art, artists and Temple Grandin

Jul 14 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

I once lived in Australia for two years. It changed my life. The beauty of the desert changed my life. The friends I made changed my life. It was over 20 years ago, and I spend a non-trivial amount of money going back every 2-3 years.

I love Aboriginal art. When I was there, one of the emerti professors had a wife who was a sometimes artist and a longtime supporter of the museums and art communities. Tippy and Sam and I became friends and Tippy introduced me to a dealer and gallery owner who, while white, was committed to supporting the Aboriginal artists. I began to save money, and every trip bought some art. Art with known provenance and art, that to the best of my knowledge, supported the artists. It's been more than 20 years, so I've acquired quite a bit (for a scientist as opposed to a Collector). It surrounds me in my life and gives me great joy. It is one the few things I enjoy having. Here are two (rather bad, taken with my phone) pictures of a sculpture of one of my statues. I have many birds.

One thing that became clear to me as I lived with this art, and became friends with the woman who owns the gallery (which also became a studio for artists who did not have resources), is that while there was much information on the artists, I didn't really want it. And that is true of other art forms: I don't want to know about the actors or musicians or writers whose work means so much to me. (Although, I do admit to enjoying the Museum of Music in Vienna, which taught me a lot about Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc).

This is an ongoing  argument I have with my partner, who is a historian of jazz and wants to know about the life and the forces that shaped the music and the people who make it. I just want to listen. Or watch. Or read.

So why Temple Grandin? She has famously said she doesn't get music. I had read her work on animals, for my work, especially on animal emotions. I started doing research in the days before IACUC's and AAALAC inspections and in general, rule about doing animal research. I was frustrated because I wanted to know more about the animals, and when the rules and regs started, including the Animal Welfare Act, I felt I really needed to know more to think about animal distress. In those days, there was nothing easily available, hence Temple Grandin's work.

One of the things Temple Grandin did, could and probably still does, is design things in her head. Enormous things, like 10K sq ft meat processing facilities. I cannot do that. I start at the beginning and work my way through. I realized that there are people who learn to do art in the same way. I was visiting a good friend, giving a talk at his Uni. We didn't talk science, even though we have collaborated in the past, and moved in different, but very interesting directions from that common point. We talked about the Goldberg Variations and how Glenn Gould played them. We talked about how each of us learned music. We talked about all the ways in which people, creative people who are learning to do things, learn how to do them. My friend is not Temple Grandin either. He was struggling, in his words, to master one part of the Variations. I love music, but lacked the precision, the physical knowledge, that is the first necessary step to creating music.  He never gave up.

So, I will never be an artist. But I have realized, at this point in my life, that it is ok to surround oneself with art, with things that make one happy. There is always music in my office (yes, I'm lucky to have my own). There is art on the walls, home and work. And this makes me a better scientist. Even if I'm not Temple Grandin.




One response so far

  • Kaleberg says:

    Not getting music is not that uncommon. It isn't just Temple Grandin.

    For example, J. Robert Oppenheimer never got music either. He thought he once had when he was younger, but admitted that this might have been a false memory as an adult.

    I can kind of get music, but it takes a lot of work. I rarely listen to music on my own, though I will do so with a friend as a social thing.

    Aboriginal art is kind of fascinating, though I've never been tempted to collect it. In the north, it is shared with the Torres Straits islands. The X-Ray style of rendering is a real treat for any fan of Art and Illusion.

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