Passive Art?

by Clark Roush, Ph.D.

One of the things saddening me over the course of my career is the slow but steady decline in the number of people participating in art! So many community choirs, bands, playhouses, etc…. have either lost traction or completely disbanded. Interestingly, the audiences are often there – the number of people needed that will commit to rehearsing and performing have dissipated. We are becoming a nation of people with an acute thirst for entertainment – we just don’t want to be part of the providing side. In increasing numbers we are comfortable having art “done to us.”

There was a time when even small public school districts had multiple students far enough along in their training to accompany the schools’ performing ensembles. It is getting harder and harder to find today. It is much harder  to find that in school  settings today. Membership in even school ensembles has dropped. Marching bands seem to be a bit healthier due to their direct link to athletics (marching band, pep band). I believe we are facing a serious shortage of people who find art-making necessary! I also believe people are not fully aware how art-making enriches their lives.

Before I proceed, let me affirm that I am not making any qualitative judgments concerning art. I am not limiting this in any way. All art is good to someone, so please don’t think I’m only talking about “classical” art. That is where my heart/passion lies, but in no way is this blog-post about representing the “ivory tower” in any way.

Simultaneous to the erosion of participating in making art has been an exponential explosion of the concert business. We have gradually shifted our emphasis away from making art in some way, to paying (sometimes ‘ungodly’ amounts) to passively experience art. We download stuff from iTunes, check out websites and venues for concerts to attend, WATCH show after show on television that try to weed through the next set of wanna-be’s in order to find that next wonder performer who can performer FOR us, and whose concerts we can attend.

This is not a diatribe on the concert business or on reality television (which is far from reality). Everyone one in my family has enjoyed being “fed” by great entertainment experiences – Les Miz, Phantom, Cats, Wicked, Tosca, La Boheme, Butterfly, The Magic Flute, Mumford & Sons, Maroon 5, Dave Mathews, Weird Al, and the list could continue (it would be impossible to list all the Indie bands one son has used to feed his artistic soul). My family has a rich heritage of attending entertainment events. My family also has rich heritage of MAKING art! This, I feel, is an appropriate balance.

There is something that happens to one due to the creative process that cannot happen merely by listening, even that listening rocks your world. We were created to create; hence, we are not fully who we were meant to be unless we’re creating in some way(s). My poetry is not nearly as accomplished as my music-making, but I keep doing it because it’s something creative. Sometimes we are blessed to experience the thrill of deep significant art – regardless of the outcome, we are changed, and I think for the better, when we participate in the creative process.

To participate in art is to link one’s self to something bigger than one’s self. I cannot underestimate how important I feel this is. When we constantly join forces with something larger than us, it has a way of not only nurturing our spirits, but of reminding us that it’s NOT about us. I find this therapeutic and health-building. To commit to helping others collectively do something that could not be done individually is a rewarding and glorious event.

This is a call for you to embrace your creative nature and find some things you can commit to – then MAKE art! Don’t just passively sit/attend and have art “done to you.” This country does NOT need more guns, violence, math/science, technology, etc… it needs more humanity! There is nothing more humane than art!