Jeff Goins has been one of my favorite bloggers for some time now. He has built an awesome community of aspiring writers and creatives, and I have learned so much just from reading his blog, books, and participating in his community. Further, he advocates the work of a creative and even though I may not have a real-person relationship with him, in a way, he’s everyone’s biggest cheerleader.
In Jeff’s last book, The Art of Work, I was so inspired about the thought of apprenticeship in the arts, and how influential those experiences could be for students. He elaborates on this idea further in his new book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, along with so many other nuggets of wisdom about how to live a creative life.
First, let me say that this book is probably the best book I have read in the last 5 years. Let me also say that no one is paying me to say that, and the intentions of this post are not to “sell” you on buying this book, but more to challenge your thoughts on arts education. As a music educator and musician myself, I feel the need to change the way we “raise” young artists, because there is so much they are not being taught.
The mission of Real Artists Don’t Starve is to debunk the myth of the starving artist. The following are thoughts I have on 2 major issues I see in arts education today.
“Always have a back-up plan.”
Why do we suggest students have an alternative career? Honestly, with the way we are currently educating young artists, they definitely need a back-up plan. I fear our curriculums are preparing them to be starving artists, not thriving.
One of the points Jeff makes about a thriving artist versus a starving artist is, “Thriving artists don’t make art to make money, they make money to make art.” Having a day job does not mean you can’t be an artist. Your day job will help fund you to have those artistic opportunities. My fear is that when new arts graduates enter the real world, they land a job doing something they may not have envisioned themselves doing and think that is the end for them. Sometimes employment is a means to provide for their art.
Additionally, a back-up plan insinuates that we don’t have 100% faith in our students. Is it that, or is our curriculum faulty? Teaching students to believe, “If I can’t do music, then I will do this,” is setting them up to put more stock in “this” and not their craft.
So how do we fix this?
Find out what skills graduates are feeling deficient in, and put those in your curriculum. Why weren’t they hired for a job? How come they aren’t pursuing the arts after graduation? The answers to those questions will help re-shape the curriculum, and could change the direction of future graduates.
“Performance majors need to practice a billion hours a day.”
Seriously. Performance majors need to do more than just practice their instrument. Before you freak out, hear me say that practicing is totally important and should not be neglected. However, I think we do a disservice to performance majors by not equipping them with any other skills than performing, theory, and history. If all those students want to do is perform, those 3 areas are not going to get them very far.
Being a Jack of All Trades is a GOOD thing. I used to beat myself up about not being superior at one instrument or skill. I have been playing piano since I was 8 years old and you would never guess that when I try to play. I’m pretty good at guitar, but if you ask me to play certain scales, I have no clue where to begin.
But when I step back and look at the variety of skills I have and enjoy having, I don’t feel so bad about it. In fact, being a master of one skill means that you will need the skills of others to fulfill some need in your career, which could end up being costly. Be great at your trade, but learn the supporting skills in your field that will make you even better at what you do.
How do we fix this?
Emphasis the importance of disciplined practice, but consider the necessity of other valuable skills: marketing, communications, writing, event planning, etc.
I really encourage all artists, musicians, creatives, and particularly arts educators to get your hands on this book. I have already decided that if I am ever to teach on the collegiate level, this will be a required textbook. Our responsibility is to our students, and we want them to achieve their goals and live out their dreams. I think it’s about time that we properly equip them to do so, and Jeff has really laid out the groundwork for us to do so!
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