Friday, January 28, 2005

Here's the 15-minute essay in which I "discuss a specific problem or topic in a field that interests you"

The 21st century has often been called the age of technology, a new Industrial Revolution. Most Americans today are familiar with the internet, the iPod, the dot-com boom and bust. We know that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are billionaires, and that success--too often measured by salary--lies in nanotechnology, new drugs, and computer science. We know that if we found--or invest in--or work at--a company that can make something cheaper, quicker, or better, we’ll have it made. We know this because that’s what everyone tells us: that the future is one of innovation of technology, of science and of miracle cures. Ray Kurzweil believes that in a matter of decades we will be able to extend human life indefinitely, but perhaps the more crucial question to consider is not how we can live longer, but why.

In this age when the young and the talented are encouraged to go where the money is, some fundamental part of our vitality seems to be leaching away. A high school student with an artistic eye is told to go into advertising or corporate design (we’ve all seen that t-shirt that says “Corporate Design Made Me Mediocre”--and if it’s on a t-shirt, it must be true); a mother tells her son to stop jamming in the garage for god’s sake, his grades are going to plummet; that kid who is forever scribbling stories in her notebook is told by her father, “Don’t major in English Literature, dear, major in something with practical uses.” These same sentiments are echoed by teachers, by newspapers, and by peers. After all, no one actually grows up to be an artist anymore, none of us will become the next Beatles.

And they’re right. None of us will become the next Beatles, the way things are going. Many of the brightest, most imaginative and innovative minds of our generation are funneled into careers in this “New Frontier” of technology. But even when we do manage to extend our lives and expand our horizons, then what? Shall we face ever-longer lives with a stagnant culture? Shall we teach new generations of minds with that art and literature and music that was made so long ago rather than with new innovations that reflect the changing zeitgeist? Life, certainly, was not meant to be static, but it is dangerous to embrace such a zest for going forward ever-faster without ever taking the time to live. Few artists will ever see success--fewer still will be rich--but if those dreams, those hopes, those images teeming in so many young minds are suppressed or scolded, then we may never know the work of those who could have risen to the top.

Leonardo da Vinci was a clever man, well aware of physics and anatomy as well as art. Nowadays he would be told to go to MIT, get a PhD, and put his talents to use already. Yet a thousand equally-intelligent men who did--or currently do--pursue technology and the fast-forward and in turn neglect that which they loved as children, that which they dreamed of--those thousand men combined have not caused such profound feeling, such passion and interest and enlightenment, as has even one of da Vinci’s masterpieces. Art--beauty, music, imagination--that indefinable thing, is the true mark of a dynamic civilization. A man who has climbed the corporate ladder, found success and fortune, and lived a hundred extra years because he could afford the newest drugs, he may find on his deathbed that he has lived less, experienced less, than that teenager who died just after he finished reading Paradise Lost.

They say that people can cling to life in anticipation of a certain event that will give them release: the birth of a grandchild, one last Christmas, a final voyage to Rome. Therein lies the secret, perhaps, to that elusive technology of long life. Perhaps the corporate giant will live long because he has never reached that catharsis, that perfection and beauty that is the real reason for life. He waited and waited for something but he did not know where to find it; the teenager had it all along.

Innovation is equally important in all fields, and health and efficiency are indeed worthy of many efforts. My argument is rather that, in our wild support of all things new and difficult, we not forget that art--in all its many forms--can also be new and difficult, and equally important. We must not suppress those who want to add something beautiful and just to the world; rather, we must embrace and encourage them. Dickens certainly did not know whether his work would find audience and acceptance, and neither did Renoir or Tchaikovsky or Kurt Cobain. Some strange and terrible imbalance will result if our bodies and brains continue to move dynamically, constantly forward but our arts and imaginations do not. The ability to make art is what separates man from beast, for any spider can weave a complex, mechanical, web.

3 Comments:

Blogger Steve Silberman said...

If they don't let you into that program, they're idiots.

10:49 AM  
Blogger T.C. said...

Thanks, I hope they feel the same way. Cross your fingers!

12:22 PM  
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