The poor lowly arts…
It is common knowledge that the creative and performing arts are at the bottom of the academic totem pole (and if you didn’t know, you do now and you probably agree and have already produced your own reason as to why this is so). We artists and academic who aim to elevate the field in academia still remain forever the dirt that the sciences, business and even other arts/humanities leisurely walk over and readily dismiss as having any “serious” contribution to knowledge. And as I’ve increasingly been discovering lately, it has contributed to a lack of varying types of research into the field. Well, stuff that!
My recent study endeavours have been to narrow down my research area and I have to say, I have found this incredibly difficult. Although, for the purposes of making an original contribution to the field through a PhD, having my pick of what I could do seems a luxury, the plethora of unexplored, bloody obvious research questions is astounding! So where to from here?
Why are the creative arts so low on the totem pole? And, is this scaring away artists and others from researching in the area? I think yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Artists’ lack the belief that the knowledge they hold regarding their own artistic practices are of any value to academia. But they couldn’t be more wrong. The humanities has increasingly validated qualitative research methods as providing alternative and/or complimentary those produced by quantitative approaches. And by opening up the field methodologically speaking, even more research approaches are taking ground, including arts-based research. If the field recognises an artist’s (or group of artists) creative processes and practices as the methodology for academic research, then the step to academic research is only a small one. We are a fledgling area of research who needs all artists help. In my opinion, it’s not that these unexplored research questions haven’t been answered at all, it’s just that they haven’t been explored or the outcomes disseminated in an “academic” light.
So what of our lowly position on the totem pole? Even though we remain down the bottom, it is evident that the arts are critically important to all other fields. And I mean CRITICALLY IMPORTANT! You may ask why I say this.
If the writers (who are artists by the way) of the original Star Trek series hadn’t have made a communicator that flipped open to use, would science and technology fields ever have developed the flip mobile (cell) phone? (click the fabulous William Shatner (hottie-McTottie) below for an interesting article regarding the remuneration to Star Trek over the cell phone) If dance technique hadn’t of progressed and become more difficult (alongside sports, which also have minimal academic clout), would the medical profession know all those things about what the human body is capable of achieving and withstanding?
If those plethora of sci-fi/fantasy films and tv shows hadn’t of had portable devices with touch screens, would we have ever have gotten the iPhone/iPad?
The list is endless…. This is not to say that the arts are responsible for all the progresses in science, technology and engineering, but rather suggesting that the arts should not be discounted as providing valuable contributions to the realm of knowledge. And on that note, those contributions that aren’t easily perceived as having direct impacts on fields with more academic “clout”, should not be discounted either. Although I don’t believe in the ‘art for art’s sake’ mantra (mainly because art does have impacts on society and culture that are numerous and elusive and those shouldn’t be ignored but critically explored), it does make a point. People need to stand behind the arts and start critically exploring what its processes and impacts teach us because if art is being practice, then it is already worthy of critical exploration because it exists. It is tangible to us. It surrounds us. Envelops us. And that is regardless of what we individually perceive as being worthy of the label, “work of art”.
I think that what we can take from this is that all forms of knowledge are EQUALLY IMPORTANT because they give us a HOLISTIC view of how we create, and change the worlds we live in. SO, valuing one form of knowledge making over another is counterproductive in the attempts to better humanity (in my Western views but we must recognise that what is best for the west is not necessarily how humanity should progress for other cultures worldwide because if it was, then it would be called colonisation and it would be disenfranchising and creating socio-racial hierarchies). For those of you who are working to expand knowledge in the fields of performing/creative arts, don’t get disheartened when some scientist tells you you’re exploring a “soft” research area because you know you’re not. And you can easily argue its value, just don’t get a bout of white coat syndrome a seize up. And don’t stop arguing your place even if it gets tiring to constantly be casted of as unimportant.
Just so you’re aware, there will be part two of this debate, because the performing and creative arts are not void of their own hierarchies where some forms of knowledge making are valued, once again, over others.