Let's Review- Art as Process, not Product

I originally wrote this piece in 2012. A lot has changed since then. But not really my ideas on Arts Eduction. As a matter of fact, I think it is even more important now that we teach the process of art making, rather than emphasize the final product. I've seen too many organizations and teachers put all the power of art on the "show".  When really, in terms of learning, it's the process that matters. 


April was full of events. Actually, most of them occurred all in 1 week! My high school students presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream and their semester dance performance. My students at Hedgerow performed for a fundraiser. Through it all, I was coaching, correcting, writing program notes, performing as well, and just generally hoping for the best. 

Weeks like that are the best and the worst. We celebrate as all of our hard work, scolds, suggestions and teaching become a beautiful final product. And, we worry that it won’t. Somehow, it always seems to “come together”. Yet, I’m concerned that miracle of adrenaline is something we take for granted. Do we, as teachers and directors, just trust it will “come together”, and then not instill in our students the importance of discipline, rehearsing as you would perform, and taking pride in one’s work, as much in the process as the product? 

If we do not encourage our students to be disciplined- prepared, on time, respectful of the process, their peers and their authorities- we miss a chance to prepare them for college and jobs, where they will not have us there to remind them. 

If we do not have them rehearse as they perform, we do not teach them that the arts, and most things in life, are group efforts. That the actions (or lack thereof) of one person has a ripple affect on the group, with consequences s/he may not foresee when focused on him/herself.

If we do not encourage our students to take as much pride in the process as in the finished product, we do not actually encourage learning. We are telling them that the end is all that matters. We do not take mistakes and failures as learning opportunities, rather we just focus on the happy ending (see chapter 1 of Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine). And in that, we don’t encourage creativity. If we cannot teach our students to try, to fail, to try again, to seek ways to improve we are not educating them. We are not creating a generation of resilient, innovative thinkers and doers, who operate with perspective and insight. We are simply teaching them to get to the end. By whatever means necessary. 

The arts in education should not be about just getting to the end- the performance, the final piece, the presentation. The arts in education should be a time to teach the value of exploration, to embrace learning and process as just as important as the finished product. If you never start, you can never finish. If you do not learn as you go, you will not end up in any place different than where you started.