for people who CAN sing and dance...

8:06 PM / Posted by Ashley /

Am I an artist who does anthropology or an anthropologist who does art?

Because "I like them both", "'Cause I feel like it" and "How is it any of your business if I had 14 liberal arts/humanities majors in undergrad?" are no longer valid answers (and most definitely won't be on my PhD applications), today I will finally attempt to tackle my personal relationship with anthropology and theatre, and the relationship that they have to each other in my twisted Utopian head...


Throughout undergrad and graduate school, I struggled with the fact that according to various experts in the field(s), I was too "anthropology" for theatre and/or too "theatre” for anthropology. Boiled down, what they were attempting to say is they don’ t believe I’m “commercial” enough for many theatrical projects, and I'm too "mainstream" to appeal to many academic audiences.


Like theatre, it is the art of storytelling that draws me to anthropology, and makes me want to pursue higher education in the field. I want to tell stories. I want to read other’s stories, learn about other people’s stories. I want to create my own story.


I refuse to list here the many benefits of a degree in anthropology because it's obvious and easy to see this relationship from an artist’s perspective. After all, having extensive knowledge in anything outside the craft potentially can inform my work. I could also list the benefits of a background in the performing/visual arts for an anthropologist, but once again, there are plenty of articles and websites that already do that, and it seems that also would be a waste of time.


On the most elementary level theatre is about becoming the "other" and/or telling the “other’s” story, whereas anthropology is about studying the "other" and/or telling the “other’s story” (yes, “other” is a problematic term, I know…) but through that lens, the lines between "us" and "them" blurr and eventually disappear. Engaging in the arts also helps us gain a better understanding of our own culture and identity. My involvement in academia, community organizing and activism has led me to question how information, personal agency and awareness of my own community’s struggles are being transmitted to the broader society which may not be as familiar with these issues. Where can an evangelical Christian housewife and transgender street performer find a common connection? Through what methods can we seek discourse between a Palestinian farmer and Israeli school teacher? Through theatre. Theatre is an imperative starting point for new dialogue and giving us hope. This is what theatre and the arts potentially can do. Nothing has informed my theatrical work more than what I've done as an anthropologist. Granted, I'm still young in the field - I'm thankful to have had an incredible mentor who has given me the opportunity to have experiences one would most probably find in graduate school.I look forward to working more on bridging these disciplines.


The things that make me reconsider academia are as follows: I have no desire to be - a pretentious egghead, someone who is so out of touch with the world that they can’t communicate beyond the ivory towers. While there is nothing wrong with this, it’s not me. It never will be. I refuse to lose sight of reality or how what I’m studying can positively affect the real world. Nor do I want to spend the rest of my life in a library regurgitating other people’s theories. I’m not particularly interested in academic publishing as I am in writing for the general public. In fact, every time the anthropology news magazine comes in the mail, it makes me a little sad to know that the amazing information inside will only be seen by people in the field. I definitely think I could do something to change that.


Why I do want to get a PhD: I've been invested in working with the group that I'm proposing to write my dissertation on since undergrad. Though I'm not posting details on my topic up here yet because I'm still working everything out, it deals with theatre in conflict zones. It’s clear that I want to do applied anthropology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applied_anthropology ) and that I want to attempt this using theatre and the arts. I want to eventually teach college and publish because I think it's important to empower the next generation of artists/scholars.


I don’t know if these are good enough reasons for wanting to pursue a PhD, I guess in a few months that will be determined. I’m a little frazzled over finding time to take the GRE with all my other projects happening (which, to clarify, I didn’t need to take for my Master’s at NYU because I was in Tisch and they’re too progressive for standardized tests). I once had a professor tell me that PhD’s were for people who can’t sing and dance. I think about this comment often, and while I agree (especially in the context of what we were discussing at the moment) I hope to be the exception to the rule, without sacrificing one for the other.


So, back to the question I asked in the beginning of this post... Am I an artist who does anthropology or an anthropologist who does art? Perhaps I am neither. Perhaps I am both.

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