Why the Arts Matter…


    … and why I’m voting yes for the Manhasset school bond.
    A lot of people are aware that Steve Jobs had a passion for the arts, and credited Apple’s design to a calligraphy class in college.
    But how many people know that J.P. Morgan was an art history major? Or that Beethoven relied on visual mapping to work out his musical ideas.
    Or that we owe an entire 100 year period of design, the Empire Style, to Napoleon? And not to poo-poo the arts as some French thing – America’s first interior designer was none other founding father, Thomas Jefferson.
    So how is it that no one makes this connection, today? The arts teach visual and spatial thinking. The capacity to architect one’s thought beyond simple linear causation – perhaps to architect an idea as grand as the idea of America itself. And yet despite all this, we continue relegate the Arts to secondary status, as a frivolous luxury.
    In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (The Importance of Spatial Thinking Now), the magazine points out an interesting piece in the university’s history which is that in its nearly 400 years, Harvard has only once removed a major from its academic offerings – Geography.
    But what does Geography have to do with the Arts? For that, let’s go back to the time of Napoleon and Jefferson, and when geography mattered. Why? Well, the same reasons that Napoleon and Jefferson studied the arts – because it was the capacity to See. See what?
    Geography – and the maps, cartography, military strategy, and the boundaries of empire pushed into the distant horizon.
    And speaking of distant horizons, J.P. Morgan once said “go as far as you can see, when you get there, you will see farther.” It is probably no coincidence that a significant portion of the collection at the Pierpont Morgan Library, is maps.
    So back to Harvard (and all the other colleges that then followed suit). Can we take a guess when geography was taken off the syllabus – and wiped off the collective radar of America?
    It was the 1940s when millions of soldiers would would return home from battle, and a post-war America, eager to move on. But not to distant horizons, but back to America itself – an America that would be built on the comforts of the 3 R’s, and the sturdy principles of industrial self-reliance.
    And yet here are in 2014, a world defined not by near-horizon boundaries, but global ones, and they are shifting all the time – new landscapes and terrains and the modes of warfare thereof. An entirely new set of rules for an entirely new game, and as Americans, I fear that we are completely unprepared – for the simple fact that we have trained ourselves not to see.
    And so it comes down to our definition of what is a world-class education. To me, it is one that cultivates the ability to see, specifically, what is coming down the pike. Without this, no amount of preparation will matter if we don’t even know what we are preparing for. And isn’t this the very purpose of education – to prepare our children for the world ahead? Not the world circa 1945.
    And perhaps the final litmus test is this – China. A country of 1.3 billion people trained daily in one thing: visuals. Because unlike the English language, the Chinese language is based not on linear sequence, but on the Chinese character called the logogram. And a logo, as we know, is a visual symbol – and apparently, there are over
    3000 of them. You could say, the 3000 R’s of China. Which makes our 3 R’s seem rather quaint by comparison. And did I mention? China also loves calligraphy.
    A vote yes for the school bond, is a vote for our children’s future.
    The question is, what is the future that we see? Indeed the $22 million question. For me, it’s a world architected on 21st century terms – and our children fully prepared for it and leading the charge.
    That is the world I’d like to see – but we will only get there, if we see it today.
    Angela Min


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