The National Endowment for the Arts has supported creativity and innovation with governmental funding since 1965. Over the last two years, compelled by our Republican Congress, President Obama has cut the NEA’s budget by $21.5 million (12.8%). Earlier this year, however, the President proposed a 5.5% increase to the program in 2013, while Republican nominee Mitt Romney has said that he would eliminate the endowment entirely. During a brief speech in February, the President delivered the following message to recipients of the National Arts and National Humanities Medal: “Equal to the impact you have on each of us every day as individuals is the impact you have on us as a society. And we are told we’re divided as a people, and then suddenly the arts have this power to bring us together and speak to our common condition.” For so many of us, this idea feels true. Perhaps, while reading words, we have experienced what Vladimir Nabokov called “the sob in the spine,” that subtle yet unmistakable awakening. Perhaps we have been struck dead by live music, like what Frank O’Hara describes in his poem “The Day Lady Died,” which remembers a Billie Holliday performance (“everyone and I stopped breathing”). Perhaps we have felt the selfless satisfaction of giving ourselves up to an idea, as in an artistic group or community (like my community). We all know art affects us; but can these effects of art be measured? This is a scientific question, and one that the NEA, “to promote knowledge and understanding about the contributions of the arts,” has set out to answer systematically. The organization revealed its five-year research agenda called “How Art Works,” which seems at the same time eerie and right on point.
Here’s an interesting answer from composer Philip Glass in response to a question about timelessness in a New York Times Magazine Q&A alongside Beck, published today:
What do you both think about timelessness and your work, and how things in your work feel dated or not dated?
GLASS: It all sounds dated. Because I can’t write that music again. I can’t write “Einstein on the Beach” again. I played from it in a concert the other day, and it’s like I never wrote it. My brain’s been rewired. I don’t think I’ve ever said this publicly, but I think that the music we write, it accurately reflects the way our brains work, and our brains are constantly evolving. Our brains are very plastic; they continue to grow.
In this week’s The New Yorker (Oct.1, 2012), a long “reporter-at-large” feature on Mitt Romney (“Transaction Man”) concludes with a botched brain metaphor from a Mormon brother. About Romney’s inability to connect to other people, Clayton Christensen says: “You have to push a neuron across the synapse,” which Romney, in Christensen’s own estimation, cannot do. One would not expect a devout Mormon to understand the functional mechanics of the brain, and the fact that scientific terms appear at all is surprising. But The New Yorker? The magazine decided to give Christensen the last word: “The neuron can’t get across that synapse.” This is not a science piece; there is no duty to educate the reader about anything other than the mind of Mitt Romney. However, one cannot help but lament a lost comedic opportunity. What better way to illustrate the ignorance of a candidate and his worldview than to point out the perfect absurdity of this language? We wonder if the writer and editors were in on the joke.
The personal genomics lab 23andme, which boasts the largest DNA database in the world and featured on PBS’ special series Finding Your Roots, has recently created a new music lab that lets customers listen to their genes — literally. Mark Ackerly, who studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, developed an algorithm that converts genetic data into an unique melody. Customers can then choose musical instruments to enliven their personal melody. 23andme offers ongoing, subscription-free access to all of their services (including ancestry composition, genetic relatives, family tree, paternal lineages, and Neanderthal percentages) for $299.
The Deconstructive Theatre Project is hosting a panel discussion at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn on Thursday, September 13th, that will explore the intersection of brain science and the arts. The Beautiful Brain editor Noah Hutton will be on the panel along with several artists and a cognitive neuroscientist. Here is the description of the event from the site:
Are you curious about what occurs inside your head while you sit in the dark watching a film? How does your mind organize the bombardment of images, voices, music, and light in order to create a cohesive narrative experience? How does your brain keep track of story, why do you empathize so effortlessly with the characters, and what leads you to fall in love with or loathe a film?
This is Your Brain on Art is an interactive panel discussion exploring neuroaesthetics: the study of your brain during an artistic experience, and specifically neurocinematics: the study of your brain on film. The interactive conversation will feature guest cognitive neuroscientists and members of The Deconstructive Theatre Project’s performance ensemble and creative team. The conversation will be moderated by the company’s Founding Director, Adam J. Thompson.