More Things

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

So spoke Hamlet in
Shakespeare’s play of the same name, encapsulating a tension between
fact and faith that has been on my mind.

Think Dr. Spock versus
Captain Kirk.

New York Times columnist
David Brooks recently wrote an article entitled What
Data Can’t Do
. He notes, “Computer-driven data analysis excels at measuring
the quantity of social interactions but not the quality,” and “big data has
trouble with big problems,” and “data analysis is pretty bad at narrative and
emergent thinking,” whereas “people are really good at telling stories that weave
together multiple causes and contexts.”

I have in the past several
months been investigating what might be called “the opportunities and
challenges facing art practitioners who use strong art to help develop strong
youth.” This is territory rife with complexity, where data’s utility is limited
at best.

Rubrics and evaluation tools
and attempts at qualifying impact fall painfully short of capturing the reality
of a youth’s relationship with an artist mentor or arts program—you may as well try to measure
how much I love my daughters.

You can’t.

Those doing the work of youth
arts know all too well the inadequacy of translating the power of their work into
words and data. Quite the conundrum when it comes to seeking funding to support
programs; youth art practitioners are compelled to plead their cases in a manner
ill-suited to convey the juice of the matter. As a result, they end up fortifying
anemic notions of the work, putting into words only that which can be put into words, omitting the
almost imperceptible aspects that mean the most.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Now: flip the script. You are
a funder—how do
you know whom to fund?

Start by acknowledging over-reliance
on tools smacking of tidy solution is just a way to pass the buck: by checking
your humanity at the door, you can take cover behind the fig leaf of a
seemingly clean data analysis process. Reclaim your better tool—your brain. Or better yet, your
intuition. Think Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Don’t reject
the (limited) utility of data, but allow for feeling.

Not easy.

To own a decision can be
terrifying, with costs personal and professional. You and I can be wrong
(tragically so) in the choices we make, but to be fully alive is to make
choices just the same.

As an art professional, as a
father, I try every day to accept the consequence of choice, informed by faith in the light of Hamlet’s assertions.

are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, t
han are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Believe it. Live it.