What’s My Discipline?

I have just returned from the USITT annual conference with the often repeated question “So are you still doing lighting?” ringing in my ears.  In retrospect, I should have replied “Yes,” and left it at that because what does it mean to “do” a discipline?  Am I regularly laying out instruments in a CAD program, choosing colors, building cues in the theatre? Not so much.  But, I “do” lighting design because I am disciplined to think like a lighting designer and apply that thinking process to all that I do.  In “Five Minds for the Future,” a book I have referenced often here, Howard Gardner explains “discipline” as a distinctive way of thinking about the world.  I’ve “done” lighting for a long time. The “way of thinking” won’t go away.

In an earlier post, I connected the teaching of lighting design with the teaching of arts entrepreneurship, my current academic focus.  But, there are also connections between thinking like a lighting designer and my other intellectual (pre)occupations, arts management and arts policy.   Arts management, like lighting design, demands an ability to view an issue from multiple perspectives, to see a situation as existing not only in space, but also in time.  Lee Bolman and Terry Deal refer to this as “reframing.”  And, like lighting design, arts management (or any organizational management), demands an ability to focus simultaneously on the big picture and the small detail, the full stage composition and the way light sculpts an actors face.

Professional knowledge is not the same as disciplinary thinking.  A crash course in personnel management or nonprofit finance can provide professional knowledge.  Disciplinary thinking comes with, well, discipline, the repeated application of professional knowledge in context.

I’m blathering on about this in part because of my misguided decision to enter the Spring for Music “Great Blogger Challenge,” which, in my decision to withdraw, got me thinking about peoples’ tendencies to draw limits around their discipline, their practice, and even their culture.  Their prompts reified limits by asking bloggers to consider one place or one type of cultural product as more valuable somehow than another.  An entrepreneur sees the opportunities in such limits, transforming them from limits to something else. Disciplinary thinking can likewise be transformed, reapplied, turned sideways, and re-purposed.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
This entry was posted in Arts education, Arts management, Arts policy, Higher education, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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