Last week I was talking with a colleague about a piece of writing that we needed to evaluate for inclusion in an upcoming project. We both read the work and each had some reservations about it for different reasons. My colleague works as a writing and empowerment facilitator as well as a life coach. Her response to this particular piece of writing was something like this:
“If this person was in my empowerment workshop, I’d say, ‘You go, girl.’ If she was in my writing workshop, I’d say, ‘Hold on here. We need to talk about this.’”
It was a profound moment for me as a teacher of artists, as it became clear to me through this very simple, albeit paraphrased, comment that we sometimes do a disservice when we mix artistic training with empowerment. Artistic expression is inherently empowering because it gives the artists a “voice” to express. However, knowledge around artistic skills can also be empowering. That old adage “Knowledge is power” should hold true for the arts and arts education as well. Sometimes we get bogged down in using artistic expression as an empowerment tool, and we forget that rigor with artistic expression provides something for artists of all skill levels to work towards. Maybe we should begin focusing on empowerment as a byproduct of the artistic expression that comes from rigorous artistic training.