Week 8 Lesson: Interdisciplinary Arts
Table of Contents
The term “interdisciplinary arts” is not new, although it was not until recently that schools began to offer more courses and degree plans in this area. Throughout history, many artists have been interdisciplinary. The most famous example is Leonardo da Vinci, who is considered to be one of the most brilliantly talented people to have ever lived. He was a true “Renaissance man,” with talents in numerous areas. He was an artist, inventor, scientist, engineer, architect, musician and much more. His famous drawing “Vitruvian Man” used a blend of math and art to depict one of the most accurate drawings of human proportion in history. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and the Last Supper are respectively the most famous and most reproduced works of art of all time. In addition, he created diagrams and drawings for a flying machine, solar power, and an adding machine.
Leonardo is an extreme example, as there has never been another person quite like him in terms of interdisciplinary talents, but many other artists bring different disciplines to their works. William Blake was a poet and printmaker, William Morris was a poet, painter and designer, and both Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali wrote poems and stories in addition to painting. Jack Kerouac, ee cummings, and Tennessee Williams were all famous writers who also were skilled painters.
David Bowie is more modern example of an extremely creative artist who was skilled in many disciplines. He was extremely talented at writing music, singing, playing fourteen different instruments, acting, painting, and drawing. He was also an art lover who amassed one of the largest art collections of the 20th century. He acted in at least 26 movies, and he recorded over 97 albums and 128 singles. He also released 72 music videos before his death in 2016. (IMDb, n.d.)
Steve Martin is another example of a modern day Renaissance man. Martin studied philosophy in college, and is an actor, director, playwright, musician, and novelist. He has written over twenty plays, novels, and screenplays many of them achieving commercial success, such as Roxanne, LA Story, and Bright Star, the musical.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are also current examples of interdisciplinary talented artists. Damon and Affleck became famous in 1997 when they wrote and starred in Good Will Hunting. The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for nine awards. Matt Damon has continued his career as an actor, screenwriter, and producer and is considered to be one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood; he is one of the highest grossing actors of all time. Ben Affleck has gone on to continue his career as an actor, producer, director, and screenwriter. He has lately joined the ranks of political activists as the co-founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, a grant-making organization for the people of Eastern Congo.
It is no surprise that many creative people are talented in more than one medium, but it is exceptional that these people can achieve commercial and critical success in more than one genre. Some interdisciplinary artists even blend more than one discipline into the same work which can be very difficult to do successfully.
Hamilton as an Interdisciplinary Work
Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role of his musical Hamilton, April 20, 2016. (CC BY 2.0)
Hamilton, written and produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a production that transcends the genre of musical theater and takes an interdisciplinary approach to the topic of the life of Alexander Hamilton. It is not a stretch to include Miranda among the creative geniuses that we have mentioned. This two-and-a-half-hour musical manages to blend history, politics, human rights, popular culture, and pop and hip hop into one package. In the case of Hamilton, Miranda is a composer, actor, singer, historian, and activist. He straddles the disciplines to create a musical that is unlike any other that we have ever seen before in theater.
The musical is based on the prize-winning biography Alexander Hamilton written by Ron Chernow. When Miranda read the biography of Hamilton and learned about his exclusion from popular history, Miranda felt an immediate connection to him. Hamilton’s story spoke to Miranda, who was the son of Puerto Rican immigrants. Miranda felt that Hamilton’s treatment was tantamount to the way immigrants in American history were and are still treated today.
Alexander Hamilton is unusual in American history in that although he was a founding father of our country, he had never become immortalized in American mythology. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams have been featured in numerous books, television shows, movies, and even the musical 1776. For some reason Alexander Hamilton has never received this type of attention. He was even left completely out of the musical 1776, even though he should be an integral part of the story.
The likely reason that Hamilton was left out of popular history is that he had a lot of ideas that were extremely unpopular. Though his ideas were unpopular, Hamilton did contribute a great deal to our country, including The Federalist Papers and ideas about the importance of the federal government, a national bank, a national reserve, and a national debt. These ideas helped to lay the foundation for the economic success of the United States. Hamilton’s story is also an interesting one, considering that his life came to an end after a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.
Miranda’s feelings about Hamilton’s treatment in history spawned a musical production starring a non-white cast that ironically represent the American founding fathers in a play about inclusion, not only historical, but cultural and political as well. “Miranda creates a myth for Hamilton as a symbol of immigrant inclusiveness, egalitarianism and meritocracy: historically it’s a stretch, but theatrically it’s genius” (Churchwell 2016). Miranda portrays Hamilton as a young, determined immigrant from the West Indies who accomplishes the American Dream through hard work, intelligence, and fortitude.
“The result is the most unexpected of phenomena: a Broadway hit that is about political, economic and racial history while also offering an implicit but acidic running commentary on the racial and cultural politics of the U.S. today” (Churchwell 2016).
Hamilton is a game changer, an innovative production that will forever redefine what comes after it. Hamilton has sold more than one billion dollars in tickets and has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and many other awards.
IMDb. (n.d.) David Bowie. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000309/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
Churchwell, Sarah. (2016). Why Hamilton is making musical history. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/nov/05/why-hamilton-is-making-musical-history
Jurvetson, S. (2016, April 26). Lin-Manuel Miranda in the title role of his musical Hamilton [Online image]. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lin-Manuel_Miranda_in_Hamilton.jpg
Nash, B. (Producer). (2005). Da Vinci tech [Video]. A&E Television Networks. Academic Video Online.
Petridis, Alexis. (2017). Break it down: How Hamilton mashed up musical theater and hip hop. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/dec/01/hamilton-mashed-up-musical-theatre-and-hiphop-lin-manuel-miranda
Sayer, Henry M. (2010). Discovering the humanities. Prentice Hall.
Week 8 Lesson: Interdisciplinary Arts