Monday, October 19, 2009

Comment on The Belmont Club
"Art for art's sake"


The Rhode Island School of Design, that produced Fairey, has an excellent reputation. Talking Heads came out of RISD. Part of the problem may be that students in the Arts and Humanities, like students in the Sciences and Engineering now tend to get a narrow technical education. The Common Core, all those Dead White Males, was gutted and disposed of a generation ago. That is true even at Chicago and Columbia. Obama as a transfer did not get any exposure to Columbia's Core program.

The Technical and Hard Science graduates no longer get exposed to the cultural legacy of the people they will be designing building or exploring for. Carl Sagan, whatever his politics, was right that the role of a scientist includes communicating, and that necessitates being steeped in the audiences culture. Robert Oppenheimer's knowledge of the Bhagavad Gita reassured both his professional colleagues and the greater audience that he was more than a technician with a big bomb and in so doing increased support for America's new role as a nuclear power.

The Arts and Letters graduates are also now increasingly schooled in technique without content. They no longer are expected to learn how the world works. How then can they write meaningful poetry, prose, music or create illustrations, even non-representational ones, that communicate anything to an audience? As an example while I am a terrible at mathematics I did realize that the Calculus belongs in the Humanities. It is a new language and once you grasp the key concepts then you have experienced a paradigm shift. An artist who lacks that experience is as crippled in my estimation as a painter who is colorblind or a musician who is tone deaf.

Ideally all should be schooled in some basic knowledge of how the world works and more importantly, how people work. Unless your goal is to perform a purely onanistic exercise in exploration for its own sake, like the fabled wealthy Mad Scientist working away in a remote laboratory, everyone needs to do creative work with some understanding of what it all means to people. A basic knowledge of History and Economics and Anthropology would make for better Artists and better Engineers and Scientists. Some familiarity with physical laws and human expression would also make for better Economists and Historians.

My secret regret is that I was never good enough at the mathematical courses. I still shudder at the memory of being introduced to Schrodinger's equations in freshman chemistry. That was in the supposedly non-calculus version of the class. The Queen of all disciplines has always seemed to me to be Architecture because it demands the most well rounded education.

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