Aug
08

Are Artists “Creative Professionals”?

I recently served on a panel focusing on Entrepreneurship “for Artists and Creative Professionals.”  During the discussion, we addressed various exciting ways that creative professionals solve problems in our communities, businesses, government, and schools. We celebrated their potential to lead, innovate, and serve as catalysts for change. The talk was undoubtedly inspiring.

But I was particularly stuck by the phrase “Artists and Creative Professionals.” After all, there are two ways to interpret this statement:

1)      Artists (one category) and creative professionals (a separate category)

2)      Artists and other creative professionals

Of course, the intent was clear.  There exists an assumption that artists are inherently creative. We’re not like mathematicians. Our field is creativity.

But is that the reality? And are we training arts students with this goal in mind?

In music training (I’m best equipped to address my own field), the unfortunate answer is overwhelmingly no.  Students are typically required to follow “correct and authentic performance practices.” Classical majors play standard lit—often chosen by their teachers or ensemble directors—in standard venues, wearing standard attire, for standard (and small) audiences. Composition projects are rare, with improvisational expressions rarer. Risk taking plays no role whatsoever, as mistakes are considered the enemy rather than a healthy and welcome part of the process. And forget about creativity training on larger issues.  Oddly absent are discussions on cultural relevance, how to create a viable and prosperous career, or finding solutions to real problems facing our world. Truth be told, we train musicians a lot like math majors.

In a world economy/environment where many tasks are outsourced to computers and citizens of third world countries, it’s easy to understand the necessity and power of creativity. And I love the notion that artists have the potential to be important players in today’s paradigm. But artists, as individuals and a community, will only play this role if they are trained accordingly.

If arts education continues to focus simply on developing accomplished practitioners (which we currently do quite well), the outcome will be predictable. We will continue to have an army of over-trained, under-employed artists struggling to capitalize on the shrinking number of existing opportunities available to them.

But if we somehow modify our educational system to train creative professionals who use their art form as one of several potential tools, the equation will change. Not only will the role of arts organizations grow exponentially, but artists will increasingly become dynamic forces in other sectors. Businesses looking to stand out will favor hiring individuals with arts training. Government will turn to artists to help solve problems of the day—from national security to crime to health care to economic growth to foreign affairs. Schools will hire artists to help restructure curriculum both in and outside the arts.

To be sure, “creative professionals” are already doing this important work. But there’s a genuine need for more creative minds, and too few artists are among this group. Of course, there are some, but they develop more by accident than design. By transforming arts education into creativity education with an arts emphasis, we not only help our students, but also our communities and the nation at large.

Then, suddenly, everyone will want an arts education. 

 

David Cutler balances a varied career as a jazz and classical pianist, composer, arranger, educator, and conductor.  Visit www.SavvyMusician.com for information about his book (now available!) The Savvy Musician: Building a Career, Earning a Living, & Making a Difference, a Resource Center with 1000+links, and much more.

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