Last week I had two encounters with artists that expressed an empathetic link to exceptional students. Last thursday I went to listen to my son performing as part if the Lincoln High Slam Poetry team. Before they performed we had the pleasure of listening to Chris August Slamming. His most potent poetry seems to have emerged from his interaction with students with disabilities when he was a special education teacher. An example is in this selection that reminds me at times of Taylor Mali. That night I started thinking about ways this experience with students makes us more empathetic in a way that finds its way into an artistic outlet OR maybe it is a shared sensitivity that manifests itself in teaching and caring as well as for creating.
Later in the week I read Kurt Knecht's (a friend and fellow blogger) post about deciding to become a composer. In it he concludes with: "After that morning, I knew two things. I didn’t want to play in places with non-union stagehands, and I wanted to learn how to write music that could make mentally handicapped children clap."
I do not really think that all artists have more empathy. I think there are too many examples to the contrary, but I think that in the act of creating for an audience there is at times a sense of audience (and both my examples are from performance art) that makes us more empathetic. To do that successfully an artist must achieve at least a limited sense of empathy.
The interesting piece in this empathy sense is that empathy is a "pay it forward" idea. I think that when an audience is privy to this empathy they are automatically more empathetic towards the person (think Teebo). In Chris's case it makes his word choice and other choices easier to swallow because he did show us a different side as well.
I think that the same can hold for kids- performance and artistic creation can foster their sense of empathy as well.