Getting a computer science degree at Northeastern University now requires the completion of a course in theatre and improvisation, taught by professors in the drama department. “The class is a way to ‘robot-proof’ computer-science majors, helping them sharpen uniquely human skills, said Joseph E. Aoun, the university president. Empathy, creativity and teamwork help students exercise their competitive advantage over machines in the era of artificial intelligence”
This is basically a restatement for the computer age of the special, critical, role that the Arts and Humanities have always played in higher education, and in public schools in general. Just replace the word “machines” above with the word “incomprehension” and presto. The Arts and Humanities expose students to well-rounded thinking, thus fostering qualities essential for cooperative citizenry in a democracy. That is why they have always been at the core of general requirements curriculums. From personal experience, the first assignment in the first CS class I ever attended was to watch two specific famous movies (art). Those movies helped set the intellectual frame for much of the subsequent learning and production in my career. Neither of them had anything to do with technology. Sadly, recent enrollment and graduation trends show the diminishing influence of subjects, like history, english, philosophy, art etc. which, if it continues apace, may render most universities as glorified vocational schools. That may not bode well for our form of social contract.
Comedy, on the other hand, almost always bodes well…
Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 by Robert Motherwell, 1971, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Robert Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic has been interpreted as the artist’s on-going personal expression of his belief “that a terrible death happened that should not be forgotten.” Motherwell was referring to the events of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The savage nature of that war—more than 700,000 killed, including the mass-executions of thousands of civilians—roused a legion of artists to action. Pablo Picasso’s famous painting Guernica (1937) expresses his outrage over the unfair nature of the conflict, specifically the bombing of defenseless civilians from the sky by the Generalissimo’s Nazi allies. That painting has become the enduring symbol of the war.
For Robert Motherwell, the war became a metaphor for all injustice. Elegies to the Spanish Republic (over 100 paintings completed between 1948 and 1967) is a commemoration of human courage in the face of terror and suffering. He saw the heroism of the defenders of the elected government in stark contrast to the duplicitous dealings of the fascist alliance that ultimately prevailed. To portray this visually Motherwell’s recurring theme is a sublime contemplation of life and death, equating to light and dark. The abstract concept common to the Elegies—an alternating pattern of oval shapes slotted between columnar forms—has been said to represent the dialectical nature of life itself, expressed through the juxtaposition of black against white—the colors of death and life. The Republic is evoked as a bull (the symbol of Spain), once strong and radiant, heartbreakingly butchered by Franco, now only a dark memory.
Michelangelo, master creator of great works of art like the Pietà and David and the Sistine Chapel, was also apparently far ahead of the curve when it came to telecommuting. Here’s how he put it, in a letter to his boss, Pope Julius II, making his case for the privilege of working from home:
“Now you write to me on the pope’s behalf, so you can read the pope this: let His Holiness understand that I am more willing than ever to carry on with the work; and if he wants the tomb come what may, he shouldn’t be bothered about where I work on it, provided that, at the end of the five years we agreed on, it is set up in St Peter’s, wherever he likes; and that it is something beautiful, as I have promised it will be: for I’m sure that if it’s completed, there will be nothing like it in the world.
“I have many marbles on order in Carrara which I shall have brought here along with those I have in Rome. Even if it meant a serious loss to me, I shouldn’t mind so long as I could do the work here; and I would forward the finished pieces one by one so that His Holiness would enjoy them just as much as if I were working in Rome — or even more, because he would just see the finished pieces without having any other bother. ”
The folks at Forbes Magazine announced in 2014 that “telecommuting is the future of work.” Little did they know that Michelangelo had beaten them to the punch by over a half millennium!
Selected Poems and Letters
by Michelangelo (Author), Anthony Mortimer (Editor, Translator, Introduction) (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 18, 2007
Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra
Posted in Art, Art & Architecture, Biography, Books, Culture, Essays, Europe, History, Work
Tagged florence, julius II, michelangelo, rome, sistine chapel