You’re Not Art’s Type

National Geographic had a photo essay featuring pictures of ballet dancers in Nairobi’s largest slum.  As I looked at it, I was reminded of El Sistema, the effort that provided free music education to impoverished children which started in Venezuela. This is a similar effort to teach dance to girls in Nairobi. Some of them have been accepted into more formal training programs and have appeared in performance venues.

The pictures show these young women practicing in dim rooms with dirt floors that are only lit by windows. Some of the rooms are so small, only one person at a time can practice advanced techniques.

When I see the effort these dancers make in order to participate in ballet, it strikes me that a real disservice is being done when we decide that the ideal dancer possesses a certain body type.

Dance obviously isn’t the only arts discipline where appearance is tied to success. Classical music’s use of blind auditions has helped to mitigate some of the issues associated with judging people on appearance, but doesn’t necessarily solve everything. Music in general and other performing arts disciplines are having to do a fair bit of introspection about their practices of late.

As much as I have read about the debates, there was something in this particular set of pictures that underscored for me the sense that a disservice was being done.


Photograph by Fredrik Lerneryd

Is Innovation A Scientific Or Artistic Endeavor?

Really interesting research piece on Plos One asking if the arts are the “secret sauce” that helps drive innovation or if it is the nice to have “cherry on top.” They focused on data dealing with the arts in rural settings because it removed a host of elements present in urban environments that one might attribute as having an impact on innovation instead of the arts.

The more I read the piece, the more I thought they were going to come down on the side of the arts as “cherry on top.” They noted relationships between things like artistic activity and opportunities for leisure  or being near natural attractions that might draw and activate a certain demographic that is already interested in the arts.

However, they concluded,

From this perspective, the “cherry-on-top” explanation for the observed arts-innovation nexus is not supported by the data used in this analysis. However, the data are consistent either with the explanation of the arts as an attractive amenity, or as an enabler of innovative thinking. The economic geography literature has primarily considered the former explanation, although recent experimental research and emerging ways of thinking about innovation lend credence to the latter.

The likelihood that the “arts as enabler of innovative thinking” explanation will ever get a toehold in the economics-of-innovation literature is slim, given its theoretical foundation in non-rational thought, which is anathema to conventional economics.


The one advantage that the “arts-as-enabler-of-innovative-thinking” explanation has over the “arts-as-attractive-creative-class-amenity” explanation is the availability of experimental data supporting the former premise.

This pretty much encapsulates the environment we operate in. Even though there are some interesting indicators that arts can be an enabler of innovative thinking, because that data is based in some slightly squishy thought, it won’t be given credit for contributing to the economic value of innovation. (Perhaps more reason not to use the economic value of the arts argument.) Still, it is good to know people are studying questions about the link between creativity and innovation.

There was a previous section in the article that was more interesting to me than the conclusion.  Earlier in the article they talk about design being the bridge between art and innovation.

I hadn’t really thought about that before. I have pretty much considered design and innovation as a creative artistic endeavor. The article places innovation pretty squarely in an empirical, scientific realm. The first sentence in the following quote essentially says our biases shape our conception of how new ideas are generated.

…differences between the arts and innovation are stark with respect to where we think the new ideas come from, what purposes the new ideas serve, and which practices or innovation activities (techniques) allow those ideas to be realized.


Design provides a plausible bridge between the two parallel tracks of art and innovation. A useful concise definition of design is a mediation between people and technology that emphasizes aesthetics [19]. The mediation is both an applied art and a development activity critical to innovation.

The article notes that when an object is patented, the patent describes how the object works but what it describes is rarely what is released to the market. Something that looks great but doesn’t work is just as undesirable as something that works, but doesn’t have aesthetic appeal. Design bridges that gap.

If you have ever listened to the 99% Invisible podcast, you will have a sense of what I mean. The podcast focuses pretty heavily on the value of design as both a utilitarian, (often safety), and experiential element.

Not Just For The Kids

Though it was only a week ago, I can’t quite recall where I came across a link to Ozan Varol’s post, “Stop asking children these seven questions (and ask these instead)”

I was barely past the first one when I started thinking these ideas were applicable to adults as well. And sure enough, the last line of the piece was,

“It may have occurred to some of you that this post is a Trojan Horse. These questions are as much for you as they are for children.”

Most of the seven questions are pretty much cornerstones of arts and creativity dealing with failure, curiosity, experimentation and imagination. While he expounds upon what he means for each, I figured I would just list the questions themselves without comments.

Withholding the easy answer in favor of letting people engage in the process of exploring and synthesizing their own answers is a core element of his post. Sure you can easily click the link, but hopefully your brain will already be churning as you seek the answer.

I assure you, even the question about choosing a kindergarten has broader applications.

1. “What did you learn today?” vs. “What did you disagree with today?”

2. “What did you accomplish this week?” vs. “What did you fail at this week?”

3. “Here’s how you do that.” vs. “How would you solve this problem?”

4. “Here’s your new kindergarten” vs. “What kindergarten do you want to attend?”

5. “That’s just the way it is.” vs. “Great question. Why don’t you figure out the answer?”

6. “You can’t do that.” vs. “What would it take to do that?”

7. “Did you make a new friend today?” vs. “How did you help someone today?”

Being On The Right Side of Copyrights

I recently had a piece on ArtsHacker addressing questions about copyright which I see as a complement to an earlier piece I wrote for ArtsHacker that directed readers to tools that can help determine if a work is still under copyright.

This more recent piece includes a guide created by Harvard Law School’s Technology and Intellectual Property Legal Clinic.

Part of the stated aim of that guide was to help those creating protest art understand what uses of a public figure’s likeness is permitted.

But as I write on ArtsHacker, what I like about the guide is that it talks about how to identify those who hold the copyright of a work and what information you should provide when contacting them for permission to use their work.

Perhaps just as important for creative folks looking to expand their reach, the guide discusses how to license and merchandise your own work.

Check out both posts.

Even More Useful Info On Copyright And Intellectual Property

Copyright, Public Domain, and Fair Use Guidance Provided Here

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