Kitsch, Science and Art

Yesterday, at a concert I attended in San Luis Obispo, I had a conversation with a computer sciences student at Cal Poly. Picture this scene: a smallish venue of modern design, excellent acoustics, 400 theater seats comfortably upholstered in faux deep vermillion, about 250 well-dressed people of all ages and a smattering of students in shorts and jeans. The Calder quartet brilliantly performed a Beethoven “Razumovsky” (Op. 59), Mozart’s “Dissonance” (K. 465) and an exciting piece by, Jacob Ter Veldhuis, titled, There Must Be Some Way Out of Here (Q. #3), a composition based on a song by Bob Dylan in the manner of Schubert (the program explained).

D., the computer scientist, is also a viola virtuoso and I know a little about computers (McGraw Hill published a book I wrote on the subject) and I’m studying composition. D. explained that because the current state of the art of computer science is moving so rapidly, students learn to adapt and create rather than learning specific programs. We laughed about the implications of Unix and the unpredictable nature of artificial neural nets and I told him about R. P.’s Galatea 2.2 and the remarkable assumptions from 4-byte genetic code.
At the Art Academy University in San Francisco, where I’m a rare artifact, a token artist, the mindset is to teach students how things are done. In truth, they are being taught how things were being done just within the last decade or two. Only cursory attention is paid to the legacy of any tradition and the primary focus is on technique, which, since classes are taught by “professionals” who worked with software and ideas that are or are about to become obsolete, is already passé. Even the relatively recent past is hidden because teachers are a product of a similar education who learned just enough to find employment before their knowledge became irrelevant. When it comes to anything wider or deeper than their niche, they are possessed of bizarre conceptualizations of history such that, when confronted with an extraordinary work by Renoir, they go blank.

It seems extraordinary that in the arts, which are supposed to epitomize the creative and revolutionize our views of the world, we have become less interested in the innovative than those on the leading edge of science. Science has no other choice–it must create and innovate. Art may do so merely out of curiosity, joy and love but unlike science, art can fall silent and just make cheap copies.
“The God of the scientists, one is tempted to suggest, created man in his own image and put him into the world with only one Commandment: Now try to figure out by yourself how all this was done and how it works. …”

Dr. Hannah Arendt, Life of The Mind

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