Yesterday I had the honor of receiving the 2017 Mason Arts Award from George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. I spoke briefly during their convocation, addressing graduates in Art, Arts Management, Computer Game Design, Dance, Film and Video Studies, Music and Theater. Here’s a rough transcript.
It is truly an honor to receive the 2017 Mason Arts Award, but I must admit that it’s an even bigger pleasure to have this chance to speak with you today. I have to tell you (but of course you know this…) that you are some of the best people in the world. Intuitive, creative, empathetic, smart, hard-working… And I get to spend every summer surrounded by people like you – emerging professionals about to embark on careers in the arts.
I’d like to give you just a little context about my work at Wolf Trap. If you’ve spent summers in this area, you’ve probably heard of us; we have a popular outdoor amphitheatre venue that presents a summer season of all kinds of music. From pop, rock and indie to symphony, opera, jazz and dance, we do it all. In the midst of all of this varied activity, we have a robust series of education offerings, the best-known of which is a program that serves 3-to 5-year-olds from economically disadvantaged areas. And in a different and very specific direction, I run an opera company that sits in even more of a niche than is typical because it focuses on and is composed almost completely of young professionals.
It might seem like a crazy business model, but I would argue that we succeed not in spite of but because of our many-tentacled identity. Not only does it give us a strong broad base, but it provides a kind of innovation and cross-pollination that is more rare than it should be. Creativity so often spawns from the intersection of different worlds, and our blend of pop culture, high art, and community is a treasure.
I can tell from the environment here at CVPA that this cross-genre approach is in your blood. I urge you to nurture these connections and the curiosity that led you to them, and to resist falling down the rabbit hole in your specific industry once you get out into the work world. Your careers and our world will be so much better for it.
Now, I realize that some of you have family members and friends (many of whom are here today) who have expressed well-meaning concern about your decision to pursue your chosen career. (“Why in the world is he getting an arts degree…?” “How is she going to make a living?!”) This is not new. But what has changed in recent years is the increased feeling of gloom and doom that’s coloring the arts world. The news is often not good, and I’m not going to deny it. But in spite of it, I believe that this is an extremely exciting and promising time to embark on a career in the arts.
Yes, the flagship institutions of many art forms are starting to fragment and fray around the edges. And my generation has been sidetracked by an almost desperate attempt to preserve, fortify and protect them. I believe that yours is a generation that will create new paradigms and make them strong enough to replace and surpass some of the old models. The opportunity for creativity and lasting contribution to the future of our art forms has rarely been higher.
You are also uniquely suited to marry technology to the soul of art. Up until now, we’ve been ill-equipped to absorb the algorithmic growth of tech, and we’ve been too obsessed with it as a phenomenon. And this has led us to distort some of our core values. But you understand in your bones that technology is just a tool, and you know how to bend it to your will so that it enhances the art, infusing it with soul and humanity.
As I close, I feel as if I should leave you with some true inspiration – something from the ages. So I’ll roll back 200 years to the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. He said:
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit.
Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
My friends, none of us can see this target. But I know you’re going to hit it. I hope I can help when you do, and I look forward to cheering you on.
Thanks again for this wonderful honor, and CONGRATULATIONS!