Welcome to transArts
No one can dispute that performing arts of all kinds enrich our life and are an integral part of it. On a daily basis – in some instances throughout the day – we listen to different styles of music, whether live or recorded, alone or in the company of others, while at work or driving, during dinner at home or at a restaurant, in a party or a concert, during sport events, during religious services and other ceremonies. We may enjoy the performance of dancers and actors on television or in a theater, at school renditions and many other stages and events all over the world.
Certainly, the work of performing artists – including those performing music, dance or theater, as well as many other disciplines – is so engraved in our life that we take this work for granted. Indeed, we are very often impressed and delighted by the wonderful performances, which appear to us as effortless and natural that we hardly think of the high demands they impose to performers.
My own experience teaches me that, apparently, just a few are truly aware of the long instruction and the tremendous efforts performers go through from a very early age and along their full artistic life, in order to achieve their seemingly effortless levels of perfection we are accustomed to enjoy. As a matter of fact, not only the tasks themselves, but the full “body and mental machinery” behind artistic performances are extremely complex. Thus, a tone played by a violinist is not a simple event but needs fine control at several levels of the nervous system. Indeed, the sound production of a singer and an actor needs a fine-graded control over interactions of, for example, imagination, mouth form, tongue and larynx with all their pertaining muscles and tissues and the necessary brain control for it. Similarly, the pirouette of a dancer needs a complex and perfect interaction from balance organs in the ear, force production in different body parts (with the respective brain control and the associated perceptual apparatus from vision), to hearing and tactile perception. Most of these processes will be acquired or fine-tuned by extensive training.
While there is a huge amount of practical experience within the performing artists’ domain – with a quite large history of success – the research-based knowledge in the field is still rudimentary or have not been practiced. Several reasons may be responsible for it; the scientific knowledge, for example, on movement is usually not written in an everyday language, or the scientific finding is usually gathered in a laboratory setting, allowing only prototypical investigations. On the other hand, aspects relevant to performers might not be the focus of interests of natural scientists. Another important reason is that natural scientists generally lack the necessary background to understand the complexity of artistic performances to formulate relevant questions for the domain, and, conversely, performers generally lack the scientific background necessary to investigate their questions from, for instance, the perspective of natural sciences.
What are the consequences? To name just two: there is an increasing number of medical and psychological problems among performing artists who try to cope with the high demands imposed upon them by their peers – and also by society – through means of exaggerated practice routines. Moreover, these artists execute their work without solid knowledge of physiological foundation to endorse it and far from optimal learning practices that delay or even hinder their professional success. Clearly, the two domains need more scientific coverage: improvement of learning strategies and prevention of health problems – in the context of professional performance. Improving the first may improve the second, and for this reason we target learning strategies first.
We are convinced that this complex field of research offers a great window of opportunity for both performing artists and natural sciences, by way of transdisciplinary approach. This is the case because the problems are complex and need particular knowledge in quite diverse domains of expertise, which cannot be contributed by one discipline alone. Working side-by-side would probably not be enough in this case.
Hence, natural scientists (including medicine and psychology) and performing artists need to “cross the borders” of their disciplines to solve questions and problems coming from the domain of performing artists. They need to understand each other by immersing, somehow, in the others’ field.
This is the core mission of transArts, this new non-profit, research platform for transdisciplinary research for the performing arts we are presenting to you: to hopefully come out with new tools for the improvement of learning strategies and the health of performing artists.
There are some success stories in the young history of transdisciplinary research and we go online reporting on such one. World renown cognitive scientist Rafael Núñez from the University of California, who is Visiting Professor at “Towards a Science of Music Performance” (one Project in which transArts is involved), has made transdisciplinary research a life-story, a story of professional success and joy. He spoke to transArts about transdisciplinarity, along with some of his amazing research. I hope you will enjoy reading this fascinating interview.
I kindly invite you to visit transArts home page from time to time to probably discover some other interesting stories.
With kind regards,
Founder & Director of transArts