This Week: The remarkable new National Mall museum that doesn’t look like the rest… An arts council’s risky change in standards… What scientists have learned about the accomplishments of gifted children… Will algorithms take over the book business?… Seven things scientists have learned about creativity.
- Washington’s National Mall Gets A Unique New Addition: The long-awaited National Museum of African American History and Culture has finally opens next week on the Mall and it doesn’t look like any of its neighbors. Most of the existing Mall museums are “squat blocks, rooted in neo-Classical tradition: timeless grandeur and stability are their messages, and you barely look at them twice. The new museum seems to change texture at every encounter, giving it visual intrigue and also implying a more contemporary understanding of culture’s fleet, contingent, it-depends-on-who’s-looking dynamics.” Christopher Hawthorne calls it “The most impressive and ambitious public building to go up in Washington in a generation.” Theaster Gates says it finally gives African Americans a place “where their things can land and be celebrated.” Want to visit? Tickets are free, but they’re booked out through October. You can reserve November times online.
- England’s Arts Council Wants To Change The Way It Measures the Arts It Funds: It’s a long-running debate – how you measure impact of the arts. Because something is good art or because it accomplishes something practical and measurable? The pendulum keeps swinging. It’s an important argument because it influences the kind of art that gets made and what gets funded. Now Arts Council England is swinging towards the quantitative measurement scale. This despite the considerable protests of the arts community. Organisations across all artforms will be “required to use a specified system to complete an agreed number of evaluations each year and support each other by providing peer reviews”. This could be a dangerous road. The arts council says it has developed a “meaningful measure of artistic quality that yields consistent and comparable findings across different artforms and types of organisation.” As varied and personal and diverse as the arts are, and for as long as experts have tried to come up with standardized measures, it’s a tough claim to make.
- Are Algorithms Now Deciding What Books Get Published? Deciding what books get published has always been a combination of gut, experience and data. But the balance is shifting. “A handful of startups in the US and abroad claim to have created their own algorithms or other data-driven approaches that can help them pick novels and nonfiction topics that readers will love, as well as understand which books work for which audiences.” Does that mean algorithms will increasingly decide what gets published? Yes. This shifts decision-making further away from artistic judgment to audience metrics. Not that audience endorsement is not important, but we all know what happens when a business is driven more by numbers rather than by artistic merit. Meanwhile, another publisher takes a serial TV approach to the books it publishes: “Instead of releasing whole novels by lone authors, it rolls out stories like a TV network: one ‘episode’ a week, each penned by a different writer. Every installment, much like every episode of The Night Of, will take a little under an hour of your time, and for those who keep up with their shows on iTunes, the options to buy will be familiar.”
- Nature Versus Nurture – What The Scientists Say After Studying Gifted Children: “As the longest-running current longitudinal survey of intellectually talented children, [the long-running study] has for 45 years tracked the careers and accomplishments of some 5,000 individuals, many of whom have gone on to become high-achieving scientists. The study’s ever-growing data set has generated more than 400 papers and several books, and provided key insights into how to spot and develop talent in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and beyond.” And what has the study found? “What has become clear is how much the precociously gifted outweigh the rest of society in their influence. Many of the innovators who are advancing science, technology and culture are those whose unique cognitive abilities were identified and supported in their early years through enrichment programmes.”
- Seven Things Scientists Have Figured Out About Our Brains And Creativity: Neuroscientists are fascinated by how the brain both processes and generates creativity. “As it turns out, there’s a major neuroscientific basis for the link between openness to new experience and creative thinking. Exploration is tied to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which also plays a role in motivation and learning (among other things) and “facilitates psychological plasticity, a tendency to explore and engage flexibly with new things,” the authors write.