Commentary: Sometimes, dance makers need to fail

Christine Jowers, Dance/USA's e-Journal "From The Green Room," 1/24/12

Artistry doesn't come out of thin air; it evolves by being nurtured, sweated over, re-worked, perhaps a little bloodied, and revived. Believe it or not, sometimes art needs to fail. Jennifer S.B Calienes, director of Tallahassee's Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, one of our nation's top-tier dance residency programs, says of necessary artistic failures, "Some of the best work dies in Tallahassee, but it is critical that (dance makers) have that time and space to think, develop, edit, and hone." Even when elements seem to easily come together, it is usually a result of great efforts that have taken place prior. These efforts are called the artistic process. Over the past three years, I have visited New York City rehearsals and interviewed dancers and dance makers as part of The Dance Enthusiast project. The one challenge that I hear about and observe most frequently is that choreographers feel forced to make great art work fast, in less-than-ideal work environments. In other words, they don't have enough time for process. They need to crank out a première and make the best of their performance opportunity. While this effort is admirable, is this any way to support and advance an art form? It appears we need a re-think-a shift away from focusing on making dance by any means necessary toward a deeper commitment to supporting and exploring the practical work and creative questions that go into making successful dance happen.


Commentary: If the visual arts are to survive, we need artists willing to fail

painter Floyd Alsbach on his blog, 1/22/12

There was a time, way back in the 1970's & 80's, when photography was a hard-won skill. It took a great deal of time, effort and practice to learn the craft. Now cameras are everywhere and in everything, photography is literally child's play. Being a painter or sculptor will soon be as minor an accomplishment as being a photographer has become, unless we as artists act now to change it. We need artists who have persevered in the effort to refine their ability and vision despite a lack of recognition, or fiscal success. The constant crop of young MFA's in their tens of thousands all striving to make their mark is just one beginning of a harsh, decades long winnowing process, not the end. We need artists who aren't afraid to visually think out loud, with skill and thoughtfulness, not artists who have just thought of a 'new' way to scream. If the visual arts are to survive this century we need artists who are willing to fail, who even when they fail, the failure is not a grandiose gesture, a spectacle, but rather a humble attempt to try, to learn, to keep at it despite all evidence to the contrary.


Commentary: In comedy, jazz or theater, the twin sibling of innovation is failure

R. Keith Sawyer, University of Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center blog, 1/24/12

In 1949, the comedian Sid Caesar brought together a legendary group of comedy writers and created one of the biggest television hits of the 1950s, Your Show of Shows. Caesar's team included Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Neil Simon. It may have been the greatest writing staff in the history of television. Caesar created a fun and improvisational environment, where the team would riff on each other's ideas. The writers felt like they belonged to something greater than themselves. I call it "group flow." To understand the roots of group flow, it helps to understand a bit more about how individuals find flow. Famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that people are more likely to get into flow when their environment has four important characteristics:

First, they're doing something where their skills match the challenge of the task.

Second, flow occurs when the goal is clear.

Third, when there's constant, immediate feedback about how close you are to that goal.

Fourth, flow occurs when you're free to fully concentrate on the task.

Jazz ensembles rarely experience flow during rehearsal; group flow seems to require an audience, and the accompanying risk of real, meaningful failure. Jazz musicians and improv theater ensembles never know how successful a performance will be. Professional actors learn not to ignore the feeling of stage fright but to harness it, using it as a powerful force to push them toward flow. Research shows us over and over again that the twin sibling of innovation is frequent failure. There's no creativity without failure, and there's no group flow without the risk of failure. These two common research findings go hand in hand, because group flow is often what produces the most significant innovations.


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Commentary: The difference between real and fake failure

Adam Thurman, Mission Paradox blog, 1/18/12

It's a trendy thing to talk about failure. In the arts world we are always discussing the need to take risks, try new things, etc. Of course you can't discuss those things without considering the flipside, failure. But I worry that this "need" to fail can easily become an excuse for a lot of really unhelpful behaviors: Sloppiness. Lack of execution. Poor planning. That sort of thing. I've had to learn (the hard way) that the only failures that move us forward are the ones where you prepare and execute to the best of your ability...and then things just don't work out. There is plenty of room for that sort of failure. What there is no room for is the sort of things that get labeled as "failure" but is actually a series of predictable, avoidable, f*ck ups. If you want to be a valuable part of any team or project then you've got to make sure people understand the difference between real and fake failure.  That means you have to place an emphasis on proper execution, clear communication and all the other boring (but vital) stuff that makes anything meaningful happen. Anything less than that and you (and your team) may find yourselves spinning your wheels for a very long time.


Quote of the Day

Adam Thurman, Mission Paradox blog, 1/27/12

Life will go easier if you accept the following: Someone will tell you, "it's ok to fail" and then go nuts when you actually do fail. That is their problem, not yours.

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