Feeling Sliced and Stretched Trying To Meet Evaluative Measures? There Is Good Reason

Last week I linked to the unabridged version of Carter Gillies’ article for the Arts Professional (UK). The shorter print version has since appeared on their site.

In his response in the comments section of the Arts Professional article, Carter employs some evocative imagery to support his contention that just because you can measure something doesn’t mean the metric tells you anything of value.

If you have been having a difficult time wrapping your head around the arguments I have been laying out about how arts and creativity are valued, Carter’s illustration of the idea might help toward better understanding.

There is an ancient Greek Myth that shows the dangers of confusing our measures with something subject to measurement. In it Procrustes guarantees that the visitors to his inn would fit their beds perfectly…. But Procrustes turns the situation on its head and instead measures the fit by how well the people are measured *by* the bed. In other words, the people are stretched out if they are too small or chopped down if they are too long. Gruesome!

…Do we strap the arts into a framework that satisfies specifically non-artistic values, force a conformity that exists only in conformity obsessed minds? Do we sacrifice all that art can be merely to satisfy a diminished version that is neat and tidy, but itself merely a butchered example of what art does and what it should aim for?

If Arts Council England wants to impose a quality metric for the arts, they have a bureaucratic right to do so. Unfortunately. What they do not have is a right to speak for what things count as quality in the arts, or by extension what the arts themselves are or should be. If they want to take on the role of Procrustes let them be honest about it. But don’t let them tell you that what they are imposing is really what counts as the arts…

Now before you start mumbling indignantly as you recognize how government funders, foundations, etc are applying irrelevant measures in an attempt to define the value of art, recall that we all ultimately end up creating personal definitions and measures of what is and is not worthwhile art. It is just that most of us don’t wield the money and influence that broadly shapes policy and practice for other arts and cultural organizations

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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