UNESCO Second World Conference on Arts Education in Seoul
May 31, 2010
Each day of the UNESCO conference on arts education began with a keynote address or two. The keynote the first day – which set a tone for the whole conference – was by the American team, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein. He’s a professor of physiology with an interest in arts-science interactions; she’s a writer and Kennedy Center teaching artist. Together they’ve authored Sparks of Genius – the 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People. Their keynote was essentially a presentation of that book.
The Root-Bernstein’s most striking research focuses on Nobel laureates across disciplines, and charts their participation in various art forms. It is indeed striking to discover that Nobel laureates in science are for instance four times more likely to be musicians than scientists from a large, unawarded sample. They demonstrated that polymathy is a strong characteristic of genius. We learned also that some artists have created scientific ideas or even fields, and some scientists likewise in the arts. It’s all a fascinating overlap of competencies and interests.
This all leads to several policy recommendations: that we consciously teach creativity; that we place the arts at the center of such teaching; and that we place the arts on par with sciences in the curriculum. Their hypothesis seems to be that if more scientists played music and sculpted, more of them would be Nobel-caliber. This is music to the ears of those who see creativity and its close cousin imagination as the point of entry for the arts into a sustainable role in public education (see for instance Imagination First, recently out from Scott Noppe-Brandon and Eric Liu). It certainly aligns with the South Korean government’s unparalleled commitment to arts education – for the purpose of bringing up a generation better prepared to innovate in all fields. And a vision of the arts – thought of primarily as creative opportunities rather than, say, an exercise in sustaining existing canons of work – firmly ensconced in the public vision of a good education, is an exciting vision.
But I must admit to a nagging unease at the thought that the main purpose of arts education should be to promote scientific and technological innovation. Yes, it all goes together, and that’s the glory of the human mind. And yet – can there not be space for the arts as arts? Most of us have long ago abandoned any argument over arts for arts versus arts integration. If the arts are well taught, authentically experienced, then all things are possible at once. But if the primary purpose, and the primary measure of success, becomes scientific achievement, for instance, where will we be?
I also wonder about that hypothesis – that more arts activity (not all of it creative, by the way) would make better scientists. Is it not equally plausible that Nobel laureates are made differently, that their polymathy results from their own wide-ranging minds, rather than from their upbringings?
Finally, the title of the Root-Bernsteins’ book, referring to the world’s most creative people, betrays a false equivalence. They are confusing creative with successful, and indeed looking for successes mainly in non-arts fields (they do spend some time on Nobel laureates in literature). Though I am reacting to their presentation, not a reading of the book itself, it strikes me as a circular argument to call these success stories “the world’s most creative people” based on their arts interests, and then justify the arts based on their creativity.
It’s hard to know how their presentation struck delegates from countries like Burkina Faso and Costa Rica and Indonesia. At any rate, thy were overshadowed that morning by a stunning performance termed “4-D” – combining video and live performance in a semi-narrative of destruction (to music of Vivaldi – that cruel Western dialectic!) and rebirth (to traditional Korean music – that pure reflection of ancient wisdom!). I for one had never seen anything like it – such seamless interaction of projections on several layers of scrim, with live performers coming in and out of view. Apparently this is now a standard in Korea. For me, the most gripping moments were when live performers came into focus for extended periods – especially the thrilling samulnori ensemble, traditional Korea drumming with plenty of power to destroy, rebuild, and uplift without all the trappings, but brilliantly framed by all that went before and came after. Talk about a combination of science, technology and the arts. But whether this reinforced the Root-Bernsteins’ case, or simply shot past it, is hard to say.
Director of Education, New York Philharmonic
Theodore Wiprud has directed the Education Department of the New York Philharmonic since October 2004. The Philharmonic’s education programs include the historic Young People’s Concerts, the new Very Young People’s Concerts, one of the largest in-school program of any US orchestra, adult education programs, and many special projects.
Mr. Wiprud has also created innovative programs as director of education and community engagement at the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the American Composers Orchestra; served as associate director of The Commission Project, and assisted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s on its education programs. He has worked as a teaching artist and resident composer in a number of New York City schools. From 1990 to 1997, Mr. Wiprud directed national grantmaking programs at Meet The Composer. During the 1980’s, he taught and directed the music department at Walnut Hill School, a pre-professional arts boarding school near Boston.
Mr. Wiprud is also known as a composer and an innovative concert producer, until recently programming a variety of chamber series for the Brooklyn Philharmonic. His own music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, and voice is published by Allemar Music.
Mr. Wiprud earned his A.B. in Biochemistry at Harvard, and his M.Mus. in Theory and Composition at Boston University, and studied at Cambridge University as a Visiting Scholar.
Guest Blogger, Ted Wiprud: From the UNESCO Arts Education Conference, Part Two
UNESCO Second World Conference on Arts Education in Seoul