Can viewing art make people more tolerant and empathetic? Some experts believe it
can. Researchers from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform found students who attended a live showing of either “Hamlet” or “A Christmas Carol” scored
higher on the study’s measure for tolerance than a control group.
Looking at art more broadly, the Boston Globe reported a number of medical schools throughout the United States, including Harvard and Yale,
now require students to participate in more art, either by examining paintings, watching
live theatre or music or reading literature. The purpose is to help aspiring doctors
develop empathy in their practice.
Mark Charney, the director of the School of Theatre & Dance at Texas Tech University, is available to discuss why live theatre and art can evoke
emotions in ways simply reading a play, watching the movie or looking at pictures
of Vincent Van Gogh’s art in books cannot. He has won multiple awards in the theatre
industry and is an honorary member of the Actors Hall of Fame. Charney is the national
coordinator of the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy for the Kennedy Center,
coordinator of the Dramaturgy Initiative and associate director of the National Critics
Institute at the O’Neill Theatre Center. He has written or adapted a number of plays
Mark Charney, director, School of Theatre & Dance (806) 834-1683 or email@example.com
- Art can change people, including inspiring empathy and tolerance along with fear and
hate, but participants need to be open to be changed by the art they experience, and
artists need to be willing to take their art to the people. Not every transformative
play is a Shakespearian masterpiece with professional actors and expensive props.
Plays written by young adults and performed in high school gymnasiums can evoke just
as much emotion. Artists must help to create the right atmosphere for transformation
in the perfect environment.
- “As theatre educators we teach that live art is transformative, but I often tell my
students not to take that too far. I don’t believe simply busing people in to see
theatre always has a transformative effect. I believe it has the potential to change
something in you, when it’s the right play at the right time at the right moment.
But I don’t think that happens often, and I think if you expect it, you’re asking
too much of art.”
- Art is a form of expression that can be an effective form of communication. Texas
Tech theatre and dance students have taken their passion for art to the Burkhart Center for Autism Education & Research and created a community of artists that puts on a stage show. Art helps those students
on the autism spectrum express themselves, learn to communicate more effectively and
helps them learn to adapt to social situations.
- Art tells a story. This is obviously true in theatre, but also true in paintings,
photography, dance and music. A story told well elicits emotions from a viewer, where
simply viewing a picture of a painting or reading a play would not evoke those same
- “Narrative makes you cry and scenarios make you cry. We’re an oral tradition culture.
We tell stories. Stories create empathy.”
- In the play “Equus,” a doctor talks directly to the audience about the struggles he’s
going through and the bad dreams he has. Audience members feel a relationship with
the actors that’s lacking in the cinematic version.
- “Dysart, the main character in ‘Equus,’ is in the room with you. When he struggles
and he looks you in the eye and he even comes near you, I think it’s really hard not
to empathize, especially if you like and admire that character.”
- “When you put Richard Burton, who played Dysart in ‘Equus’ on screen and he’s talking
to you, he’s not talking to you. He’s talking to the camera. It doesn’t seem like
he’s talking to you. There are a bunch of people sitting next to you. It doesn’t have
the same immediacy.”