05 March 2012

My IAM presentation

As you know if you follow this blog (or my website or my twitter feed @IambicAdmonit, or if we're friends on facebook), I spent last weekend in NYC at the IAM Regional Leaders' Conference -- a weekend in the urban Eden.

While I was there, I gave a 15-minute presentation about my own creative work and the work & goals of Ekphrasis: Fellowship of Christians in the Arts. I'd like to try to reproduce this presentation here. A video of it should be available eventually; when it is, I'll link to it on the website.

I. I began by passing around handouts, including the flyer advertising a Poetry & Dance event, to illustrate my interest in interdisciplinary & collaborative arts:

I also shared the vision statement for Ekphrasis, which you can download & read at your leisure.

And I shared one poem from my new book, Caduceus: you can read that poem here.

II. Then I began my demonstration/discussion of interdisciplinary arts by playing a recording of the Overture to Bizet's Carmen and reading, over the music, a poem of mine entitled "Carmen Rehearses her Monologue." This poem is spoken in the persona of an opera singer who is trying to process the difficult emotions involved in performing the role of a promiscuous woman, while the singer's family watches the show!

III. Then I gave a talk. I reproduce my script for the talk here.

"Good afternoon. My name is Sørina Higgins; that poem was from my brand-new, hot-off-the-press, one-week-old collection entitled Caduceus. I am also the host of a regional group called 'Ekphrasis: Fellowship of Christians in the Arts' that meets in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Ekphrasis is a Greek word that translates: 'to speak out, to express, enunciate, detail, phrase, signify.' It has traditionally been applied to poetry about the visual arts. In our group, we expand it to mean making art about life—in other words, subcreation.

I chose that particular poem because it illustrates something into which my group, some of my students, and I have accidentally stumbled: interdisciplinary arts. Interdisciplinary arts, mixed media, genre-crossing, and collaboration: these are some trends in contemporary 'Western' art, and they are a little bit of a theme in my group. Think of interdisciplinary arts as metaphor as macrocosm: expressing something in terms of something else in order to get at something else again, deeper, and more profound. Metaphor as macrocosm. This is how we are trained as young practioners of our arts. We are told: Make your poetry more musical. Make your music more dramatic. Make the piano sound like an orchestra. Make your voice sound like a cello—like butter—like caramel. We say: 'Wow, look at that sunset; it looks like a painting!' 'Wow, look at that painting; it looks like a photograph!' 'Wow, look at that photograph; it looks real!'

All right, now all of this sounds very lofty. Let me bring it down to earth for a few minutes by just talking quite concretely about what my group, Ekphrasis, is, what is does, and what some of its dreams, goals, and problems are.

1. monthly workshops for critique
2. occasional events that are open to the public
3. explicitly Christian vision statement
4. Good relationship with area churches:
a) Multiple churches represented (8)
b) unofficial relationship w/Living Hope (encouragement, space, promotion)
c) Players of the Stage, E. C. dance, choreologos presented at church

5. Difficulties & Goals:
a) how to grow? (average 10 members; 24 max)
b) how to become more professional? (mostly college students)
c) how to involve the whole church?
d) GOAL: to be THE place where ALL Christians-in-the-Arts in the Lehigh Valley workshop their pieces & performances—and to produce some of THE great masterpieces of our time!

Now I've slipped back into the lofty again—and many members of my little group do have lofty goals and are accomplishing great work. One is involved in a non-profit film company that is making a documentary movie about underpriviledged teens in Philadelphia. One directs a youth theatre company that donated $11,000 last year to the Allentown Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter and rehab center for men in transition. A dance teacher and I are creating an interdisciplinary event called 'Poetry, Dance, and the Patterned Glory of the Universe' — a lofty title for a community event hosted by my church and promoted by our outreach committee.

So you see I've also slipped back into talking about collaborative, genre-crossing arts again; so let me close with one more poem that is pretending—or aspiring—to be more than just words on a page. I hope that it hints at how much more could be done to push poetry onto the stage and into other categories. Four people have very kindly volunteered to perform it with me to give you the full poetic, dramatic, antiphonal, musical, and geographical effect."

IV. And then we performed a poem entitled “Mappa Mundi,” which is about the four Medieval elements -- earth, air, fire, & water -- personified as four dragons, and considered as aspects of the Holy Spirit's creative work in the world!

As a result of this presentation and of hearing dozens of other presentations, I came away from the weekend just bursting with ideas for ways Ekphrasis will take over the world! Please share your thoughts!




Anonymous said...

Concerning Ekphrasis’ goal as stated: “to be THE place where ALL Christians-in-the-Arts in the Lehigh Valley workshop their pieces & performances—and to produce some of THE great masterpieces of our time!”, I’m not sure this is actually desirable. The reason I say this is because whenever there is a group of people, the tendency is for the members of that group to all gravitate towards each other in many ways (i.e., they assimilate each other’s preferences, opinions, etc.) in order to preserve the cohesion of the single, larger unit.
I believe this predisposition of individuals towards groupthink becomes problematic for a few reasons within the context of Ekphrasis:

1.If “monthly workshops for critique” is a large portion of what Ekphrasis aims to be (i.e. a Christian community of arts-related people objectively evaluating the works of their fellow group members), the psychology principle of groupthink suggests that individuals within the group will struggle to remain objective and voice their true dissentions concerning the works of their peers.

2.Additionally, the individuals within the group are likely to develop a mindset that interprets their art-related works as ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’, while labeling art-related works created by those outside the group as ‘bad’ and ‘unacceptable’. Perhaps not to the extreme (i.e., a Da Vinci work will still be considered ‘good’ regardless of whether he was within the group or not), but the tendency towards approving more highly of works created by those within the group and analyzing more critically works created by those outside the group must certainly exist and wreak very real havoc on the opinions of the group.

All this to say psychology research supports the idea that a group of collective individuals will struggle to remain objective concerning both their works and others, and therefore if objective feedback is the key (as I believe most would argue it is), it must necessarily be provided by a source that is outside the group. To this end, then, there must necessarily exist at least one other group of individuals who are qualified to evaluate such works but who do not themselves belong to Ekphrasis. Indeed, a single group of art-educated people outside Ekphrasis who may be relied on to objectively judge Ekphrasis’ work is not ideal, as they will themselves be predisposed towards judging Ekphrasis’ work more harshly than their own. Therefore, it is ideal that many arts-educated groups exist outside Ekphrasis, in order that the power of each group be minimalized.

Anonymous said...

What I mean is this: if there is only one arts-educated group (Ekphrasis), then it is likely that it will consider all or most works produced by members of this group as ‘acceptable’ and ‘good’. And if there are only two or three arts-educated groups, they are still likely to approve more easily of works created by their members and to criticize (reject or ridicule) the works of individuals within the other groups. If, however, there were many, many groups of arts-educated people; then the individuals producing the art-related works would be more likely to conceptualize themselves as ‘an artist, who is also a member of one of many arts-related groups’ rather than ‘an artist from art-related group A rather than art-related group B or C’.
Therefore, in order to protect the integrity and objective evaluations of an artist’s works by other artists, it appears necessary that little emphasis be placed on belonging to a group or not; and if an artist does belong to a group, that little emphasis be placed on the specific group to which they belong. In closing, then, Ekphrasis may benefit most not by having all Christian artists create and present their works through this group, but by being content to remain relatively small.

After all, if works of art (paintings, drawings, writings, musical pieces, etc.) are fueled by the individuality of the artist (as I believe most are), it seems counter-productive for all the creative individuals within an area to mold themselves into a single group, which will inevitably begin eroding the individuality of each member to form a cohesive whole. Therefore, small groups may be beneficial for receiving encouragement to continue in one’s artistic endeavors (i.e. a discouraged artist is revived when they hear others are interested in the work they are doing), but throwing too many artists into a single group is likely to hold all members back by lowering the standards for what is considered ‘acceptable’ and ‘good’ (because no one wants to discourage or hurt the other’s feelings).