Thursday, February 18, 2010

arts, religion & contemporary culture -- final installment

this is a consolidated post. after starting my blogging at amazon i quickly found that their set-up wasn't quite what i need. but i did blog there (now unavailable) about my recent adventure to join the society for arts, religion & contemporary culture and i'd like to put in one last post. so, i'm pasting my first two posts on the subject here below the new one (in case you missed them).

"jet-setting, pt 3"

so i'm cheerful to report that i mailed a check to the ARC today to make my membership official. it was a fantastic group with a lot of interesting insight and i'm grateful at the opportunity to hang around with them and, hopefully, work through some interesting stuff.

there were two other (as yet unmentioned) issues that came up in our meeting that fascinated me:

1. can digital art function to bring community together?
2. do changes in human culture change human nature?

this first question was problematized by an opera singer who no longer auditions but instead gets gigs through youtube and mp3s, a fact that seemed unanimously odd to us (her included) but there are unquestionably ways in which artists can spread their ideas digitally and, in fact, art forms impossible without computers. thus, our artistic relation to digital technology is mixed. i still maintain, though (perhaps just to persist as devil's advocate, though i think not) that pencils do as much to change our approach to art as computers do.

as for human culture reshaping human nature, i'm deeply suspicious of this. i really don't think that you can evolve the structures of our brains/minds/whatever just by throwing us into a new cultural matrix. rather, i suspect that old structures of thought will operate in different ways when faced with different cultures. but the instincts, the ways of establishing relationships, etc. are fundamentally the same (i recognize that this places me in opposition to a whole host of network theory 20th century philosophers ... but i have never repudiated my love of Plato!).

the ARC is a fascinating group of artists, authors, and thinkers and i'm enormously grateful to erling hope, the president, who invited me to join them and who was both a gracious moderator for the conversation and a great contributor. i'm happy to have joined the ARC and hope i'll be able to continue my involvement with them.

"jet-setting, pt 1"
so, a few weeks ago i received an invitation to attend a meeting of the Society for the Arts, Religion, and Contemporary Culture (ARC) downtown. having never heard of the society, i looked them up and found that the group had included such prestigious participants as paul tillich, mircea eliade, erich fromm, w.h. auden, phillip johnson, and more. more to the point, they planned an event (last night) to talk about religion and technology, including a brief presentation on the bauhaus. totally sounded like my kind of thing (though i confess i was so tired last night that i was having second thoughts).

i made my pilgrimage to whatever neighborhood NYU is in and--being myself--was a few minutes early so--being myself--i stopped in for a beer at a small local bar.

after my beer, i headed on over to the church where the event took place, found my way to the right room, and popped into the first conversation i found, asking for erling hope, ARC's president. he immediately introduced me to anne foerst, who's work i've been citing for the past 5 or 6 years and who is a leader in the study of religion and science (particularly with regard to robotics). later on, i found myself chatting with rachel wagner, who profs at ithaca college and shares many of my interests in video games and such (i butted into a conversation she was having with a "didn't i just hear you on a...a podcast?"). i also met an architect who studied with walter gropius at harvard, the editor of crosscurrents, an opera singer, students, artists, ministers, more architects, and other college professors. it was a really remarkable crowd across the board.

the conversation's leitmotif appeared to be the difference between pencils and computers in mediating human nature (naturally, i fought tooth and nail for the honor of the pencil). it was amusing, stimulating, and totally engrossing. we drank wine and probably would have spoken all night if the church didn't assign us a curfew.

i'll report more later.

"jet-setting, pt 2"

so, more on my meeting with the ARC folks last friday.

this post was wiped, by the way, by amazon's poor set-up (it required me to log in again and decided to eliminate the original post in doing so), which means i'm trying to recreate what i wrote the first time. i am _not_ happy. and i'm pretty sure the first post was a bit clearer. but it's late and i must away to bed so i have no time to continue my rewrite.

the opening talk was on the bauhaus, a german art movement of the weimar era (1920s) that sought to unify art and craft, rejecting the distinction between "high art" and other creative work. perhaps in keeping with the ideological position that all of life could be grasped as a single cosmic entity, many of the bauhaus artists integrated organic and mechanical elements into coherent wholes (e.g., mies van der rohe's barcelona pavilion, klee's "twittering machine," and kandinsky's later, 'biomorphic' pieces). now what interested me is the way in which the bauhaus sought to intentionally design the built environment and how it engaged our relationship with the built environment. the artists pretty much all sought ways to create an architecture (broadly defined, so as to include the objects of our daily life also) that met the spiritual needs of modern humanity (the influence of le corbusier's _towards a new architecture_ is decisive here).

the bauhaus was a concerted effort to create the built environment which generally arises 'accidentally,' or, at least, through the uncoordinated efforts of many people. of course, our built environment is increasingly digital and increasingly virtual and so i wonder whether the bauhaus project could have any meaning for us today. what are the possibilities afforded by digital and virtual technologies for the direction of our built environment? can the proliferation of pdas, laptops, cell phones, etc. fit within the bauhaus faith in a cosmic harmony or of the unity of life or has our technological progress disenfranchised an artistic movement that celebrated progress and sought a radically new way to live? should we reject virtual environments that preclude our creative construction (a position advocated by the famed game designer richard bartle) or does the environment of world of warcraft suffice for us? it would be interesting to see someone attempt to design a video game environment that accomplished what the bauhaus sought up until the nazis came knocking in 1933.

one last post on this meeting later this week, i think.

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