The Artist as Social Scientist ( a bit of a rant)

I’m not proud to admit it, but I have spent a great deal of my time and energy as an artist and an artist/educator seeking validation of my artform/craft to….[you name it]…schools, funders, organisations, my family….etc etc etc. And this validation seems to always need to come in the form of quantifiable results. How many, how much, how long…numbers numbers numbers. It’s incredibly frustrating and any artist will tell you that our work —the true impact of our work —is NOT quantifiable. And yet – to stay in the game, to play the game, we go through these motions of this neoliberal approach to push pre-imposed outcomes and assess those things. And yet – those are not the things that make our work, our practice, impactful and meaningful.

I would like to reframe this structure. I would like to propose viewing artists as a type of social scientist. Now, while social scientists DO incorporate qualitative measures into their analysis and findings (which brings us a step closer to the arts), the means by which most social scientists share their finding is still (from my knowledge – and I could be wrong) in the form of papers, etc. Within the social sciences you have ethnographers, anthropologists, geographers, archeologists, historians, etc etc etc – why not ADD artists? The only real difference would be that the artists share their findings aesthetically —through their artform. It must be experienced, lived, embodied by the recipient. The knowledge gained is not only about the world, but about the self and engage the entire being in the creation of this knowledge, doing away with any Cartesian dualism (mind/body separation). This method of sharing work and discoveries should be as valid as any other.

Artists, and especially theatre artists (speaking from what I know personally), engage with the big questions of the world and society. Theatre practice rigorously interrogates, explores, transforms, places into new contexts, sits with, reflects upon, and makes demands of the material explored within it. Further, it brings people together in a collaborative effort to do so. What is shared with the public is not simply frivolous entertainment (even if sometimes it is quite enjoyable) —it is a sharing and a revealing of what was discovered through the process and what that says about an event, a moment in time, a person or group of people, a place, a concept.

Artists should be included in the field of social scientists, while also remaining in their own discipline. Cross-disciplinarity is a plus – it is the reason why the arts have reflected and created culture around the world throughout time.

And stop making artists jump through hoops to fit into a box that can be neatly ticked. Art isn’t neat. It’s messy. So is life —and living —and negotiating the beautiful complexities that exist in the world. View artists as the legitimate social scientists that we are and respect the methodologies and skills that artists have rigorously honed.