Welcome, Members of Parliament

Welcome, Members of Parliament. This blog is designed to act as a student forum for anyone enrolled in my classes at a Dallas-area proprietary college, former students, and/or others who find our conversations interesting. The Parliament will be moderated to ensure civility and relevance. The directions we take, the paths we follow, and the concerns we address are all up to you.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Geometry, Art, Pi, and Pie

Now that the faithful are hung over from Mardi Gras, and walking around with ashes on their foreheads, I thought I might introduce another holiday that won't require breaking any Lenten Fasts: Pi day, March 14 (3.14). Here's hoping you haven't given up pie for Lent.

I'm fond of pimping general studies classes of any variety, not just my own, so I pay attention to my monthly newsletters from the Annenberg folks (the ones who bring us Invitation to World Literature and Art Through Time). They have a nifty website on math in the real world: Math in Daily Life, with interactive pages designed for school-age kids. Let's face it, though; most of us have forgotten what we learned about math anyway--even if you managed to squeak through College Algebra or Creative Geometry just last quarter. If you're unclear on the notion of pi, check out the page on that. There's even a segment on math and interior decorating and another on cooking.

If you think math is essentially irrelevant to artists, consider the importance of geometry in art and architecture, explored in this unit from a course on the topic at Dartmouth: The Circle, The Wheel of Fortune, and the Rose Window. The image that opens this post is the south transept Rose Window from St. Denis (via Wikimedia Commons). Some of you may remember (depending on how you spent Fat Tuesday) that we've recently visited St. Denis in History of Art & Design I.

Google even gets in on the fun (this is from last year):

If you still don't believe me, and won't until you see actual proof that such a holiday exists, there is also a Wikipedia page.

I especially love this tee-shirt I pinched from Wikimedia Commons; you can find it and other appropriate festive attire at Thinkgeek.com.

Unfortunately, Pi Day falls on a Monday this year (I'm not on campus Mondays), so I won't be bringing pie to class. You'll have to wait for cookies on finals day.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder

Time to check in on TED to see what's coming up at the annual conference that started yesterday. The focus this year is on wonder, which--as anybody who's ever sat in any of my classes for more than five minutes knows--is the beginning of philosophy. But it's also the beginning of creativity, because curiosity is one of the primary characteristics of creative people. The blurb on the site offers a preview:

For 2011, we are assembling a cast of characters capable of stirring the imagination as never before. Explorers, storytellers, photographers, scientific pioneers, visionaries and provocateurs from all parts of the globe. And we won’t be forgetting the other, harder-edged meaning of wonder -- where “I wonder” equals “I ponder.” We’ll be adding in strong servings of thoughtful insight, so that the possibilities we dream of are anchored in reality.

Not many of us have the 500 smackeroos it costs to "attend" the conference online, but a peek at the schedule will give you an idea of what we can look forward to over the next couple of years, since the annual conferences are where the posted videos come from.

The talks are arranged by sub-topic ("Worlds Imagined," "Beauty, Imagination, Enchantment," "If Only, If Only"), and include speakers who're identified (among many others) as physicists, artists, filmmakers, photographers, bone diggers, and (my favorite) a "wrongologist."

Kathryn Shulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (she has blog, too: The Wrong Stuff), will be one of the speakers. As will Bill Gates, Julie Taymor, film critic Roger Ebert, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and singer Bobby McFerrin.

Shulz is particularly interesting to me because I'm a faithful practitioner of the art of being wrong. I absolutely love it when I get it wrong. Maybe not so much as when I occasionally get things spot on, but I've always preached that one should embrace the process rather than the product. Being wrong leads us toward getting it right in the end, and stirs up our creative juices like like a shot of jalapeno juice in a fruit smoothie.

Not that simply trying is enough. I certainly don't fall into the "it's the effort that counts" camp. Rather, being wrong means you've not only tried, but that you've gotten somewhere. Maybe not where you wanted to get--but to a place from where you can begin to map out a new path. The first solution isn't always the best, but you learn from doing the work to get to it. That's why I like to call projects for my classes "problems," because all the possibilities aren't always apparent when you start, and there is seldom only one solution that works.

May I take this opportunity to request, however, that when you embark on said projects, that you take the time to read the instructions carefully, and design a plan of attack. That way, you can direct your energy toward potentially fruitful outcomes. Even if your plans don't work out exactly as you expect them to, you may be pleasantly surprised in the end. Not only that, but you'll have something suitable to turn in week 10.

Image credit: I hope this is legal. I pinched it from the "photos" section of the TED site. It depicts some of the featured speakers.