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The Way We Learn

The Visual and Performance Arts and Resurrecting Community

The Visual and Performance Arts and Resurrecting Community
Summer 2008 Online Exhibition

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: May 25, 2008
Latest Update: May 28, 2008

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Yahoo Discussion Group: Building Communities

Topic of the Week:

Theatre as Performance and the Role of Performance in Education

Frank Rich's article this weekend on South Pacific made me rethink my passion for interactive art and performance. I'm hyperactive, and I love to make things. And I forget that my personality pervades my teaching. I have to keep reminding myself that "some of us just sits and thinks and some of us just sits." (from an old poster we used to have in the research center.)

I was brought up short again this morning, Memorial Day, by "A Pause before Summer" on p. A18 of the New York Times' editorial section:

"[T]oday would be a good day, once the dew is off the grass, to wander out into the open and lie on your back and watch the clouds float by overhead without even trying to decide what they resemble."

I learned long ago in my teaching that there were students who drank in all that we were doing, but didn't feel the need to participate in the discussion. Susan and I never dreamt how hard it was for some of our students to "just tell us what you learned, what you did with it." Straightforward for one who was on stage at two; but maybe not so easy for those who serve by sitting more quietly by. Some of us serve by "doing," by acting up or out; some of us serve differently, and difference is part of what makes us strong as a community.

Once a kind local lawyer came to judge moot court and just sat there quietly listening to each student with absolutely no comment or change of facial expression. I was the only one on the panel with him, so I kept asking questions, prodding reactions, and encouraging the students to lose themselves in the scene. As I delivered comments at the end, I must have said something about expressiveness and emotion in presenting an argument. That very nice gentleman turned, look me squarely in the eyes, and informed me: "Oh, yes, I am likely to exhibit emotion such as that before the judge in a typical court room. In my whole career I've never behaved like that."

Dear me, I really blew that one. I hadn't had hardly any time to meet with the lawyer before the round. I'd been teaching. And the preparatory materials were all legal. None of them had pointed out the importance of play in learning new roles. College students are scared to death of real lawyers, just as most of those lawyers are scared to death of them in a classroom setting. My students needed to get beyond those fears to discover that they could argue logically even when their knees were shaking, to discover that lawyers and judges are just folks, like us, made formidable mostly by the power and authority of the setting in which they work.

In the early days of moot court our lawyers were part of our teaching team. So were our judges. Only in these very last years, as moot court was slowly changing into community education, did we have lawyers who came from a single round, as this gentleman had. This wasn't law school. This was learning to feel all the passion and fear and misconceptions and compassion that permeate every court session. Every citizen, every student needs that experience in a safe and loving environment. And most won't respond with my level of passion and overacting, certainly not in the real world. But they need to feel what lies beneath it all. I was so aghast at the gentleman's outburst, which must have been very unusual for him, that I don't even remember how I handled it. All I can think now is, I hope I didn't patronize him. I wish I had had the cool to share with him that even the student who may never give a passionate answer may recall years later her multiple feelings to the scene in which she first experienced real lawyers, real judges on stage in a non-threatening public space. He had been practicing so long, he probably never thought back to the courage he had had to summon at the very beginning of those trials.

My work with Moot Court was play for grown-ups. Play means taking on roles to try them out, to see how they fit, without all the risk of real life. But someone took the play out of our schools. Perhaps that's my worst complaint about the No Child Left Behind pseudo-program. There is so much emphasis on learning to a recall and application level, and the tests to measure those levels, that there's no time left for playing with the ideas, the settings, the real people we will play in real life, using all those things we learned. And there's too much competition with an emphasis on doing with all that data whatever we the teachers did with it, when perhaps the most important thing any of us can learn is how to see the data differently with the unspoiled imagination of one whose creativity has not yet been stifled by "the way we do things."

Because play is my primary teaching tool, I tend to work with interactive and participatory models. Frank Rich's article on South Pacific highlights the role that theatre plays in a less participatory setting: the theatre itself. Follow this link to Frank Rich's article and our commentary relating it to the resurrecting of community.

I have placed considerable emphasis on performance in the last couple of issues because action instead of manipulation (advertising) and inaction on most of the major social and economic issues we face as a nation is a primary concern for most Americans today. It's time to put performance and action back into our educational infrastructure. Readin,' writin,' and 'rithmetic are essential to successful life in the postmodern world. So are relationships, community, responsibility, accountability, and what we are wont to call "humanity." love and peace, jeanne


  • Resurrecting the Community: Theatre Frank Rich's article with commentary and discussion questions. jeanne

  • Resurrecting the Community: Traffic Islands as Public Space L.A.Times article on Ari Kletzky's Islands of L.A. Project. With commentary and disscussion questions on public space, what it is, who creates it, by what authority, and does that matter?

  • Islands of L.A. You might want to compare Ari Kletzky's reminiscences about community conversation brought on by L.A.'s traffic islands. Ari Kletzky's approach at least brought the city actors into his project as active participants. South Pacific doesn't do that. Does that matter? But then, notice that the effect of the performance can leave an impression that serves the resurrection of community even though no specific commitment or response comes from the audience that has experienced the performance. jeanne

  • Highways Performance Space and Gallery Performance and Gallery Group in Santa Monica that has sponsored some of Ari Kletzky's Islands of L.A. Project.

  • Who creates public space? For postcard used by Ari Klezky in Islands of L.A. project on public space, link on mini-postcard in first paragraph of blog entry. jeanne



  • Learning Styles

    • Whose definition of performance?

      Performance for some means sitting quietly and taking in the discussion. For others it means making their voice heard. For still others it means dominating the interaction. All these varieties of performance preference exist in every community. Part of community maintenance is adjusting to accomodate such differences. And usually that's no one's job. It's just something we tend to do in order to keep peace in community interaction.

      Perhaps the best theoretical reference I can recall on this is Bales' Interaction Process Analysis. In his study of leadership in face-to-face groups, he determined that the leadership role is most often shared between a task-oriented leader and a socio-emotional leader. The task-oriented leader is usually the one we recognize as getting the job done. But the socio-emotional leader makes that possible by managing the many differences in skill, personality, and social style. When these traits are combined in a single leader, we call the leader charismatic.

      What does this tell us about community ressucitation? That there is no single style of performance or learning, and that the idea of community includes the importance of helping each other adjust to all our different styles. In reaching out to our communities this summer, we need to consider what will attract different styles to join us in learning about issues that matter and what will most effectively provide "facts" and "analysis" of issues in ways that different learning styles need.

      Our experience suggests that people vary in the depth to which they want to go in considering issues. For us, that menas preparing site sections (and corresponding hard copy for those that prefer or need it) with basic summary material, with one-sheet summary information, and with detailed information. It also means that some will want to know the background theory that guides us in analyzing issues, like Bales' Interaction Process Analysis.

      The Internet provides us with wonderful tools for making all these levels of analysis and theoretical background available in plain English on computer screens and in hard copy. Do let everyone choose the level of information with which they are comfortable. We learn most effectively, and act on what we have learned, when we can comfortably choose that learning for ourselves and feel confident with what we have absorbed.

      Lifetime learning and community participation have no tests. They exist in the real world we are recreating for ourselves every day. There are so many things to do in today's world. If we want community, we have to make building and maintaining community satisfying endeavors that everyone will want to engage in. Utility theory says that people will do that which provides them with the most satisfaction. I don't believe utility theorists are right because I don't believe we humans are that rational. We do lots of things that harm us, quite as much as those that add to our satisfaction. But assuming arguendo that there is some truth in utility theory, in a fast-paced world we'll choose to do those things that do provide us with satisfaction. So if voting, participating in community affairs and policy are seen as "chores" we're less likely to engage in the work of keeping our community alive and healthy.

Visual Sociology

  • Conceptual Art

    jeanne's first conceptual art exercise

    jeanne's first conceptual art exercise

    This is the exercise from which Arnold the Red came. Performance art has to make it's impression within the viewer's attention span. So do we when we are trying to attract participants to governance discourse. Conceptual art appeals to concepts, ideas that we mostly share, so that a figurative piece that seems to mean something with which we are familiar tempts us to interpret according to our own experiences and tastes. Ever wonder why Victoria Secret and some new prefume? company are fighting each other to "own" the name "SEXY"? I think they have an odor. But the mud flaps on highway trucks came up with a visual icon long ago. Long flying hair, long legs, big . . . well, you know.

    The exercise involved choosing a shape that had some meaning for you. By varying the size of that shape and rotating the shape you are asked to create a drawing. I chose a shape of curves and angles that represented free form for me at that point. From that came my drawing. And my freeform shape served to create part of Arnold the Red, whom I perceived as being pretty free of convention.

    In the glossary examples I've attached here artists from the conceptual art movement include Joseph Beuys. Beuys was dedicated to moving art out of the commodities market, using simple inexpensive materials, like fat, to construct his art objects, and to expressing ideas with his installations, that included performance art. Here's that problem with performance again. What I have in mind with conceptual art as part of community building is the use, making of, and inclusion of visual and/or performance that we have connected with a concept that will call a social, governance, or economic issue to mind. In this way the conceptual art piece serves as a reminder of the issue and all the discourse that surrounds it. If we are involved in the creation of such an art piece, the whole process of creation involves us more deeply in considering the issue and keeps it alive in our awareness.

    Beuys would probably be happy with my definition and use, for he wanted to make art accessible to everyone as part and parcel of our everyday lives.


    • Conceptual Art On the ArtLex site. Links to samples of conceptual art.

    • Conceptual Art Defined in the Tate Museum Glossary. Sample art works.

SquiggleOnline Resources For Governance Discourse

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