Archive for the ‘artistry’ Tag

Teaching Artists gathering

Recently ArtPlay convened a meeting for some of their regular artists – performers and makers who lead workshops for children at ArtPlay in a whole range of arts disciplines. The meeting was the first of several to take place this year, and the grand idea is to share ideas and thoughts on practice – how and why we do what we do, to start to identify and unpack the transferable knowledge between different arts disciplines, and that which is common to all disciplines. Different projects and practice will be offered as examples for commentary and critiquing throughout the year.

I think that all of us present were adamant about how valuable this gathering was. ‘Teaching Artistry’ (for want of a better descriptor) is something of an invisible artform – usually it is an adjunct to a more public audience-based practice, and frequently (because the work usually involves children) it holds a much lesser status than the ‘real work’ of the professional on their own. Those of us working in the area as a substantial part of our arts practice often do so somewhat in isolation, rarely getting to see the work that other people do. This series of meetings is a chance to hone, refine, develop and extend our arts practice as it exists in collaboration with young people and communities.

Everyone introduced themselves and it was interesting to hear the words that people used. Again, this is an area of arts practice that can be hard to label. My colleague Rebecca laughed as she admitted that her description of what it is that she does tends to change every day! I liked Simon’s explanation – he said that collaboration was a key characteristic for him, that his work exists in  collaborative environments. This is something that is also true for me. Simon also talked about his commitment to “empowering kids… raising the status of their work”, and of his enduring interest in what it is that happens when artists work across communities. “I believe artists are an essential part of the community, we have a role to play, we need to be there.” (I’m paraphrasing here, I hope I got the gist of his words right). Lastly, he admitted that he has realised that “this” (teaching artistry, collaborative projects, as opposed to artmaking on his own, eg. painting) is his artform, and that he needs to keep reminding himself of this. That is has taken him time to learn this.

The gathering finished with a bit of Sir Ken Robinson, who may well say the same things every time he speaks, but they are such damn fine things that he says, and are so valuable to listen to again and again, to be reminded of them. This is the quote that I wrote down:

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, then you’ll never come up with anything original.

Place that alongside the context of the performative (ie. test-driven and report-ridden) conservative culture of our schools today, and it rings alarmingly true.

Teaching artists, teaching artistry

One of my current gigs (new this year) is as Program Director for a new program of outreach and community projects at an academy for “exceptional young musicians”. I’m going to avoid naming the place – let’s call it The Academy.

It’s been an interesting year so far there. Interesting, because I’ve had to completely revise the training and project plans I had made (which I’d made according to the brief I was given by the Academy senior staff), in response to a quite extraordinary display of resistance from the students I was to work with.

To set the context, this Academy offers a highly specialised, individually-tailored professional performance program for just a handful (~50) of extremely talented music students. The audition process is very competitive, and Academy alumni have a pretty good track record of success in orchestral auditions, overseas competitions, and so on. The outreach and community program that I direct is a new program this year, and is joined by other ‘non-playing’ professional development programs that seek to ensure Academy musicians are suitably skilled in a broader area of musical work than just orchestral, chamber and solo performance.

It became apparent soon after I started work there that there was a lot of resistance/resentment to involvement in the outreach and community program, from a significant number of students. Discussion with some of the more articulate members of the cohort shed further light on this – anxiety among the players that such studies took them away from their practice; frustration that it was a compulsory program, that the sessions were awkwardly timed within an already-busy schedule; that it made no allowance for the range of skills that students might already be bringing with them to the Academy, such as teaching qualifications or experience, or involvement in performance programs directed towards young audiences. Continue reading