Texas Tech University

The Art of Not Knowing

Mark Charney

April 27, 2021

Mark Charney

How do you make sense of a year in which so much of what we knew about education and aesthetic practices changed, especially in the arts?

No, it's not a rhetorical question.

Answer: You don't try.

Not yet.

Playwrights understand that, to borrow from their personal narratives, they (usually) need distance from an event to save them from the grip of an immediate visceral reaction, to give them perspective. Too often, maybe prompted by the media, we strive to create meaning too soon; for example, while we anxiously await a “return to normal,” we fearfully admit that we have no idea what the new normal will be.

Of course we don't, and that's ok. This year has been a journey of unchartered territories, and while we may enjoy speculating about the future, we won't know until we get there. Although we too often forget that, in so many instances, we are the directors of our own narratives, I propose that we should take comfort in the not knowing

Sure, we should be proactive. Sure, we should work to achieve specific goals. Sure, we should continue to work to actualize ourselves while serving the community around us. Constants are still constants, right?

But to embrace not knowing is to acknowledge that we can relinquish control—in other words, to use a tired but appropriate metaphor, we can hop on that rollercoaster taking joy in not knowing the massive twists and turns it may take. So much of the speculation about the future in the news, especially about the arts, is dire, especially wrong-headed because we all know that the arts have survived plagues, disease, and the collapse of civilizations. In fact, it's the arts themselves that have helped us make sense of calamity, especially after (and during) periods of creative reflection.

To put all of this in the context of the School of Theatre & Dance…

Will we have a “normal” season next year? We definitely chose an excellent and diverse slate of plays and musicals, anticipating that we will present them on stage with an audience, and are in the act of constructing a season brochure. But…

Will we be firmly in Phase 1 this fall, returning to face-to-face classes? We have scheduled the majority our fall classes in person, looking forward to teeming crowds of students filling our new building. But…

Will we return to national and international travel, so important to our research and education? We are certainly budgeting for it. But…

If we truly accept not knowing, then the “but” above is more promising than it is fearful.

Upheaval inspires transformation.

Chaos creates a new order.

Whatever “normal” is next year, we can assure you that the arts are resilient. It may take time, but we will always figure out the best means not only to hold that mirror up to nature, but also to use the reflection to adapt, critique, comment, and improve.

As we say goodbye to our academic year, goodbye to many professors and staff members in our program who are retiring, resigning, or moving on to new opportunities, and (hopefully) goodbye to an empty building, we will forge ahead, doing our best to embrace what might happen, all the while celebrating, yep—celebrating--that we just don't know for sure.

Whatever happens, we promise you this: we are a strong community of artists who will be here, practicing our craft, improving our skills, and sharing our work with you. And sometimes, that's more than enough.