John Lobell addresses how new technology changes our consciousness, which in turn leads to cultural paradigm shifts. He received his degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and is a professor of architecture at Pratt Institute. His interests include creativity, architecture, cultural theory, consciousness, mythology, and movies. He has lectured throughout the world and is the author of numerous articles and several books.
Our world is no longer what we have thought it to be, and a new world is struggling to be born.
Visionary Creatives are driven to bring this new world to all of us.
2nd November 2016

Thoughts for Pratt Institute

posted in Uncategorized |

pratt-logoINTRODUCTION TO THIS SERIES OF THOUGHTS

I have been teaching for 40+ years at Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture, and over that time I have given a lot of thought to art, architecture, and design education—how it is a marvelous education, and how it could be better. I have been regularly posting about Pratt on a school forum, and I am gathering those posts here. As you scroll down, you will find a series of topics, and you will find new sections being added at a rate of about two per week. So if you read through this, do come back regularly.

I look at a lot of topics, but in particular I focus on the impact of the Digital Industrial Revolution on education for our emerging 21st century.

I am doing this as an individual. I am not part of any group, official or unofficial. These are my thoughts and they have no standing other than as ideas.

One of my professors at the University of Pennsylvania was Edmund Bacon who brought about modern Philadelphia and who wrote Design of Cities. Bacon would refer to “the power of ideas,” and to “structuring the dialogue.” I hope my postings present worthwhile ideas and stimulate dialog.

 

1. Thoughts for Pratt: Vision

Many colleges today struggle for an identity. What is the purpose of the education they offer? What is their mission? They often have no idea. Pratt is fortunate in that it has a clear mission:

  • To prepare students to become designers, artists, architects, planners, information professionals, writers, etc.
  • To help them develop as whole persons
  • To prepare them to engage in life-long learning, and
  • To prepare them to critically engage, professionally and personally, with their society.

But while Pratt has a clear MISSION, this mission is no different from that of other art and design schools. Pratt also needs a VISION.

There are many factors that influence an institution’s chance for success. Certainly resources, management, etc. are among them. But equally important is vision: a clear notion of what the institution is about, and an implementation of that notion.

There are numerous examples of institutions and businesses with and without a clear vision. Fifteen years ago Hewlett Packard was a dominant company and larger than IBM, while Apple was on the verge of going out of business. Apple implemented a clear vision while HP did not. Apple is now one of the the world’s most valuable companies while HP is floundering. Pratt should choose Apple’s approach rather than HP’s.

We may feel that Pratt’s prospects are inhibited by its limited resources. But there are examples of art and design schools that implemented clear visions even with limited resources, including the Bauhaus, which despite being a technical high school, became the 20th century’s leading design school; Black Mountain, which despite a limited budget, attracted a who’s who of 1940s, 50s, and 60s artists and other cultural figures; and the architecture school at Cooper Union under John Hejduk, which despite being tiny, attracted some of the leading architects of the day as faculty, produced remarkable work, and was at the center of the architectural discourse of its day. And while it did have resources, the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania under G. Holmes Perkins became the leading school of its day due to Perkins’s vision and the talent he attracted and nurtured.

New York in general and Brooklyn in particular are among the most creative places on the planet. Pratt represents many of the most important creative disciplines. Pratt’s vision should be to become a major creative center for Brooklyn, New York, and the world.

Pratt has made great strides over the past twenty years. But in the same twenty years that Pratt has been improving, we have seen momentous change in all of the fields represented at Pratt: design, art, urban design, architecture, writing, information, etc. We are in a new world. At some point an art and design school will position itself to be a part of this new world. It could be Pratt.

In future postings I will provide some thoughts about vision – focus – for Pratt, in particular in regard to our emerging Digital Industrial Revolution. Pratt was late to digital technology, slow to move to digital design, and slow to have an online presence. This time Pratt should take the lead. By adopting a vision of an education addressing the Digital Industrial Revolution, Pratt could become more focused and distinguish itself as a leader in its field.

 

2. Thoughts for Pratt: The Digital Industrial Revolution, part 1

Toward the end of my previous post I wrote that, “This time Pratt should take the lead. By adopting a vision of an education addressing the Digital Industrial Revolution, Pratt could become more focused and distinguish itself as a leader in its field.” What is this Digital Industrial Revolution?

First, it is very real. We are now seeing TV commercials by General Electric rebranding itself as a “Digital Industrial company.” GE now has annual conferences titled “Minds and Machines.” You can find information about their upcoming 2016 conference at:

https://www.ge.com/digital/events/minds-and-machines-2016

And you can find on YouTube and GE’s sites talks from the previous conferences. They are amazing. Just one quick mention of what GE means by “Digital Industrial:” everything GE makes (each individual wind turbine, gas turbine, jet engine, locomotive, etc.) has a “digital twin” in “the cloud” that keeps in touch with the material version and “talks” to its siblings in the cloud.

This Digital Industrial Revolution is changing not only how we design and fabricate, but also our society and our culture, including education. Pratt could play a significant role in this emerging world. My thinking is as follows:

  • Pratt is in part a design school.
  • Pratt has traditionally approached design through a 20th century industrial paradigm, educating students to design things to be made in mass production industrial processes, which are now in decline.
  • New modes of production are emerging, variously described as digital fabrication, desktop manufacturing, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, the Third Industrial Revolution, the New Industrial Revolution, the Maker Movement, etc. Here I am using the term, “the Digital Industrial Revolution.” One way of understanding the Digital Industrial Revolution is to look at the revolution in graphic (2D) design and production, which is now totally digital. With the Digital Industrial Revolution, digital processes can now be applied to material objects (3D) for fabrication and even mass production in a manner that parallels what happened in graphic design. (More about this in a future posting.)
  • The revolution in graphic design changed the graphic design industry, graphic design education, the lives of graphic designers, and much of society. The Digital Industrial Revolution will change manufacturing and eventually all of society in even more profound ways.
  • Pratt has a unique opportunity to be an important part of this Digital Industrial Revolution. Some departments at Pratt are already fully engaged in this process, as are many faculty members in their activities both inside and outside of Pratt. Pratt could fully assert itself in this area, thus gaining Pratt global recognition as part of a major design, manufacturing, cultural, social, and educational shift. (More about the educational implications in a future post.)

Note that many major research universities with huge engineering schools are deeply involved in the Digital Industrial Revolution, and obviously Pratt will not be able to compete with them. But Pratt can compete as a center of design and creativity.

Since I mentioned GE above, see this item for how seriously they are taking the “digital” thing:

“If you’re a millennial and want to work for General Electric, be prepared to learn how to code. ‘If you are joining the company in your 20s, unlike when I joined, you’re going to learn to code,’ GE CEO Jeff Immelt wrote in a LinkedIn post on Thursday. ‘It doesn’t matter whether you are in sales, finance or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code. We are also changing the plumbing inside the company to connect everyone and make the culture change possible. This is existential and we’re committed to this.’”

Find this story in several places, including:

GE’s CEO Wants Every New Hire To Learn This Skill

 

3. Thoughts for Pratt: Faculty

Over the past twenty years Pratt has become much more supportive of its faculty. But Pratt could do more to help its faculty develop their careers, to project its faculty to the outside world, and to allow its faculty to contribute to the development of Pratt.

And Pratt could seek to attract the most creative and interesting people in the fields it represents. Pratt could use its large number of existing visiting positions, and it could add Visiting Professorships, to bring on board faculty who might not be suited for or interested in full time positions, but who are remarkably in their fields.

One of the roles of a research university is to support faculty in “creating new knowledge.” Pratt is not a research university, so while we hope that some faculty will be able to do research, we could encourage all faculty to engage in creative activities and to project their work. Pratt could provide support to help this happen.

Further, we could expect faculty to be leaders in their disciplines, and we could provide support and encouragement for faculty to bring to their students the benefits of their professional activities. And faculty could be more integrated into the leadership of Pratt.

ATTRACTING GREAT FACULTY

One way to attract great faculty is to make Pratt a place where the people we want, want to be. One might think that this has to be done with money (good pay and resources), and of course money is important, but good people also sometimes want to be where there are other good people. And as we get more good people, remarkable students may want to come to Pratt to study with these people, and other people might want to teach at Pratt because it has remarkable students. Etc.

FACULTY DEVELOPMENT

Faculty development might be approached with opportunities and incentives. Faculty could be encouraged to:

  • Continue their education, formally (advanced degrees) and informally
  • Attend, participate at, and present at conferences
  • Publish their work, organize and edit publications, etc.
  • Develop and exhibit their work, organize exhibitions, etc.
  • Lecture at other schools throughout the world
  • Teach at other schools (faculty exchanges, etc.)
  • Do research (and publish it)
  • Get grants

Pratt could provide support to help faculty in all of these areas. Pratt might have a department tasked with this. And imagine if there were lunches where faculty presented their recent accomplishments: “I just got a such-and-such grant. Here is how you apply.” “I have been guest lecturing at such-and-such, and they are looking for more people.” “I attended the such-and-such conference. You really want to go next year.”

HIRE INTERESTING, CREATIVE, AND ACCOMPLISHED FACULTY

We are in New York, which provides us the opportunity to hire some of the world’s most interesting, creative, and accomplished people in the fields taught at Pratt. We could take advantage of that opportunity.

Pratt could be a place where one encounters leading creative figures. People who give TED talks, are written about, who exhibit in major galleries, who publish much discussed books, who design buildings built throughout the world, who design the things we use, who are invited to lecture and to serve as visiting professors at universities across the country and around the world. And young faculty who are poised to accomplish these things.

Such people often do not want to teach full time, and we could not pay them much, but some might be willing to spend one afternoon a week for a semester to help students.

And our other faculty would get to meet them.

Black Mountain attracted a who’s who in the art and culture of the mid twentieth century — including Josef Albers, Anni Albers, Eric Bentley, John Cage, John Chamberlain, Merce Cunningham, Albert Einstein, Kenneth Noland, Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Helen Frankenthaler, Clement Greenberg, Walter Gropius, Alfred Kazin, Franz Kline, Richard Lippold, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Ben Shahn, Arthur Siegel, Cy Twombly, William Carlos Williams, and much more — not with money or facilities, but with a vision and the opportunity to interact with others.

Dean Perkins at the University of Pennsylvania gathered a group of (for the most part) unknown architects recently out of school or out of the army, including Edmund Bacon, Denise Scott Brown, Robert Geddes, Romaldo Giurgola, Louis Kahn, and Robert Venturi, and nurtured them into “The Philadelphia School.”

John Hejduk was paying Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey, and Richard Meier very little when he brought them in as unknowns to teach in the Architecture School at Cooper Union. They eventually became among the most prominent architects of their generation.

Again, once strong faculty are at a school, other strong faculty will want to be there as well, students who want to study with such faculty will follow, other strong faculty will want to be where there are strong students, etc.

ELEVATE THE ROLE OF FACULTY

Pratt faculty could be accomplished figures in their fields, and as such could be integrated into leadership roles at Pratt as appropriate.

DISTINGUISHED VISITING PROFESSORS

Pratt could have several Distinguished Visiting Professor positions. There are three reasons to do this:

  • Give students exposure to the teaching of these figures
  • Give students and faculty networking opportunities
  • Good PR for Pratt

I want to emphasize “Give students and faculty networking opportunities.” Often the courses and the education at elite universities are no better than they are at other good schools. But the opportunities for contacts and for networking are better. Students and faculty have the opportunity to interact with leaders in their fields, and to benefit from those contacts. Those interactions are often the main cause of such students and faculty having greater career and life opportunities and successes.

PUBLICIZE AND PROMOTE FACULTY

Pratt could have an office that promotes faculty to the world through PR; that expands and promotes talks.pratt.edu so that it becomes our own TED channel; that helps faculty get grants; that helps faculty network, get lecture and visiting professor opportunities, get MOOC opportunities, get exhibitions and commissions; get published; that helps faculty record lectures and present them on YouTube, iTunes U, etc.; that helps them project themselves on social media; etc.

There are many other ways Pratt could be promoting its faculty. One of them might be regular ads in education and general interest publications that feature interesting faculty members. “Professor X is revolutionizing design. If you come to Pratt, you might study with Professor X.” Some kid somewhere might see the ad and want to come to Pratt. And some leader in the field who sees the ads might be asked, “What school should my kid go to?” or “Where is cutting edge work being done in your field?” and they might answer, “I am hearing that interesting things are happening at Pratt.”

 

4. Thoughts for Pratt: Digital Industrial Revolution, part 2

THE DIGITAL INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

The “digital revolution” has changed how we present, store, and transmit information. This includes that it has made doing so economical to the point where we are leaving a scarcity information economy and entering an abundance information economy. (See the note at the end of this post.) One effect of all of this is that the digital revolution has changed the way information companies are created and launched. We are seeing:

  • Rapid development from concept to operation
  • Low capital requirements, due in part to outsourcing capital intense technologies (for example, you do not need your own servers, you get space on servers from a service provider)
  • New companies and even new industries developed by small teams of highly creative individuals rather than by large established, capital intense industries
  • Companies reaching multi-billion dollar scale in years rather than decades

Some examples of this include:

  • Google which was launched not by an existing resource-rich company already in the field like Microsoft, but by graduate students in a Stanford computer lab;
  • Facebook which was launched not by an existing company already in the field like AOL Time Warner, but by undergraduate students in a Harvard dorm;
  • and many others including Zenni Optical, Twitter, Tumblr, Skype, etc.

What has made this revolution possible?

  • Affordable equipment (laptop computers)
  • A basic skill—computer programming
  • Modularized open source software platforms such a Linux and Apache
  • Open source communications networks—the global high speed Internet
  • The ability to outsource costly and equipment-intense activities to server farms, chip fabs, FedEx, Amazon, etc.

ALL OF THIS IS NOW APPLYING TO PHYSICAL DESIGN AND PRODUCTION

The relevance to Pratt is that all of this is quickly coming to the material world of design and production.

Think of graphic design offices. Thirty years ago a member of a design firm might have brought an idea sketched with magic markers to a meeting. Today such firms have cheap 2D printers that can produce material of the same quality as that of an “industrially” produced page of Vogue magazine.

Now think of architectural offices and industrial design offices. Today their shops include not only traditional machines, but also milling machines, 3D printers, laser cutters, robots, and other machines that can produce objects of similar quality to those produced by industrial processes.

Now these modeling technologies (such as 3D printing) are moving toward full mass production capabilities, and traditional industrial mass production will eventually be replaced in the emerging Digital Industrial Revolution.

But there is more. Not only are we experiencing new production techniques such as 3D printing, but the full implications of the “Internet of Things.” One of the things the Internet brought us was “open source.” Software such as Linux is available free on the Internet with licenses that permit anyone to use it and to add to it, as long as they freely release their add-ons to all others. The result is the rapid development of powerful software free to all.

Now we are seeing the same thing in the material world. The software for generating material things (such as, but not limited to, designs for things to be 3D printed) can be developed, improved, and shared free online, leading to similar rapid development.

We are seeing this new kind of production at every scale, from much of the jewelry sold on Etsy to Tesla. General Motors and Tesla both make electric cars and use some of the same equipment in the manufacturing process. Beyond that the similarity ends. General Motors is still for the most part a traditional industrial company. It puts computers in its cars. Tesla is an “Digital Industrial” company immersed in “the Internet of things.” It makes computers and puts wheels on them. Or to state it more extremely, as we see with its “Autopilot,” it makes software for computers on wheels.

It’s a new world, one in which Pratt could play a major role.

Note: I will post more on the abundance economy in the future. For now, in a scarcity economy, the more we use, the less there is, the more degraded it becomes, and the more expensive it becomes. Think of the Colorado River. In an abundance economy, the more we use the more there is, the better it becomes, the cheaper it becomes. Think Wikipedia. For more on this, see my video on YouTube, “John Lobell Technological Optimism 7” at   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VfMt_BSfic

 

5. Thoughts for Pratt: Exuberance

Because many of us have been at Pratt and at other art, architecture, and design school for much of our careers:

  • We may fail to realize how special and wonderful an education we provide.
  • But we may also fail to see how we could to do much more.

Everyday I see our students carrying sheets of material, placing them on the router, plugging their flash drives into the controller and milling parts for their models; building components for their models on 3D printers; printing out huge sheet of graphics for their presentations.

I see them gathered in the halls, their work pinned up on the walls, their models on tables, explaining their work and the ideas behind their work to instructors and fellow students. I see them at their juries presenting their work to Pratt faculty and prominent outside guests. I see the work at the end-of-the-year shows.

And I think that this is the best education there is, that our faculty and our students should be proud. But I also think that we could be doing more and that we could let the entire world know what we are doing.

Pratt is a place of activity, creativity, exhibits, and lectures; a place that loves design and making. It could build on this to do more, and it could do more to project itself out to the world, to become a place that is known and discussed in New York, across the country, and around the world for all of this.

We are in the midst of a “Maker Culture,” a “Digital Industrial Revolution,” of calls for “hands-on education.” Pratt is doing all of this and more, and could let the world know about it.

We are familiar with Aspen institutes and conferences, idea festivals, TED, the ITP program at NYU, the MIT Media Lab, the Bloomberg Business Week design conferences, art fairs. Many of these draw global attention. Pratt could be doing things like these and could be known globally for doing so.

Imagine walking onto the Pratt campus and finding student-built robots doing the gardening, quadrotors in the air, and students bent over their laptops modifying the programs that control them. Imagine going into the lobbies of building after building and finding them cluttered with cabinets filled with student work, and the walls of the lobbies covered with large flat screen monitors showing videos of student work and live streams of studio and classroom activities. And all of this available online.

Imagine going into the cafeteria and finding students spreading out their work and opening their laptops, tablets, and phones to show their work to and access the work of fellow students, and imagine competitions for student-made videos to be displayed on the flat screens in the cafeteria.

Imagine leading figures lecturing, and dinner parties attended by faculty from all departments after such lectures. Imagine departments having regular dinner parties, cocktail parties, and receptions attended by faculty and administrators from all departments and by outside guests.

Imagine faculty from all departments participating on juries of all other departments; the most prominent people in our fields attending our juries; and our juries recorded for future online broadcast and even live-streamed.

Imagine the openings for exhibits attended by faculty from all departments, and faculty requiring their students to visit exhibits in other departments that are pertinent to their classes.

Imagine going online and finding faculty and student profiles, portfolios of student and faculty work, videos of past classes and live-streams of current classes. Going online and finding videos of past guest lectures by prominent figures. Going online and finding lively ongoing discussions and debates. Going online and finding links to and interactions with people, schools, and other institutions all over the world.

Imagine people from all over the world visiting Pratt and watching Pratt’s online presence, and as a result the most interesting people, including prospective faculty, prospective students, prospective donors, and cultural leaders becoming interested in Pratt.

 

6. Thoughts For Pratt: The Digital Industrial Revolution, part 3, Education

In previous posts I addressed the Digital Industrial Revolution. What are the implications of this for education at Pratt?

The implications could not be more profound. Pratt is, to a large extent, a design school. By “design” we usually mean the creation of things for industrial production, as opposed to the hand crafting of things for direct use. Thus in “design,” particularly “industrial design,” we do not make things for direct use, but rather we make prototypes to be mass produced by industrial processes.

But “industrial production” is fast being replaced by “digital industrial production.” This calls for totally new approaches to design and therefore design education, and even totally new ways of thinking.

To think about this 21st century revolution, let’s start by getting “art historical” and looking at the Beaux Arts and the Bauhaus. We perhaps at first think of these in terms of style: the classical columns of the Beaux Arts and the clean lines of the Bauhaus. But there is much more.

THE BEAUX ARTS
Beaux Arts architecture is named after the École des Beaux-Arts, a school in Paris where many late 19th century American artists and architects studied. Monumental buildings of the turn at the 20th century were usually built in this style. In New York City they include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, Grand Central Station, and the old Penn Station. It was an architecture that communicated monumentality, solidity, and a historical rootedness in Europe.

The Beaux Arts vocabulary was Roman (which itself had Greek origins) as extended through the European Renaissance and Baroque. The use of such a vocabulary implied that Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were historically Europeans.

THE RISE OF MODERNISM
By the turn of the 20th century in America, Modern Architecture as seen in the work of Sullivan, the Chicago School, and early Frank Lloyd Wright had appeared, and was in a struggle with the Beaux Arts. What if we no longer saw our selves as Europe’s cultural descendants, but as part of a new universal humanity? Then an art and architecture that spoke in a universal, not a European, vocabulary was called for.

Oskar Schlemmer, writing for the first Bauhaus Exhibition in 1923 stated, “Reason and science, ‘man’s greatest powers,’ are the regents, and the engineer is the sedate executor of unlimited possibilities. Mathematics, structure, and mechanization are the elements, and power and money are the dictators of this modern phenomena of steel, concrete, glass, and electricity….”

THE BAUHAUS
I want to make it clear that I am not in any way advocating that we should recreate the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus was a hundred years ago. But there was a logic to the inception of the Bauhaus that could be instructive for us today.

Here is Walter Gropius’s thinking in creating the Bauhaus:

•   There was less need for hand crafted art and design. People were buying mass produced tea pots, not hand crafted tea pots.
•    Germany needed better industrial products to compete with England.
•    Suppose instead of educating artists and crafts people, we educate “industrial designers” who would create prototypes to be mass produced.
•    That education would include the fundamentals of design—point, line, plane, solid, texture, color—and an understanding of the then new industrial materials and mass production manufacturing processes.
•    Instead of an artist getting a lot of money for one painting, or a crafts person getting a lot of money for one tea pot, an industrial designer would get a small royalty for each of many units.
•    Instead of the consumer getting customized works of art or craft, they would get well-designed industrially produced items. In today’s terms, think iPhones.

But the industrial world to which the Bauhaus responded is fast fading. Today we are yet again in a new world, with globalism, resource challenges, rapid communication, and digital design and fabrication; the world of the Digital Industrial Revolution. How does this new world work, and what would be the role of education at Pratt in this new world?

OUR NEW WORLD

We are knee deep in books about our new world. Perhaps I should in the future post a bibliography, but here is just one: Thomas Friedman in “The World is Flat,” describes globalization and its impact on production. In one section he describes how the parts of his laptop come from all over the world. But here I want to address the underlying notions of who we are and how such notions might impact education.

THREE EDUCATIONS

– Traditionalism
(The Beaux Arts)
In the Traditional world we understood ourselves as historical creatures, embedded in and growing out of the past. Our artistic, literary, and spiritual traditions lived in us. We made our art, our architecture, our products, and even our Selves out of those traditions.

Education included reading the classics. Architectural education included the ability to create Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns; arches, vaults, and domes.

– Modernism
(The Bauhaus)
In the world of Modernism we understood ourselves as material beings, the result of the accidents of evolution, subject to the laws of nature and of the social sciences. We made our art, our architecture, our products, and our Selves out of our understandings of the material means of production. We mass produced our products and our Selves.

Education enforced a materialistic notion of the world and human being comprehensible by logic and the physical and social sciences. Design was made of point, line, plain, solid. Covered with texture and color. Fabricated of paper, wood, metal, glass, fabric.

– The Digital Genomic World
(The world of the Digital Industrial Revolution)
We no longer live in Newton’s world. But we also no longer live in the world of Einstein and Cubism—that world was a hundred years ago. Our emerging world is one of webs of interconnected fractal networks computationally generating themselves. Stephen Wolfram says, “I think when I find the code that generates our world, it will be about six lines.”

We need new approaches to education based on totally new forms of thinking. Three kinds of software suggests approaches to education today:

Revit and other parametric software gives us the tools see all as relational. Harold Bloom says that there are no works of art, only relations between works of art.

BIM (Building Information Modeling) shows us that there is a seamless continuity from conception, through design, through making, through maintenance, through recycling. From Cradle to Cradle.

Grasshopper shows us how we can structure not only design, but even thought in totally new ways.

These three software approaches not only give us new ways to design, but new ways of thinking. When Jeff Immelt of GE says that all new hires must be able to code, he does not mean that a bookkeeper might have to write a new accounting program, but that GE is now top-to-bottom a digital company, and that coding is the language through which all GE people will understand and participate in – will think about – that vision.

I am suggesting that we ask ourselves, what is Pratt’s vision of itself, how might that vision influence our approach to education, and how might that vision give us a leadership role in our emerging world.

NOTE: In this post I briefly address new ways of thinking. For a more in-depth discussion of this, see my book, “Visionary Creativity: How New Worlds are Born.”

 

7. Thoughts for Pratt: Bridging Disciplines and “Making”

There are several areas in which Pratt might consider adding new programs, including in video games, comic books, web design, and apps, but here I want to briefly describe a possible program in Design and Making.

Pratt has long sought to encourage interdisciplinary activity. Pratt could introduce an interdisciplinary masters degree in “Design and Making,” inspired by the ITP program at NYU, the Product Architecture and Engineering program at Stevens, and the MIT Media Lab. In such a program students would develop their own independent projects and design and make them. Students often learn best when they pursue their own interests. In this program, students would do projects that would call on faculty, shops, and labs from various Pratt departments, and call on relationships with industry.

Key to this Design and Making program is that students (if they are accepted into the program and their projects are approved) could pursue their own interests. In our existing programs, student for the most part do projects determined by their programs and their professors. We might go so far as saying we do not trust our students to make such choices. If we were to trust them, we might be surprised and learn new things. And if we are not surprised and we don’t learn new things, that might tell us we should be thinking about what kinds of educations our undergraduate programs are providing.

The idea is that this would initially be a small program, but it would also be a laboratory that could lead to the introduction of interdisciplinary making into other programs at Pratt as appropriate.

(Note: I attended one of the end-of-the-year demonstrations by students in the ITP program because one of our architecture alums was graduating from it. It was incredible. The Stevens program is run by another Pratt architecture alum.)

Here, from their websites, are descriptions of the ITP program at NYU and the Product Architecture and Engineering program at Stevens:

ITP at NYU: ITP is a two-year graduate program located in the Tisch School of the Arts whose mission is to explore the imaginative use of communications technologies — how they might augment, improve, and bring delight and art into people’s lives. Perhaps the best way to describe us is as a Center for the Recently Possible. See: http://itp.nyu.edu/itp/

Product Architecture & Engineering at Stevens: Exploring Innovations in Design, Fabrication and Advanced Digital Media.  Product Architecture and Engineering at Stevens blends architecture, engineering, and industrial design to find elegant and effective solutions for building and construction challenges. Centered around Carnegie Laboratory, which has for over a century embodied the state-of-the-art in manufacturing, PAE embraces the latest tools, processes, and aesthetics in the pursuit of holistic design innovations. Students utilize completely the capacities of a high-caliber engineering and science university to develop customized materials encompassing exquisite form and unparalleled functionality. See: http://www.stevens.edu/ses/graduate/product-architecture-engineering-grad.html

“Making” is now a major cultural phenomenon, and we are seeing “Fab Labs” springing up. Pratt is already a Making place and a huge Fab Lab.

A “Design and Making” program could be launched with little disruption, could exist in the cracks, could be ignored by those who want to ignore it, could use spaces in the corners of existing labs and shops, could draw on existing courses, and could also draw on existing faculty, so that it might be launched with a minimum of resources.

If it were successful, it might then become an inspiration for changes, including more interdisciplinary activity and more making, in other programs.

NOTES ON THE MAKER MOVEMENT

We are seeing the emergence of a new culture of Making, often referred to as a “Maker Culture” and a “Maker Movement.” People are making things. Television shows such as How It’s Made are huge hits. Pratt has always been a place of Making. We are also seeing the emergence of “Fab Labs,” and in a way Pratt is a giant Fab Lab.

From Wikipedia: Maker culture

The maker culture is a contemporary culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker culture include engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, and the use of CNC tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts. The subculture stresses new and unique applications of technologies, and encourages invention and prototyping. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them creatively.…

The rise of the maker culture is closely associated with the rise of hackerspaces, Fab Labs and other “maker spaces”, of which there are now many around the world, including over 100 each in Germany and the United States. Hackerspaces allow like-minded individuals to share ideas, tools, and skillsets.…

Since 2006 the subculture has held regular events around the world, Maker Faire, which in 2012 drew a crowd of 120,000 attendees.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maker_culture#Hackerspaces_and_Fab_Labs

From Wikipedia: Maker movement: A rekindled interest in manufacturing and hardware, accompanied by the proliferation of inexpensive or less expensive distributed, democratizing manufacturing tools enabled the maker movement to lift off in the mid 2000s. In 2005, Dale Dougherty launched Make: magazine to serve the growing community, followed by the 2006 launch of Maker Faire. The term, coined by Dougherty, grew into a full-fledged industry based on the growing number of DIYers who want to build something rather than buy it….   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maker_movement

From Wikipedia: Fab lab: A fab lab (fabrication laboratory) is a small-scale workshop offering (personal) digital fabrication. A fab lab is generally equipped with an array of flexible computer controlled tools that cover several different length scales and various materials, with the aim to make “almost anything”. This includes technology-enabled products generally perceived as limited to mass production.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fab_lab

 

And see the book:  Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, by Chris Anderson. 

From Amazon:  Wired magazine editor and bestselling author Chris Anderson takes you to the front lines of a new industrial revolution as today’s entrepreneurs, using open source design and 3-D printing, bring manufacturing to the desktop. In an age of custom-fabricated, do-it-yourself product design and creation, the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers and enthusiasts is about to be unleashed, driving a resurgence of American manufacturing. A generation of “Makers” using the Web’s innovation model will help drive the next big wave in the global economy, as the new technologies of digital design and rapid prototyping gives everyone the power to invent — creating “the long tail of things”.

 

8. Thoughts for Pratt: Engage the World

Some years back we told ourselves that Pratt was at a disadvantage because it taught fringe disciplines that were of little economic importance to the wider world, and therefore we were particularly at a disadvantage in fund raising. We are now realizing that our disciplines are in fact among the most important in the world.

The disciplines represented at Pratt in art, design, city planning, architecture, writing, information, etc. are not only of major culturally importance, they are also among the largest industries in the world, and many of them are centered in New York. And they are all undergoing revolutions.

  • Cities are going up like mushrooms in the Middle East and Asia. People in the US who had left cities are flooding back to them for the richness or urban life. All of this calls on our disciplines at Pratt of city planning, architecture, and construction and facilities management.
  • Architecture has become of global importance ever since Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain put a city few had heard of on the map. Since then Olympic stadia, museums, theaters, hotels, and office towers around the world announce cities coming to prominence, while software borrowed from aerospace has revolutionized architectural design.
  • Graphic design that once appeared only on paper now is also appearing on billions of web pages, calling on our disciplines at Pratt of graphic design.
  • As globalization makes production a “commodity,” product design becomes of paramount importance in many industries as we see with Apple. And the emergence of the Digital Industrial Revolution is calling for a rethinking of industrial design. While mayor, Bloomberg declared that design was as important an industry for New York as finance. Which calls on our discipline at Pratt of industrial design.
  • The web is rapidly evolving to 3.0, calling on our disciplines at Pratt of web design and information science.
  • The art market is exploding and is now at $66 billion internationally, calling on our disciplines at Pratt of art, art management, and curatorship.
  • The “information explosion” that we referred to in the 1970s is dwarfed by today’s growth in information, which doubles every several months, calling on our discipline of information science.
  • Writing is being revolutionized by ebooks, blogs, self-publishing, and print-on-demand, calling on our disciplines at Pratt of writing in particular and the liberal arts in general.
  • Movies are being revolutionized by digital filmmaking, CGI, and home distribution, while television is in the midst of a new golden age, and both are being challenged by video games, calling on our disciplines at Pratt of filmmaking and video gaming.
  • Comic books are now both small and big; small in that any kid with paper and ink can create one, and big in that many of the biggest grossing movies and TV series originate from comic books, one of our disciplines at Pratt.
  • Photography is being revolutionized by smart phone cameras that are coupled to rapidly increasing graphic processing power and instant distribution through social media, calling on our discipline at Pratt of photography.

Every one of the industries and disciplines mentioned above is huge, is of vast importance both culturally and economically, and is represented at Pratt. And is being revolutionized. Pratt has the choice of being at the centers of the revolutionary changes in these disciplines or playing catch-up.

Pratt could have strong relationships with the industries in the fields of its disciplines that might include joint projects, research, consulting, lectures, visiting professors, and other activities. Such relationships might:

  • Provide money, equipment, and other resources for Pratt
  • Provide networking contacts and opportunities for students and faculty
  • Keep Pratt abreast of developments in its fields and in the world

Pratt is today far more outgoing than it was some years back when it could not think or reach beyond Brooklyn. Now it can think and reach globally. It could greatly expand that thinking and that reach to vigorously engage in its disciplines and become a globally significant participant in each of them.

 

9. Thoughts for Pratt: Ranking and Creativity

The fact that Pratt has achieved high rankings as a whole and for many of its departments (several in the top ten, and a few in the top one or two) is important. It is indicative of the fine education we present, and many strong students, particularly international students, would not consider Pratt without these high rankings.

But at the same time Pratt is seeking high rankings, it might also focus on creativity.

  • Is the student with the highest SATs the most creative student?
  • Is the faculty with a PhD and lots of publications the one who is revolutionizing their field and inspiring their students to remarkable achievements?
  • Is the department with the highest ranking the department that is leading its discipline into the future?

Perhaps not always.

So yes, rankings are important. But if we want Pratt to become truly remarkable, we should also focus on creativity.

There was an Op-Ed in the New York Times pertinent to this on January 30, 2016 titled How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off,” by Adam Grant. He writes:

“They learn to read at age 2, play Bach at 4, breeze through calculus at 6, and speak foreign languages fluently by 8. Their classmates shudder with envy; their parents rejoice at winning the lottery. But to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, their careers tend to end not with a bang, but with a whimper….”

Giving statistics and examples, Grant says that “Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world….” and “What holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new….”

Grant goes on, “So what does it take to raise a creative child? One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.”

He says, “Creativity may be hard to nurture, but it’s easy to thwart. By limiting rules, parents encouraged their children to think for themselves. They tended to ‘place emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules,’ the Harvard psychologist Teresa Amabile reports….”

We might ask if our growing emphasis on SATs, rigid course syllabi, and more and more required courses, along with the decrease in free electives, is helping foster creativity among our students.

Grant says, “Evidence shows that creative contributions depend on the breadth, not just depth, of our knowledge and experience. In fashion, the most original collections come from directors who spend the most time working abroad. In science, winning a Nobel Prize is less about being a single-minded genius and more about being interested in many things. Relative to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music….”

Our students at Pratt have to struggle to take just one or two courses outside their requirements, and often are unable to do so. And we may have selected students who don’t even desire to take any courses of their own choosing—they are too busy waiting to be told what to do.

This Op-Ed is adapted from Adam Grant’s book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.” You can find the Op-Ed in the Times at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/opinion/sunday/how-to-raise-a-creative-child-step-one-back-off.html?_r=0

It is important that we prepare our students at Pratt for their disciplines. But in some cases we might also want to encourage them to be creative. This would involve a broad discussion, but that discussion might include, among other things:

  • Declare, in Pratt’s Mission Statement and Vision Statement, commitments to creativity
  • Have a “Chief Creativity” officer
  • Admit more students who have evidence of creativity in their backgrounds
  • Allow students many more free electives (creativity more often flourishes when people can pursue their interests)
  • Allow students more freedom in choosing cap projects,
  • Allow students to do projects that may not obviously fit into their disciplines
  • As well as hiring faculty with conventional credentials, also hire faculty with “unconventional” accomplishments
  • Encourage faculty to be more supportive of students deviating from class assignments and pursuing their own interests.
  • Have more courses that are organized “laterally” and that encourage lateral projects by students

I recently watched Claudia Kalb on C-Span’s BookTV talk about her new book, “Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities.” Her book looks at the “mental health” problems of the following:

  • Marilyn Monroe (borderline personality disorder)
  • Howard Hughes (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Andy Warhol (hoarding)
  • Princess Diana (bulimia)
  • Abraham Lincoln (depression)
  • Christine Jorgenson (transgender)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright (narcissism)
  • Betty Ford (alcoholism/drug addiction)
  • Charles Darwin (anxiety)
  • George Gershwin (hyperactivity)
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky (gambling addiction)
  • Albert Einstein (Asperger’s syndrome)

Do we these days attempt to exclude from our colleges and universities people with such problems, and thereby miss potentially creative students and faculty? Today our higher SAT scoring students are a delight and they make life easier than it was some decades back when we had to deal with a more rebellious lot. But have we lost something? I used to learn things from some of my students – books I didn’t know about, art exhibits, cool movies. Not any more. I am wondering if Ridalin somatizes them in elementary and high school, and then high SAT requirements weed out any remaining who are creative.

NOTE: There is of course much more to be said about “creativity” – in fact I wrote a book about it: “Visionary Creativity: How New Worlds are Born.” So more on creativity in future posts.

 

10. Thoughts for Pratt: Why the Humanities

A couple of years ago the U.S. President made a remark critical of art history education: “…folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.”

Critics piled on. People spoke up for the study of art history in particular and the liberal arts in general, but few said why we should study these things. Indeed, the liberal arts are under question in American education, and the defenses of it I have seen over the past few years say little that is meaningful.

So let’s start with the purpose of the education we offer at Pratt. Let’s try:

  • To prepare students to become designers, artists, architects, planners, information professionals, writers, etc.
  • To prepare them to engage in life-long learning,
  • To help them develop as whole persons, and
  • To prepare them to engage: with themselves and others, with their disciplines, and with society.

Then we might say that all of education should help one do all of this, and that the Humanities should particularly help one develop as a whole person, and to engage with one’s self and others, with one’s disciplines, and with one’s society.

Every morning I get my Inside Higher Education newsletter and every week I get my Chronicle of Higher Education, and I frequently see articles about the “crisis in the Humanities” or the “crisis in the liberal arts,” but seldom anything about what they are, what they contribute, or what they could be. And I have been attended meetings on “general education” at Pratt, and I have heard a lot about moving 3 credits from here to there, and about renaming English, but little about what general education is or what it should provide.

So here are some of my thoughts about what an art history education could provide. This explanation is a model of what I would expect from other defenses of the Humanities, but I am not holding my breath.

(Note that I use the term “art history” here as an abbreviation for the history and theory of art, architecture, design, and popular visual culture. Likewise I use the terms “art” and “the arts” to refer to art, architecture, design, and popular visual culture.)

WHO WE ARE

In order to discuss Humanities education, we have to know what it serves. Its propose might be to acculturate one into one’s culture and to aid one in determining one’s identity and aspirations. (Of course there are other possible purposes.) So, who are we, and to what might we aspire? We might in Western culture, contend that we are:

  1. Individuals. To become an individual, one must identify one’s identity and one’s aspirations.
  1. Historically layered. We are not just material creatures that come into being at a moment in time, but also historical creatures built over time in layers, and we contain those layers, like an onion or like Russian dolls
  1. Embedded in culture. Our historical depths are more than we, individually, can contain, and much of our selves is in our culture. Here we might use a computer analogy: A computer holds as much as it can of what it needs in its memory, but memory is limited. More of what it needs is on its hard disk, but that too is limited. Much more is in “the cloud,” which it can dip into as needed. In other words, we “store” vast parts of “ourselves” in culture—in books, paintings, movies, etc.

How might the study of art history serve this?

There are disciplines that work contemporaneously, mainly the sciences, and those that work historically, mainly the arts. In physics, engineering, medicine, etc., practitioners do not care about the past. Historians and theorists of physics, engineering, medicine, etc. do, but not practitioners, who care only about the current state of knowledge—what is known to work now.

But artists always work within traditions and then seek to extend them, respond to them, or negate them. So history is fundamental to the arts. Artists position their work in historical contexts, respond to the past, push into the future. They swim in seas of the traditions of their own culture and of other cultures. Works of art are always within the culture of art. To paraphrase Harold Bloom, there are no works of art, only relationships between works of art.

Picasso saw his early Cubism (and we understand his early Cubism) as growing out of Cezanne, who was responding to the Impressionists, who were inspired by Manet, who was reacting against the academy. Similarly in architecture we say that Mies incorporates Wright’s open plan and Schinkel’s neoclassicism; Saarinen in his TWA building rejects Mies; and Gehry in the Bilbao reaches back over the proceeding four decades and relates his building to TWA while only passingly in dialogue with Eisenman. Like an onion or nestled Russian dolls, art is always in layers of historical contexts. Art embodies our historically layered human nature.

Thus the traditional art history survey of world cultures is fundamental to education in an art school, and I would argue that it is fundamental to any education. An art history survey provides the following, among other things:

  1. A RICH SURVEY OF HISTORY AND CULTURE, OUTLINING AND CONTEXTUALIZING MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS
  1. A MODEL FOR CRITICAL THINKING IN SHOWING HOW ART OF A PERIOD CAN BE A CRITICISM OF PREVIOUS PERIODS, AND ENHANCES THE STUDENT’S ABILITY FOR CRITICAL THOUGHT

For example we can see Cubism as a commentary of previous perspectival and therefore human-centered modes of representation, and the Marxist and feminist criticism during the 70s as a rejection of Clement Greenberg’s formalism of the 60s.

  1. PROVIDES CONTEXTS IN SUPPORT OF STUDIO ART AND OF LIFE IN THE WORLD

Art is always in context. Life is always in context. A studio critic has to be able to say things like:

  • “That is an austere, classical approach.”
  • “That is a rich baroque approach.”
  • “You have a choice of focusing on the object in itself as in neoclassicism, on the light coming off of it as in Impressionism, on how we process visual data as in Cezanne, or on how art is art as in Duchamp.”

None of these remakes will make sense to a student who is not familiar with the references.

  1. KEEPS US OPEN TO CHANGE

There can be many approaches to the teaching art history. All of us have experienced changes in the field since we were students. Openness to change keeps art history relevant.

  1. PROVIDES AN APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING HUMAN BEING

Different cultures have different notions as to what is a person. In European art we see in art history the building of an individual person, layer by layer:

  • Cimabue’s Madonna and Child gives us a core, a spiritual being with little physicality and little no individual identity in a spiritual space
  • Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks adds the physicality of a being in a geometric space, embodying the rational Humanism of the Renaissance
  • Michelangelo’s David gives us an anatomical physical body and adds an inner psychology
  • Rembrandt, in his self portraits, adds emotional depth
  • Romanticism gives us the Sublime, stating that nature and the human psyche are beyond rationalism comprehension
  • A scientific world-view is presented by Impressionism and Post Impressionism
  • Surrealism reveals the unconsciousness
  • Dada questions the foundations of art and culture

BACK TO THE HUMANITIES

Again, I am surprised at how little explanation I have seen for what the liberal arts or the Humanities should actually do. Certainly one could think about literature in the terms outlined above. “Who and what are we are human beings, and where do we stand now?” I do not see the Humanities approached this way. Instead, I see utter blather in documents from universities, commissions. Recently Fareed Zakaria wrote “In Defense of a Liberal Education.” Zakaria is always a pleasure to read, but I don’t think he says much here.

If anyone can recommend any intelligent presentations of why we should study the Humanities, let me know.

Notes:

You can see a lecture by me on building a person at:

or search on YouTube for:

“John Lobell Building a Human Being through Art.mp4”

You can see 100+ of my lectures on my YouTube channel,

In this post I address Western culture. You can see my lectures applying a similar approach to non-Western cultures at:

 

11. Thoughts for Pratt: Design It / Make It / Distribute It

For some time many educators have been critical of the model used in most colleges that brings students to classrooms and lecture halls where they sit in rows, listen to lectures, hopefully take notes, and occasionally raise their hands. And now they also sit in front of computer screens. Pratt has a different model. Much of the education at Pratt takes place in studios where students create, design and make things. Could Pratt build on this difference to further improve the education we offer and to project itself?

At Pratt we are so immersed in this studio system (we like to say “Studio Culture”) that we might sometimes lose sight of how wonderful a form of education it is. Students spend eight hours a week in studio; conceive of their own projects; get hours of one-on-one interaction and feedback during a semester; work with, criticize, get feedback from fellow students; orally present their work in front of their teachers, classmates, and prominent guests; and MAKE STUFF!

Pratt’s “motto,” from its founder, Charles Pratt, is: “Be true to your work, and your work will be true to you.” This is a worthy motto, but perhaps we could add the slogan: “Design It / Make It / Distribute It.”

Design It

Art and design are fundamental means of human expression, communication, and engagement with the world, different from but on a par with writing. Design is now recognized as a major industry, regarded in New York to be similar in importance to finance and tech. Pratt should assert itself as a major center of art and design and as a center of the digital design revolution.

Make it

We are born makers. As children we make things with blocks and paints. How we make things is a fundamental means of human engagement with the world, referred to in some disciplines as “the material means of production.” One of the names given to humans is “homo faber.” With the advent of the Digital Industrial Revolution, we are in the midst of a revolution in how we make things, and Pratt could become a leader in that revolution. Part of this revolution is the Maker Culture, characterized by Fab Labs, centers for making. In a way, Pratt itself is a major Fab Lab. (See a future post on The Maker Movement.)

Distribute it

(Everyone an entrepreneur)

At Pratt students make things: works of art, designs, writings. They get grades for the things they make and then often leave them in their studios. We could encourage our students to project what they make out into the world—exhibit them in galleries, put them on the Internet, publish them, sell them, etc. By projecting their creations into the world, our students would enrich the world (or not) and gain feedback that enriches them.

In the past we trained our students to be cogs in the industrial machine. Opportunities for people with this kind of training are disappearing, and the world now demands that everyone be entrepreneurial. Employers and clients want people who are:

  • Self-motivated and self-starting
  • Problem solvers
  • Engaged with every aspect of a project
  • Creating their jobs
  • Imagining their careers

Our graduates in the future will need these qualities whether they have their own companies or work for others. Having students distribute their work into the world will help them prepare for this future, and it could be part of their educations.

Now Imagine …

Now imagine Pratt projecting this “Design It / Make It / Distribute It” culture to the world: through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, our own https://talks.pratt.edu . Imagine kids all over the world who are designers/makers/distributors/entrepreneurs seeing what we are doing and saying, “Pratt is where I want to be.”

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