The Culture of Arts: Or Just Another Story About Monkeys

Okay. You may be familiar with the story below. But stay with me. There is a point…

Five Monkeys

There was an interesting experiment that started with five monkeys in a cage. A banana hung inside the cage with a set of steps placed underneath it. After a while, a monkey went to the steps and started to climb towards the banana, but when he touched the steps, he set off a spray that soaked all the other monkeys with cold water. Another monkey tried to reach the banana with the same result. It didn’t take long for the monkeys to learn that the best way to stay dry was to prevent any monkey from attempting to reach the banana.

The next stage of the experiment was to remove the spray from the cage and to replace one of the monkeys with a new one. Of course, the new monkey saw the banana and went over to climb the steps. To his horror, the other monkeys attacked him. After another attempt, he learned that if he touched the steps, he would be assaulted.

Next, another of the original five was replaced with a new monkey. The newcomer went to the steps and was attacked. The previous newcomer joined in the attack with enthusiasm!

Then, a third monkey was replaced with a new one and then a fourth. Every time a newcomer approached the steps, he was attacked. Most of the monkeys beating him had no idea why they were not allowed to climb the steps or why they were joining in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing the fifth monkey, none of the monkeys had ever been sprayed with water. Still, no monkey ever approached the steps. Why not? Because as far as they knew it was the way it had always been done around here…

Two things we accept because of our current culture as an art community:

Artists starve – The assumption is that if you choose the life of  the cloister…uh, I mean arts, then you have chosen poverty. Your art sustains you more than food, clothing, or shelter. But lets take a lesson from our friend Maslow: you cannot achieve self actualization without meeting basic needs. So much of art creation is in self actualization.

The arts community is fragmented – I can only speak to what I observe now but I see a community that is coming together. I see young leaders emerging with amazing talent and intellect.  There is a time to lean on colleagues within a particular affinity group; yet, there times when all of the disciplines, in one accord, strive for toward policy change, community outreach and public awareness. Collaboration should be organic and further the mission of all parties involved.  A varied arts community is to our advantage…as long as we can come together at the right moment–and I think we will.

Culture – As in biology, grow in a special preparation. Atlanta is our petri dish. We can grow our own culture.

Special note: I ripped this lesson off from my husband. He used this framework for a morning office meeting. When I told him “thank you” for letting me use this idea, he replied: “sure, baby. we share the same brain anyway.” That is the culture of us.

4 comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love this post – mostly because I also believe that the Starving Artist is a myth.

    I had never heard that research experiment before, and it’s a great analogy for the Arts. So many artists come out of college or art school thinking that they have to do things a certain way, whether that way is healthy or not, effective or not.

    I see it with artist interactions with galleries as well. When I tell gallery owners what I do, they generally become pretty wary of me – like they don’t want their artists getting the idea that they might do better on their own.

    Glad I discovered this post. Great analogy.

  2. Cory Huff says:

    I love this post – mostly because I also believe that the Starving Artist is a myth.

    I had never heard that research experiment before, and it’s a great analogy for the Arts. So many artists come out of college or art school thinking that they have to do things a certain way, whether that way is healthy or not, effective or not.

    I see it with artist interactions with galleries as well. When I tell gallery owners what I do, they generally become pretty wary of me – like they don’t want their artists getting the idea that they might do better on their own.

    Glad I discovered this post. Great analogy.

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