the so-called “post-studio” movement that seems to be gaining momentum, and while I applaud the effort art’s making to move out into the world I also wonder if it isn’t in danger of losing the very thing that makes it worth bringing out there to begin with. This “thing,” as I see it, is none other than non-discursive thought, by which I mean the kind of thinking that happens beneath the plane of reason in that rich underworld that is the unconscious. This is what art embodies and the means by which it (very powerfully) communicates. What I see happening is that in its reach toward greater cultural influence, art is becoming more like other modes of discourse (which is to say more discursive), and since these other modes of discourse don’t seem to be getting us anywhere in solving our pressing crises, why perpetuate more of the same? I’m a fervent believer in the power of poetry, precisely because it bypasses reason and shoots straight into the body, that unacknowledged locus of most of our cognition. To me, art is embodied poetry.

None of this is to suggest that I’m in any way anti-reason. God knows we need it, just as she knows it’s become something of an endangered species. (One wonders a bit why, if she really exists, she doesn’t step up and do something about this.) But reason alone is inadequate. It needs to be augmented by something other – some other kind of language that can access the deeper regions of the psyche/soma. So sure, we have to speak to each other in the conventional language, but the whole point of an art-science relationship is that we also make things, and then behold them, and then speak some more – even if our language falls far short of what we got from the experience.

3 Replies to “Response to Linda (and, obliquely, to Werner)”

  1. This is breaking in Philly – and worth a look, I think:

    The University of the Arts Ph.D. in Creative Work is offering a low residency degree for advanced interdisciplinary research in the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences

    All Ph.D. programs require a dissertation that makes “an original contribution to knowledge.” Yet after steeping the candidate in the existing literature and methods, they offer no guidance on how to move beyond them. So as George Bernard Shaw famously wrote “progress depends on the unreasonable man” who changes rather than accepts established practices. At the University of the Arts, our Ph.D. is about fundamentally changing the way our students think. We intend to use a deep immersion in the intuitive practices of the arts to seed a more creative working practice in students who come already prepared with the conventional methods and knowledge of whatever fields they work in. We seek students who have already achieved a professional mastery in some discipline and we prepare them to go to another level. We show them how to be open to finding that moment when ideas that didn’t seem to have anything to do with one another suddenly come together to ask or answer a question, create a solution to a problem, produce a new invention. The complexity of problem solving in the arts differs from scientific method in their deliberate embrace of intuition and can teach a practitioner in any field — in science, in medicine, in business, engineering, in the social sciences, and also in the arts – to think more creatively. Business entrepreneurs need to “think out of the box”; musicians need to do more than master the score; the statistical odds of a scientist winning a Nobel Prize triples if he or she has an avocational practice in the arts.

    The underlying idea of this reimagining of the Ph.D. is to infuse any discipline with protocols of creative work. Our Ph.D. students begin with exposure to a variety of interdisciplinary approaches to research in a different fields during five days of seminars. The readings prepare the ground for an openness to the immersion in artistic process that will follow. Then we throw them into a creativity “bootcamp” which repeatedly challenges them to bring coherence to their experience over an intensive, week long immersion in artistic modes of thinking. While doing the immersion week they also workshop the frame of their thesis project, aiming for a truly interdisciplinary perspective, more radical than what would normally emerge from existing Ph.D. programs. We will construct a tailor-made committee of respected advisors in the various relevant fields specifically selected for the individual’s project. Coupled with rigorous research, the creative working processes founded in an immersion in art practices will make our students stand out as leaders and innovators in a field that they help to define. We’re looking for M.D.s, practicing lawyers, professionals working in corporations, governments, foundations, or in the arts who have ideas that they wish to pursue beyond the limits of where they are professionally now.

    Although the Ph.D. is increasingly the gateway for high level careers outside academia, most universities require it for full academic rank. We intend to prepare our graduates for a more creative approach to whatever path they take and expect industries as well as the academy to set a premium on our degree. By redefining the underlying approach to their practice, our graduates return to the work world equipped with deep expertise in an area they define and in which they are strongly invested, while also deeply embracing the creative process. They gain singular expertise and their future work will fit them better for a career that lines up with their real interests. As our graduates succeed in public life, this University of the Arts degree will also further a broader understanding of the centrality of the arts in all education, at every level.

  2. Response to Taney

    Yes yes. I am glad to be an “artist” and specifically, a thinker and an embodier. Poetry: At this point in my life, I am understanding the wisdom of poetry in its ability to encapsulate and at the same time forever restructure itself in one’s conscious yet unconscious mind. Many times I can only respond to a work of art or science with inchoate laughter/recognition and call it poetry. James talks about ambiguity and its current draw. Perhaps it is the small place left for optimism to reside.

  3. Joseph, that sounds hugely ambitious and very promising — at least in theory. What do you think of the idea? As someone who pursued something of an interdisciplinary PhD yourself (correct me if I’m wrong), what’s your take on prospects for art’s advancement through programs such as this?

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