Friday, May 27, 2011

What's With The Hat?

Photo credit: Sherryl Hauck

Sometimes I wear a hat (see the photo to the left). The reaction to it from my dance students really depends on their age. The middle schoolers think it’s cool, “I love your hat Mr. Robey.” The high schoolers tend to jeer, “What’s with the hat?”

I even heard one student remark to another that it was “to hide his receding hair line.” Luckily, I am blessed by my Grandpa Walt (my mother’s father) who at 81 still has a full head of hair and has passed that trait on to me. Yet the question remains, “What’s with the hat?”

An easy, simple answer is that it is my personal piece of flair. I make my living as an artist and teacher after all so a Trilby Hat and Christmas-plaid Converse are acceptable parts of the uniform. However, there is more to it; there is a history to the hat that relates to my life as a dance-artist. But before I can go there, I have to tell you about my first hat. I loved that hat.

When I was in Junior High, after a conversation about trends and styles, my mother bought me a tan Newsboy Cap and dared me to wear it to school. At the time, I thought she was just trying to get me away from wanting what other kids were wearing--this was the time of parachute pants, Z. Cavariccis, and the red Michael Jackson jacket with all the zippers (I wanted one of those so bad).

I was convinced her motive was economical. You see, we struggled financially and could not afford to keep up with those styles. In fact, food stamps and WIC and donations from our church helped us through some tough times. I consider our family one of the many success stories resulting from the goodwill of our social programs and religious organizations. 

So I wore the hat for a month. By the end of the month, I counted 17 other students who had started wearing Newsboy Caps. I was hooked and the cap became part of my identity (coincidentally this was when I first started dancing). In an important way, the hat became a symbol of individuality, of not caring about other people’s opinions.

However, there was a more profound and subtle factor at work, whether my mother was consciously aware of it or not I don’t know. I suffered from a condition you might call “Good Boy Syndrome.” I behaved well according to adults. I thrived on positive attention and avoided negative attention.

Now, the average parent reading this thinks this “Good Boy Syndrome” sounds like a good thing, but my artist friends reading this are cringing at the impending disaster. Why? Because while this syndrome makes a parent’s job easier, the accompanying avoidance of risk makes life as an artist bland. Wearing the hat to school at that time and age for me was a risk and quite possibly the first step in my dealing with “Good Boy Syndrome”, most likely the first step in my becoming an artist.

Simply put, being concerned with making dances that are pleasing to the audience, that they will like and admire, is a direct obstacle to artistic work. Making art requires openness to follow an idea, inspiration or work to its own realization.

I believe works that are created with the intent to influence, persuade, or seduce are not art. They are either propaganda, advertisement or entertainment. The intent of a work of art is, quite simply, the work itself.

Having an ulterior motive (even the subconscious one to impress) steers the artist from a work of creation into a work of cleverness and manipulation. A work free from an agenda may indeed influence, persuade, and seduce, but that is not its intent. The same work may indeed be political, challenging, and opinionated, but that derives from the artist’s authentic voice rather than a contrived attempt at viewer excitation or appeasement.

  • The intent to persuade or influence for an idea leads to propaganda.
  • The intent to persuade or influence to buy a product or service leads to advertisement.
  • The intent to seduce or exact a reaction leads to entertainment.
  • The intent of a work of art is, quite simply, the work itself.

So when I find myself too wrapped in what people think or about to face opinions that may cause my “Good Boy Syndrome” to flair up, I go to my closet and put on a hat. That is “what’s with the hat.”