Whew, Who Knew Finding Your Passion Was Such Hard Work?

Back in July there was an interesting piece in The Atlantic examining the value of the claim “find your passion and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

As I was reading the article, I saw that this concept had a lot in common with the idea that artistic achievement is the result of inspiration or genius rather than the result of a long period of practice, experimentation and experience. I have written about this idea often in the distant and recent past.  The study reported on in The Atlantic piece continues to extend and add evidence to my thinking on this topic by suggesting you develop your passion rather than being struck by it in a momentary flash.

Another reason not to buy into the fixed theory is that it can cause people to give up too easily. If something becomes difficult, it’s easy to assume that it simply must not have been your passion, after all. In one portion of this study, the students who thought interests were fixed were also less likely to think that pursuing a passion would be difficult at times. Instead, they thought it would provide “endless motivation.”


People who have a growth mind-set about their own intelligence tend to be less afraid of failure, according to her research, because they believe smarts are cultivated, not inherent. Interests are related to, but distinct from, abilities, the study authors told me: You can be interested in something but not very good at it. “I’ve been playing guitar for 25 years, but I can’t say that my abilities have gotten that much better in the past 10 years,” O’Keefe said.

Dweck told me that “find your passion” has a laudable history. “Before that, people were saying, ‘Find your genius,’ and that was so intimidating. It implied that only people who were really brilliant at something could succeed,” she said. “‘Find your passion’ felt more democratic. Everybody can have an interest.” But this study suggests that even the idea of finding your “true” interest can intimidate people and keep them from digging further into a field.

I was particularly interested by this idea that “find your passion” developed out of a desire remove the intimidation factor inherent in “find your genius.” It seems like something of an admonition to pay attention to the inherent implications of any new phrases that crop up to replace “find your passion.”

Show Of Hands- Conference Professional Development Sessions Mostly BS Or Sources of Valuable Info?

While I wasn’t scheduled to sit on any panels at the ArtsMidwest conference last week, I did end up leading (or at least shepherding) one.

Actually, I made a tongue-in-cheek claim I was hijacking the session because it was originally cancelled but I decided it should go on if there was enough interest.  What had been scheduled was a book club type discussion of Nina Simon’s The Art of Relevance. The person who had been scheduled to lead the session couldn’t make it so I decided if enough people walked up and expressed disappointment at seeing the cancellation notice, I would pull the sign down and make sure it happened.

Sure enough, two other people quickly came up and said “awww” so I pulled down the sign and took over the room. We ended up having about 15 people attend, half of whom had read the book and the other half who intended to read it and wanted to know more.

Given that mix of experience and perspectives, it was pretty easy to provide a valuable and informative session. (Though if I had had more notice, I might have tried to get a computer so we could show one of Nina’s TEDx talks)

Earlier in the week, there was another session that had been cancelled because the presenter couldn’t make it. This one was geared toward helping people take a look at the physical surroundings of an arts venue from a different perspective to identify what features might be sending unwelcoming messages to some groups.

From the session description:

“Oftentimes the greatest asset of any arts program is its physical space, and yet it’s frequently overlooked when it comes to access, inclusion and diversity…if we aren’t paying attention we can inadvertently send the wrong messages. Like tourists with fresh eyes participants will go on a walking tour of the Indiana Convention Center and explore how to identify and mitigate the psychological, emotional and physical reactions that occur in response to a physical space.”

I had seen this at previous conferences and had conflicts so I intended to participate this year and I was a little disappointed that it got cancelled.

I overheard a number of other people express similar disappointment at it being cancelled and then rhetorically ask if the conference couldn’t have just found someone else to run the session instead.  My feeling is that being sensitive to and aware of these problematic features is a pretty specific skill set.  It isn’t as easy to find a suitable substitute as it was for me and others to step in and lead the book club discussion.

I mentioned this to a couple of those making these comments and they seemed pretty reluctant to concede this was the case. This reaction made me wonder if conference attendees perceived the content of these sessions to be marginally valuable BS that presenters spouted and therefore was easily substituted on short notice by other people who happened to be around.

And yes, granted a lot of times conference content can be full of empty platitudes about how everyone must love the arts but sessions like these are more about specialized practical skills and less about advocating for the value of the arts.

I suppose a more charitable read could be the perception that everyone in attendance but oneself is a highly qualified expert practitioner and therefore could step in to provide illuminating perspective on the problem.

But if it is the assumption that half of what you are hearing is B.S., then arts conferences have a challenge about communicating their value for professional development.


Sometimes Culture Is Preserved In Overlooked Nooks And Crannies

If you have ever doubted the contributions niche artistic & cultural practices can make to greater society, read check out this story on the BBC site recounting how puppetry helped preserve the Czech language.

…intellectuals, who had initially resisted the German language, followed suit. Even Czech actors began to perform in German as an official mandate.


[wood carvers]…started making puppets for the actors of Bohemia soon after Ferdinand II came to power, as puppets were the only remaining entities that had the right to speak Czech in public places. While the rest of the country and its people adhered to the newly imposed German language, wandering actors and puppet-masters spoke through the puppets in their native Slavic tongue.

It might seem unlikely that a few hundred puppets and puppet-masters could safeguard a language, especially through a loophole, but the people’s last remaining legacy to their past was tied to the puppet’s strings.

It’s easy to see why these marionettes have found a home in Czech hearts, and why the magic of puppets continues to permeate the city.

It is often the case that a dominant culture tries to undermine, perhaps with the intent of forced assimilation,  the identity of other cultures by outlawing popular practices. Occasionally niche cultural practices are tolerated because they are not taken seriously or because they don’t appear to have broad impact.

Something similar happened in Hawaii (as well as other places, I am sure), where there was a strong bias against speaking the language and close to an outright prohibition against hula, with which chant is inexorably bound. It was only due to individuals performing and practicing in private that cultural practices were preserved until public practice was allowed. Even still, a lot had been lost and is still in the process of being reinvigorated in the shadow of influential pop culture.

Indeed, currently reclaiming and participating in traditional practice is increasingly valued. Some of it is certainly motivated by the prestige of being associated with “bespoke” craftsmanship. But that desire drives a demand for people to actually master the skills to produce quality sought after goods, services and experiences.

Maintaining STEAM Pressure To Manufacture Better Art

I am going to be attending the Arts Midwest conference this week so I started scouring my archives for content for Wednesday’s entry. Instead, I came across an old post that is a bit more appropriate for Labor Day.

Back in 2009 I wrote about a New Republic piece that suggested one of the reasons manufacturing has diminished in the US is that business schools started focusing more on finance and consulting back in 1965. So while countries like Germany and Japan have constantly made advances in manufacturing, the US hadn’t been able to keep up.

“Harvard business professor Rakesh Khurana, with whom I discussed these questions at length, observes that most of GM’s top executives in recent decades hailed from a finance rather than an operations background….But these executives were frequently numb to the sorts of innovations that enable high-quality production at low cost. As Khurana quips, “That’s how you end up with GM rather than Toyota.”

I made the following observation about how this situation was finding its way into the arts.

…realized that this describes exactly what people are afraid will happen if arts organizations are “run more like a business.” The fear is that decisions will rest entirely on return on investment and will be divorced from the manufacturing process as it were.

There was a time I would not have imagined that any arts organization would have a disconnect between the administration and the artists…

Nearly five years ago, I cited observations that orchestra administrations were disassociated from the performances and performers. Given all the conflicts and closures since then, I don’t think the overall environment has gotten any better since.

With the increased focus on STEM subjects, I wonder what this portends for the future. Will an emphasis on research and experimentation lead to more innovation in general and have an influence on the arts in the form of data based decision making and technology driven innovation?

Or will the value of the arts continue to be evaluated in terms of quantitative measures?

The fact that the arts community was pretty quick to start insisting that STEM become STEAM to include the arts makes me optimistic for the former scenario, but we need to pay attention to what areas our schools focus on.

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