Intelligence May Not Be A Survival Characteristic

Andrew Sullivan today features a comment from one of his readers that I think nails down virtually everything wrong with the modern proto-intelligensia. Go read the whole whiny thing, but note the nut graf here:

With reduced money and shrinking opportunity, many of us would elect to take jobs more suitable to our levels of education and intellect, only the job market is awful and getting worse.
(emphasis added)

One casualty of my three months off from work is my Amazon account, when Tenacious G has informed me now requires two signatures…so I’ve taken to going to the library a bit. I secretly enjoy it, because among my fondest childhood memories is going to the Main Library and scrounging for that week’s books with my father.

Then one of my worst memories was watching the library burn from my office overlooking it in 1986…

I always look at the books other people are reading; the overweight lesbian Latinas with gang tats in line in front of me, reading “Black Beauty,” the slow-moving older man reading Dickens or the hyperkinetic 11- or 12-year old, holding a stack of books on geology.

And I notice the people Randy Newman talks about in “It’s Money That Matters”:

Of all of the people that I used to know
Most never adjusted to the great big world
I see them lurking in book stores
Working for the Public Radio
Carrying their babies around in a sack on their back
Moving careful and slow

(Chorus)
It’s money that matters
Hear what I say
It’s money that matters
In the USA

All of these people are much brighter than I
In any fair system they would flourish and thrive
But they barely survive
They eke out a living and they barely survive

When I see them, they are walking slowly through the library, holding interesting books and careworn, slightly resentful, expressions. The world has not been kind to them – hasn’t rewarded them in keeping with their dizzying intellect or their degrees – and here they are, eking out a living and thinking great thoughts while wearing threadbare sweats in the public library.

I’ve always explained to my sons that while you’re in school, people get paid to point out your successes and to cultivate your intelligence; but that stops the moment you take off the cap and gown.

41 thoughts on “Intelligence May Not Be A Survival Characteristic”

  1. My most successful close friend in hollywood was laid off during the strike and hasn’t been able to find work in over a year… If he doesn’t find work in the next 2 months he’ll be moving in with me and my girlfriend into our very small place.

    Is this a pitch for a sitcom?

  2. _My “out” is law school._

    Intelligence may be up to debate.

    I go to the library a bit. Communal spaces are always interesting, but they’re shrinking and mine tends to smell funny. But if you have a cheapness to your soul, you hoard every book you buy, so that the purchase of a book is like a lifelong commitment, it’s nice to borrow for the moment.

  3. One of the problems for a lot of people is they want “cool” jobs. Many highly-paid knowledge-worker jobs aren’t all that fun, and involve a vast amount of tedious attention to seemingly trivial detail. Being able to handle this tedium is the difference between, as an example, people who talk about writing books, etc and those who actually do the work and make money doing it.

    Similarly in pretty much all things computer-related; most software or IT work is hugely tedious. If you’re easily bored, or don’t figure out ways to fight past the tedium, you won’t do well. Even “master of the universe” Goldman Sachs work is incredibly tedious and trivial in its execution.

    Sometimes I think the problem is our modern tendency to teach people to “follow their dream”. This leads some to believe that the Perfect Career, where work is continually fascinating and “relevant”, the pay is vast, and you have enough free time to take cool vacations, must be out there somewhere. Unfortunately, reality is that most jobs aren’t that wonderful, if you want high pay, you have to work hard, frequently on icky trivia, and if you want “fulfillment”, seek it outside of work.

  4. The number of jobs available and their rate of compensation are determined by the market not by the abilities and preferences of those seeking the jobs. Obviously, there are more people seeking jobs writing for television than there are jobs for television writers.

    I’m not sure I muster much sympathy with the author’s plight. I also wouldn’t recommend his chosen fallback plan. “Demand for lawyers in California”:http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1710/MR1710.pref.pdf is unlikely to rise.

  5. I agree that intelligence isn’t everything… too much intelligence can be a burden. Being in a chemistry department, I have seen brilliant minds burdened by the fact that they can’t explain their brilliance. What good is a new theory, if no one else understands how to use it?

    At the same time, I’m an intelligent guy (in my mind) with an advanced degree, whose decided that money is worthless if I can’t enjoy it, and left a research-oriented program to join a primarily teaching program. It’s not that I was bad at research… I just didn’t care. here, I work my butt off for half the paycheck and love it.

    …. although this is my brother in laws second year out of undergrad, doubling my paycheck. That hurts.

    (Tangent) Has anyone looked up World War Z? It’s a docudrama book about people surviving a fictional zombie Apocalypse. It’s amazingly well written, but one thing that’s covered extensively is how the skills valued at the top of our economic food chain become useless overnight. CEO’s and senators become ditch diggers, because they have no useful survival skills. Migrant Laborers are used to well, growing food and surviving, so they are suddenly important.

  6. Best career advice I ever got was from my Grandfather. He said that ALL careers are 95% tedium and 5% exciting. Don’t pick a career because you like the exciting part, pick a career where you can tolerate the boring part. Do that and the exciting parts become an always enjoyable extra treat when they happen.

    It’s not that I was bad at research… I just didn’t care. here, I work my butt off for half the paycheck and love it.

    Good for you.

    I had a rather unique economics professor in college. He lived extremely frugally, no car, no TV, little furniture, basic clothes, etc. etc. He taught one semester a year, saved most of the entire paycheck, and used it the rest of the year on his hobby, backpacking. He wanted to backpack over as much of the world as he could in one lifetime. When I met him he had already covered most of North America and was working on South America.

    He was the staunchest supporter of capitalism I have ever met. He used to absolutely eviscerate anyone who showed even the slightest sympathy towards socialism, which really took people aback given that he lived rather like a hippy.

    He’d point out that most people make the mistake of assuming capitalism optimises around money. It doesn’t, it can optimise for money, free time, enjoyment, pursuit of knowledge, or whatever the heck else you want. It’s just that most people choose (whatever else they say) to optimise mostly for money.

    Under socialism, the government must use force to compel you to run your life as benefits the society as a whole. Under capitalism you can run your life as benefits anything you want (or nothing at all).

    It’s always a tell that the people complaining aren’t complaining that society isn’t letting them pursue their little niche bit of intellectual arcana, it’s that society doesn’t beat down their door with wealth, power and fame when they do. I wish these people would either be honest with themselves and own the position that they want to re-engineer humanity to their own specification, or quit whining.

    It’d be neat if, say, astronomers had the same following as sports stars, hordes of groupies, packs of reporters, faces on collectible trading cards, live television events (can’t be more boring than golf right?). Not gonna happen though.

    CEO’s and senators become ditch diggers, because they have no useful survival skills. Migrant Laborers are used to well, growing food and surviving, so they are suddenly important.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book, but that part was cringe inducing. They set up a world in which no large scale organizations continue to exist and then snark on the fact that large scale organizers are now pointless. Well, duh. So are artists, musicians, poets, clowns, mimes, and history majors. Nobel laureate physicists, chemists, and biologists aren’t going to do that well either.

    I’m not sure what the point was supposed to be, my toaster is worthless without electricity therefore my toaster is worthless?

    For that matter, where did anyone get the idea that migrant labourers know how to grow food? They know how to pick food. I would have thought Zimbabwe would have proved what happens when you try to run a society with migrant labourers.

  7. This is why I have made it a point to diversify. I feel prepared to meet either the zombie apocalypse _or_ the cyborg genocide. Knowledge is still the best weapon.

  8. “All of these people are much brighter than I In any fair system they would flourish and thrive But they barely survive They eke out a living and they barely survive”

    Don’t matter how bright you think your are, if you just sit with your mouth open waiting for the Cosmos to drop manna in it, you are going to be dissapointed

    You have to DO something to flourish and thrive, this guy seems to think a fair system is where folks get things because the deserve not earn them.

  9. Sorry to hijack your thread AL, my point, and one that I thought was etched out well in the book (on zombies) was thought specialized knowledge does not survive well in periods of instability. While this is not a “apocalyptic” recession, many people will find that their skill sets never return to the American economy (as in the 70’s).

    I’ve also seen a number of stories on the news (sensationalist as they are) talking about stockbrokers and CEO’s who no longer have jobs, and are now bagging groceries and delivering pizzas. As a pHD this is not horribly surprising… there are a number of jobs were being overqualified actually makes you less desirable, especially in a down economy.

  10. I think the consensus here has some indisputable points. There is a tendency among intellectuals and artists to feel superior and whine about how unvalued they are. And we are all ultimately responsible for the choices we make. Having said that, however, there is a tendency in American culture that goes back at least to Ben Franklins 1782 essay, “Information to Those Who Would Remove to America” (in which he essentially says to Europeans, “If you have a practical skill, come on over. If you are an artist or intellectual, stay the hell out”) to a kind of crass materialism and narrow pragmatism. It was satirized by Hawthorne in “The Celestial Railroad,” expressed with some reservations by Twain in _A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court_, expressed without reservations by Henry Ford (“History is bunk”), lamented in TS Eliot’s _The Wasteland_, and satirized again in Howard Nemerov’s poem “Boom!” We Americans have always to some degree, and with the advent of technological mass culture in the last century, to an increasingly great degree, lived cramped, impoverished intellectual and aesthetic lives. I’d argue that’s not just bad for intellectuals and artists, it’s bad for Americans and America. There’s a mechanistic quality about our view of life that, in my view, lacks something humans need to flourish. As Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. Artists and intellectuals perform, or should perform, the valuable service of helping us examine our lives. So while what you guys are saying about intellectuals and artists is true, it is also true that our undervaluing of art and the intellect, of which our undervaluing of artists and intellectuals is a symptom, is part of Socrates’ unexamined life. So I’m not quite as dismissive of the guy AL cites as most of you are.

  11. I’m not dismissive of him, I know alot of people in the arts (and nonprofits & so forth) who are struggling to make ends meet. Many of them realize they’re working in dream jobs that precipitously hang in the balance, and are happy for everyday they’re still employed.

    Most of them realizes that if the party ends, they have to pack up and get a job that’s less ideal.

  12. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave rests on the conviction that enlightened individuals have an obligation to the rest of society, and that a good society must be one in which the truly wise (the Philosopher-Kings) are the rulers. Without intellectuals we might become…idiots groping for types of knowledge that dont matter in a dark cave. Therefore, knowledge matters, which type of knowledge matters, and the wisdom to know what should be known matters. The usefulness of the knowledge also matters. Can a fool build a chicken coop? Yes. Can a fool with no architecture or engineering training build a beautiful and structurally sound multi-floored building? No.

    Im going with the middle ground. Whining that you have to take a hands on job to make ends meet while you practice your art or craft is annoying. But that doesnt mean get rid of your art or craft, or intellectual area of expertise. Go watch the movie Idiocracy. Its about a society devoid of anything besides fast food and bottom of the barrel commercial corporatism led by some despotic lunkhead. People can barely read, write, think, or talk. Language deteriorates to barely coherant grunts.

    The Arts are in inquiry into what possibilities life holds, and thus elevates human beings. That is why the Arts are called “the humanities” because they elevate a human being above the level of excremental hand-to- mouth animalism.

    A culture devoid of aeshetics, philosophy, architecture, art, or music except for the basest rudimentary examples is a world is flat type society. A people so completely stupified by ugliness, baseness, and reverse evolution become more dumb with sucessive generations. I still remember being in the Army and looking at some of the murals done on the walls in the barracks. They were done by adult soldiers but they looked like prehistoric cave paintings done by a child with a fingerpainting kit. Foreshortening, depth of field, 3D all jacked up. It was like The “We Are Sparta” warrior life clearly wasnt bringing the next Michelangelo out in anyone there.

    That is why people need architecture, art, dance, music, writing, philosophy, religion–these mediums feed the mind. The life of the mind is very important. Without intellect, a human is nothing more than a….simple human.

    I know some wonderful artists, composers, and architects that are producing today’s masterpieces so someday after they are dead, they can be the next Van Goghs. Liberal Arts as you call them are as alive as ever if you really take the time to look.

  13. When was the last time a professional ‘Arts’ person did anything that changed the world?

    Seems to me real insight and revolution comes from outsiders nine times out of ten. Would John Lennon have been worth a damn had he not failed out of art school? Or Picasso? Or if god forbid, Hemingway had gone to Journalism School? There is apparently a good correlation between staying the hell out of The Academy and producing great works.

    Lets be honest, all these bright boys and girls that cloister themselves up and toast each others brilliance are nothing but critics and sycophants. Group-think will _never_ produce true greatness.

    I can’t tell you where the next great novelist, painter, or musician is going to come from, but I can damn near guarantee it won’t be from a cushy armchair overlooking some Quad.

  14. I know some wonderful artists, composers, and architects that are producing today’s masterpieces so someday after they are dead, they can be the next Van Goghs. Liberal Arts as you call them are as alive as ever if you really take the time to look.

    Here’s a classic trope with little backing in fact. Van Gogh was a very rare example of an artist whose works were almost unknown until after his death. The vast majority of famous artists were quite well known and appreciated while still breathing.

    Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Mozart, Chopin, and ilk were all very well known long before they died. The Vatican didn’t hand over the keys to the Sistine Chapel to some random street painter after all. True some popular at the time artists fell into obscurity, and others didn’t reach their true fame under later, but the ‘obscure and unheard of until discovered after their untimely passing’ artistic genius is a myth that reeks of wish fulfilment.

  15. No, Im not giving up on Art. Just this snippet of a few of our celebrated artists from the twentieth century shows the human potential we have to innovate.

    I’m not saying give it up either, but the first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is one. And if you plot out great artistic achievement from the 19th into the 20th century, it’s pretty clear the lines going down not up.

    All those artistic genes didn’t just fall off the planet after all, so there’s a monkey wrench in here somewhere.

    I’m going to point the finger straight at a the elite arts society whose inbred obsession with replacing the former artistic goal of celebrating aesthetics and the nobler aspects of existence with works emphasizing shock, cheap political motifs, and armchair pop-psychology as the problem. When did art become preachy?

    Unfortunately they’ve got a monopoly on recognition and a near monopoly on funding. No artist who doesn’t get in good with the foundation/museum/art critic/academia circle is going to get time of day, let alone grants. Corporations buy art for name recognition and tax writeoffs, not for aesthetics. The government throws money not at artists, but at foundations and museums who get to pick the artists. Rich individuals nowadays don’t seem to buy art for themselves to appreciate, but instead view it as a charitable act and tend to, again, just throw money at foundations.

    What we need is a indolent, rich upperclass that gets into a competitive oneupmanship game with each other over who can become patrons of the best artists. Picking the artists because they like their work, not because some critics think their provocative and edgy.

    Unfortunately, it seems income inequality has been declared double plus ungood and is being eliminated by the glorious government as we speak. Luckily I hear soviet style happy worker paintings grow on you over time…

  16. Treefrog, for what it’s worth, I think you’re greatly misunderestimated the worth of art, and the variety of art that exists these days. Technology has created a multitude of media, a multitude of expressions and a multitude of niches.

    I know less about art than music, so let’s look at music. Yes, on the surface the pop scum is distasteful. But that makes the assumption that there is nothing else underneath. On the contrary, I know a dozen people who all produce and compose classical Opera, Jazz and piano compositions (and I am in no way connected to the industry).

    The problem is that the audience is smaller, (we don’t value art the way we used to) and unless you frequent the clubs/art houses/stages where they perform, you’re not going to know they exist.

  17. _”The problem is that the audience is smaller, (we don’t value art the way we used to)”_

    Why is Opera or Jazz art, but Coldplay and Radiohead isn’t? This is a pretty perfect example of why insulation and snobbery is death to great works. The people that dedicate their lives to defining, distilling, teaching, and then attempting to produce art are hopeless- once you have drawn the lines of good taste you’ve pretty much guaranteed that you will never do anything truly new. Whats the point of trying to out-Shakespeare Shakespeare? Its not only a fools errand, but anyone with a true voice wouldn’t bother.

    Every generation has decried the decline in the arts. It’s just a reactionary impulse against whatever the change is. ‘That’s not art’ has surely been screamed at most of those we now consider definitive. Most if not all great breakthroughs are a reaction against something, and by definition someone is going to be pissed about it. Those that claim the right to define and dissect being the frontrunners, but again it doesn’t matter because they never produce anything worthwhile anyway.

  18. I think you’re greatly misunderestimated the worth of art, and the variety of art that exists these days. … The problem is that the audience is smaller,

    If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one there to hear it, does anyone care?

    If the art is limited to a small distinct cultural subgroup, it’s not exactly having societal benefits is it? It would instead seem to be just another niche hobby, as beneficial as model railroading and quilting.

    Why is Opera or Jazz art, but Coldplay and Radiohead isn’t?

    Well, as popular and catchy as they were, 17th century German drinking songs didn’t make the roster of fine arts either.

    There’s a line in here somewhere, I’m tempted to finger some vague concept of universality, but put it wherever you like. Popularity doesn’t make it art, but I think art without popularity has no real value.

  19. Doubtless, but more people will know the Beatles in a hundred years than will know John Coltrane. Or in a thousand. Part of the problem is that these definitions of art are actually working backwards- if the masses embrace it it must be _less_ valuable. Its hard to draw admiration and respect (much less students or acolytes) by directing people to something they can buy at the counter at Best Buy. The only difference between a Humanities professor and an indy record store employee is that the record store actually supplies a useful product.

  20. Folks, the guy works in television.

    [pause]

    His life choices, as explained by himself, seem an odd hill to plant the flag of art and the intelect. Note that he is complaining that people are watching less television and spending more time on the computer. Is that good for art and the intelect, or bad?

  21. bq. Why is Opera or Jazz art, but Coldplay and Radiohead isn’t?

    Why isn’t my garage band? Why isn’t room decorating in the spirit of the Home Improvement shows? Needlepoint?

    Historically access to “High Art” was pretty limited, probably even more so today. But people were not without art.

  22. I would also argue that art doesn’t have some formula that makes it great. Art is emotion, art is style, art is a connection to the work. My wife and I disagree greatly on the art we like. Does that make one of us wrong, or one painting better than the other? Hardly.

    ‘Art’ is not better or worse because ‘the masses’ enjoy it. I would argue that being able to understand art is not even the point (though it helps). It’s the essence of the thing, and how it effects you.

    And that’s what makes art powerful.

  23. To wrap this back into the main post:

    For many people ‘art’ (movies, music, literature) is a dream career. Sometimes dreams don’t work out the way you want. However, their is the assumption out there that if you do X you DESERVE Y. Well, that’s BS in any circumstance.

    To quote another artist:
    You can’t always get what you want,
    But if you try sometimes, you just might find
    You get what you need.

  24. _”What logic is that besides saying commerce drives importance? What do you think academia is? It, too, is a BUSINESS. Why in hell wouldnt it be? It costs a lot of money to go to college!!”_

    But not many people pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve their master of Rococo era trivia. One could argue the only qualification most of the Arts give you in liberal arts colleges is the ability to teach Arts. Rather a circular enterprise.

    Lets be honest, most people pony up that cash to fill in a spot on a resume so it doesn’t end with High School Graduate. Any value added by being able to drop in an enlightened comment on Dorian columns at the appropriate moment is purely coincidental. Proof? There are a whole lot more liberal arts grads these days and not a whole lot more Mozart flying off the shelves.

    _”So I guess by that logic, universities should quit teaching all humanities like foreign language, writing, etc. After all, everything that can be learned is now available on Google, right? I dont think so.”_

    Language and writing are valuable skill sets. Studying fine arts can lead to a full and happy life and are great to train grade school art teachers. But let’s not mistake that for any type of special insight into actually _producing_ great art.

    A business school had better turn out successful MBA’s to stay in business. No-one particularly expects fine arts programs to turn out great artists (nor should they, because they don’t). Lets call a spade a spade and relabel these programs “Fine Arts Appreciation” and see how many parents fork over an extra mortgage to send their kid.

  25. _”Why isn’t my garage band? Why isn’t room decorating in the spirit of the Home Improvement shows? Needlepoint?”_

    It could be, but in my opinion Great Art isn’t a reflection of the world, that’s a one way street. It moves the world, changes the world to some degree (perhaps a small degree). Great architecture defines great empires. Great music defines great social movements. Great writing defines great ideas. But they are dialogues, they produce the art and the art produces them. And what all of these have in common is that they require being ‘out there’, not cloistered safely with the brethren. Safety and change don’t often keep company.

  26. It costs a lot of money to go to college!! So I guess by that logic, universities should quit teaching all humanities like foreign language, writing, etc.

    Actually I would say universities should quit teaching all humanities except for the mechanical stuff, such as foreign languages, writing, history, and, er, well there might be one or two more but that basically covers it. I could be convinced to add the mechanics of art as well, how to paint, how to play a musical instrument, how to sculpt as well. As for the rest, ditch it, it provides nothing and costs much, both in raw dollars up front and in the opportunity costs involved in having the overeducated, entitlement demanding waiters showcased in the original post.

    What have the humanities analysts, the ‘-insert title here- studies’ experts brought us? What precisely are the benefits to society they provide? Where are the fruits of their labours after all?

  27. Maybe it’s just my experience with academia (mostly sciences) but most faculty (I know) are not there to generate a political view on society, most are there to teach. And most are there not to teach externally, but to teach internally. “Critical thinking” is the buzzword. And it’s something that’s dreadfully lacking in our students, and society at large.

    Take ‘Basic Humanities” (ie writing a paper 101) has been built around writing a through research paper, citing sources, debating an argument etc. Most teachers don’t want “their” argument, they just want a cohesive, well argued paper. Most students have been told so long that they’re ‘always right’ (either by politics, religion or bad parenting) that they refuse to investigate their own trains of thought, to research facts and find out that (gasp!) sometimes what you thought you knew is wrong. It’s a major peeve in academia right now.

    …and yes, they’re are some strains of academia that don’t help that. But you’ll generally find those programs in the minority compared to truly excellent teaching. But they’re also the ones get the most attention. (Especially politically).

    This “critical thinking” is something I continue to push even in my cookie-cutter chemistry classes. Why does this work? Why doesn’t X happen? Why are these things different? More than just right or wrong, make the #$$%!!! argument.

  28. _”Take ‘Basic Humanities” (ie writing a paper 101) has been built around writing a through research paper, citing sources, debating an argument etc. Most teachers don’t want “their” argument, they just want a cohesive, well argued paper.”_

    Completely depends on the school, and neither or those two things mutually exclusive. I hit a bunch of different kinds of colleges in my, ahem, studies- from a huge state university to community college to technical school to a private arts college (where i finished, finally). As far as indoctrination goes, id rank the big state school highest, followed by the arts school, community, then technical. But I undoubtedly also learned the most about critical thinking in that order as well. You can teach critical thinking without practicing it (even in your own field), we all have our blind spots.

  29. alchemist, zombies, really?

    I might be showing my age here, but I grew up during the waning years of the Cold War and when I was in school we did the “Fall Out Shelter Exercise.” Everybody played a character trapped in a fall out shelter with limited supplies and the group had to decide who to kick out.

    This was ethically controversial and generally just resulted in full disclosure of prejudices and self-serving valuations.

    The answer to the dilemma, of course, was to not necessarily value people who’s abilities and skills were most closely tied to a civilization that would not exist in a post-apocalyptic world, namely artists, lawyers, day traders.

  30. I’ll bite Fred.

    Why should we value intellectuals and artists? What do they bring to society exactly? Or to be more precise what have they been bringing to us recently?

    Help me examine my life? How? By gluing a pile of rusty aluminium cans together and preaching about the materialistic horrors thereof? Uncreative preachy political rants poorly represented by vague symbolism is improving my life?

    Think of all the things the mathematically wing of the human race has created to improve our lives in the last 50 years. The list is enormous. Now think of all the things the artistic/intellectual wing has created in the last 50 years to improve our lives.

    Honestly I can’t come up with a single one.

    Pop music and literature and the like have done well, but the serious artistic/philosophical side? The 20th century was a total wasteland. Particularly if you compare it to the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

    For all those billions of dollars we pour into turning out hordes of English, Art, Literature, History, Sociology, Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, Art, Music, etc. majors, what advantages are we getting out if it?

    Do we have a better societal grasp of history and culture than when such education was confined to the elite few? Is our use of language better? Are we creating vast quantities of high quality art and music? Do we understand each other better? Is peace and understanding breaking out all over?

    Where are the fruits of their labours? If we cut off all that money and abolished the Bachelor of Art degree off the face of the planet, would we be worse off? Would we even notice?

    Intellectuals were once valued because they once produced things that were valuable. Again, compare the 17th-19th centuries with the 20th. If they want to quit being the subject of jokes about their worthlessness they ought to quit trying to ride the accomplishments of those long gone and start adding onto them instead.

  31. Maybe the posthumous part was cliche. Shouldnt have used that one but I’d like to reference the comparison made by Tree Frog:
    “Again, compare the 17th-19th centuries with the 20th.” Its a good but also slightly cliche view that all the best artists were European, and lived in the 17th to 19th centuries. A much overlooked phenomenon is the constellation of artists that have cropped up in Europe and the US just in the last hundred or so years. Lets also remember that the United States barely existed in the 17th century.

    So heres a list of a fraction of 20th Century notable art, none of which could have conceivably existed in the 17th-19th centuries. As for 21st century, we’re only a few years into it, so who knows what artists become living or posthumous icons. Truly these below are wonderful stuff worth checking out.

    Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 – February 6, 1918) Austrian Symbolist whose work Adele Bloch-Bauer I, sold for a record $135 million in 2006 and hangs at the Neue Galerie, New York, heavily guarded. It was so coveted Nazi had hidden it away for years. Klimt’s pieces have fetched some of the highest prices of ever for any artwork, any museum, hands down.

    An American original Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) developed the Usonian Home and Prairie home style.

    Chinese American Architect Ieoh Ming Pei (born 1917) a surviving master of modernist achitecture, a style of which in the 17th century would not have existed. Two of his sons are also architects. His building designs are so easy to take for granted, that we walk by them with hardly a second thought.

    Paul Manship (1885-1966) a notable American sculptor was chosen by the American Battle Monuments Commission to create monuments following both the First and Second World Wars. Also, his well known gold prometheus sits in Rockefeller Center, showpieced in countless movies.

    Charles (1907-1978) and Ray (1912–1988) Eames) were California based American designers, married in 1941, who worked and made major contributions in many fields of design including industrial design, furniture design, art, graphic design, film and architecture. Their furniture designs and the house they designed and lived in was avant garde and unique enough that you can recognize their style instantly. Their furniture is known worldwide.

    No, Im not giving up on Art. Just this snippet of a few of our celebrated artists from the twentieth century shows the human potential we have to innovate.

  32. “What we need is a indolent, rich upperclass that gets into a competitive oneupmanship game with each other over who can become patrons of the best artists. Picking the artists because they like their work, not because some critics think their provocative and edgy”

    I get your meaning Treefrog…we need more Cosimo De Medicis. He was son of a merchant born in Florence Italy in 1389. He had excellent instincts of who was worth his money and was called the Godfather of the Renaissance. He basically bankrolled many artists and thinkers.

    But what is equally important is HE HAD GOOD TASTE. Some idiots nowadays would probably buy a sculpture of WWF wrestlers for a hefty price if someone told them it was a hot ticket item.

    Art and money. Money and art. Or science and money. Money and science. No getting away from it, what talent gets channeled may be a fiscal process? But what gets missed? It is almost a crime to dismiss actually aesthetic art as decorative or light-weight, in my point of view. People do seem to want the talked about provocative pieces, even if theyre gross.

    The fine arts do seem to have degenerated away from the noble in large percentage of cases. It could be indicative of the degenerate nature of our society and an obcession with being shocking. Seeing some paintings done in Berlin’s red light district shortly before WWII where old women were forced into prostitution does show that degeneracy is an unfortunate part of our modern world reflected in art. Wish it werent so.

    Artist’s, Astromomer’s, and Scientist’s work are largely offspring of rich benefactors or foundations. Or the dirt poor artist discovered on a fluke. It is true. Even astronomers in the Europe had to name stars after their patrons in order to kiss up properly.

    Ultimately, though, I see a silver lining to what youre saying. Many people, myself included, are sick of jolie-laide art. What the future of art is, I cant predict. But I can predict that a small percentage of Americans are the last ones to be told what to do, so the unexpected is expected.

  33. “The only difference between a Humanities professor and an indy record store employee is that the record store actually supplies a useful product.”

    What logic is that besides saying commerce drives importance? What do you think academia is? It, too, is a BUSINESS. Why in hell wouldnt it be? It costs a lot of money to go to college!! So I guess by that logic, universities should quit teaching all humanities like foreign language, writing, etc. After all, everything that can be learned is now available on Google, right? I dont think so.

  34. “What have the humanities analysts, the ‘insert title here studies’ experts brought us? What precisely are the benefits to society they provide? Where are the fruits of their labours after all? Lets see, Im glad you asked..

    *Where* are the fruits of their labours? The answer is all around you, probably to the extent that you dont even notice.

    Start on a bumper sticker: “If youre reading this, thank a teacher.” Self explanatory.

    Next up, never look at a Zagats guide again when deciding where is a good place to eat out. Or never consult a travel guide again, written with you in mind to provide you with tested accomodations or travel. All those damn analysts got good at writing in high school with no college. Maybe you did, dear reader, but you’re probably smarter than average.

    Come to think of it, all those smart people who write Wiki entries about Art or Art History, I believe they never studied any humanities, the knowledge just came to them one day as if it were an apparition in high school.

    Dont forget a Bible. Or some other ancient manuscript. Brought to you in English that you can understand. Sanskrit or Biblical translations, are not doable using osmosis. More than likely the scholar spent years of their life studying not only the language, but the culture. University study programs were involved almost nine times out of ten. The Dead Sea Scrolls just didnt translate themselves. I mean, Old Aramaic is not on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

    Ive got to hang up my thinkers cap for the night because Im starting to sound like a jerk. However, its been nice debating with you, something I learned in a Debate club at school (joke).

  35. juliet, thanks for dropping by…where to start?

    Welllll, to begin, pretty much every attempt to actually implement the Platonic ideal has ended by making baby Jesus cry; the problem of course is that we want the best people to lead us – but who decides?

    Academics have brought us such enlightened political movements as Sendoro Luminoso…

    I don’t believe anyone here doesn’t believe knowledge matters; but I’d suggest that we think that wisdom matters too…maybe even more.

    And that’s the rub; the engineers who build the high-rises do actual work and do it in a fairly strict culture. They don’t sit in coffeehouses talking about what great buildings they would build “if only.” I actually have a decent amount of respect for working artists – even the ones who are poor, struggling, and unhappy because they are doing the work. (Michael Ventura called it the “Talent of the Room”)

    There’s more, but I’ll pick it up tomorrow…

    Marc

  36. All those examples are on my allowed list. I don’t have the least problem with academia recording the past and teaching the ‘how’ (what I call mechanics – how to write, sing, sculpt, paint, etc).

    Everything of value is what they provide when they are doing what they are supposed to be doing, teaching the next generation about the previous ones and teaching the next generation basic skills the next generation can use to create.

    The problem is that they’ve switched from ‘how’ to ‘what’. Now they teach the next generation what to create, pushing ‘social justice’ and other transformitive ideals. The pens and brushes have been beaten into swords for use in political warfare. Teachers should be the judges of technical quality, not the judges of worth. This is what needs correcting IMHO.

  37. I mostly agree with you that the mechanical/technical is what should be taught. Too many schools have launched into slanted teaching that is as much about what as how. Example will follow below.

    One area we disagree on, I think, is whether college administrators should severe teaching that seems obscure at colleges, or maybe we do agree so heres my litmus test below:.

    One of the most interesting schools in the United States, in my opinion, is called the North Bennett Steet School, in Boston, MA. I believe their doors have been open for several (dont quote me) hundred years.

    They actually teach a bunch of technical craft areas that are obscure, but fascinating at the same time: Piano tuning, Bookbinding, Violin making, Jewelery Making, Cabinetry, Carpentry. I would venture to say a lot of us with existing college degrees would love to go back to school to learn some of this stuff if that were only possible! Its amazing and useful.

    I hope “weird” schools like the Bennett continue to exist. At the same time schools like Antioch college in Ohio that is all about slanted leftist liberal education, I dont care about, and wouldnt mind if they went down the tubes, which I think they may have/be doing.

  38. Maybe it’s just my experience with academia (mostly sciences) but most faculty (I know) are not there to generate a political view on society, most are there to teach.

    Take a gander over at the course catalog from the College of Arts and Humanities sometime…

    From my local university (public – name withheld to protect the guilty) in a deep Red state we have such gems as:

    A BA of Communications with concentrations such as Civic Advocacy (“The mission of the Civic Advocacy interdisciplinary concentration is to educate citizens who wish to serve as advocates in the interest of the public good.” – from the Course Catalog).

    A BA in Social Work (from the department of Social Work and Gerontology), too many amusing classes to list here. A BA in Sociology (what exactly does a sociologist do that isn’t political advocacy and is not covered by a degree in History or Anthropology (both separate degrees?).

    And then there’s all the individual course listings, which even in the more legitimate degrees contain some real screwballs.

    They actually teach a bunch of technical craft areas that are obscure, but fascinating at the same time: Piano tuning, Bookbinding, Violin making, Jewelery Making, Cabinetry, Carpentry.

    These are great examples of good fluff classes, teaching and keeping alive niche skills and techniques. Instead we get entire fluff degrees without even the benefit of obscure yet practical skill development.

  39. A BA in Sociology (what exactly does a sociologist do that isn’t political advocacy and is not covered by a degree in History or Anthropology (both separate degrees?)

    Good question, I think I figured out one huge mother lode of an answer. It could be Sociologists write low-brow articles to befuddle women in those magazines like Oprah.

    I found some doozies in one of my magazines lying around. Junk with titles like “10 ways to start your day right” (um, eat breakfast?) “feel better about your butt in 10 Minutes” (go to a gym) and “women shop when stressed” (cut up your credit cards and pay them off) For all of life’s perennial little problems theres teams of *Humanities Experts* telling women they cant solve their most basic problems on their own. If that isn’t an insult to intelligence, I dont know what is?

    Seriously, I think there is an underbelly of Sociologists, Shrinks, and PhD’s out there churning out research of the most obvious things you can think of.

    Well, enough of my Ah-Ha moment (a phrase brought to you by a team of free-lance sociologists over at Oprah magazine no doubt)

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