Archive for February 14, 2013

Two cultures, or none?

Posted in Art, Biographical, Education with tags , , on February 14, 2013 by telescoper

Just a quick rehash of an old post by way of a follow-up to Sunday’s blog about Emotion and Creativity which touched on the negative stereotypes sometimes used to characterize scientists.

Anti-science attitudes are far from unusual among the Arts & Humanities fraternity, even in the supposedly enlightened environment of a University, which I think is a real shame. After all, you’ll have to work very hard to find a scientist who would be prepared to stand up in front of audience and proudly announce “I hate art”. Many of my scientific colleagues have deep passions for the performing arts (especially music and drama) as well as being very well read across a wide range of subjects.  Many also hold strong  (and often idiosyncratic) political opinions and are involved in a huge range of activities outside science.

In short, scientists don’t just sit in their labs and offices making dangerous chemicals or torturing small animals. We live in the real world and have as much contact with wider society as anyone else. Imagination, creativity and free thinking can be found in scientists, just as they can in the arts.  Scientists both contribute to and participate in our society’s cultural heritage. Scientists are human beings. Culture belongs to us too.

Some time ago there was an article in the Times Higher with the title “Life depends on science but the arts make it worth living“. I agree with a lot of what is written in the piece, in fact, although it does seem also to contain numerous examples of non sequitur and I think it’s both poorly argued and highly exaggerated. The arts are undoubtedly among the things that make  life worth living, but there are others, such as “ordinary” human relationships and the “simple” enjoyment of the natural world, which academics of all persuasions all too frequently neglect.

One of the most prominent examples of non sequitur in the Times Higher article is that we have music, literature, poetry and the rest but how much of this is actually done in universities? The article compares Einstein with Beethoven. Albert went to University in Zurich. Beethoven didn’t go to a university. There’s a big difference between making art and writing about it. One of the big cultural differences between art and science is that we don’t have science critics, although we do have people who popularize it and also people who try to explain it to the general public. Much of the impenetrable cultural analysis that emerges from academia concerning the arts seems to have the opposite aim. Does any university have a Professor of the Public Understanding of Art?

You probably think I’m going to go off on a rant about the famous Two Cultures thesis advanced  by C.P. Snow, but I’m not. I think Snow’s analysis is only marginally relevant. I do think that there are “two cultures”, but these are not “science” and “the arts”. One is a creative, thinking culture that encompasses arts, the humanities and science. The other is its antithesis, a “culture” that sees the sole function of education as being to train people  to take their place on the never-ending treadmill of production and consumption.

The way we are heading, it’s not “two cultures” that we should be worried about. It’s no culture at all.


My Funny (and very sad) Valentine

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 14, 2013 by telescoper

I suppose I should make some concession to Valentine’s Day, so here’s the classic 1954 Chet Baker version of the Rodgers & Hart tune My Funny Valentine. This was a big hit during the period when jazz switched from the frenetic pace and jagged angularity of bebop to the smooth cocktail bar sounds of the Cool School; its popularity owed as much to Baker’s youthful good looks and attractive singing voice as to the trumpet solo on this recording.

But that was 1954. A lifelong addiction to heroin exacted a terrible toll on Chet Baker. Here’s a harrowing and heart-rending reprise of My Funny Valentine recorded, just a year before his death, at a concert in Tokyo in 1987.

Sic transit gloria mundi.