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Is David Bowie the Picasso of Our Time?
When David Bowie played Andy Warhol in the 1996 film Basquiat, he wore Warhol’s actual wig and glasses. Bowie met Warhol in his travels through the art world and even played the song he wrote about him to Warhol, which Andy, of course, didn’t like. In an interview leading up to the exhibition David Bowie is (at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario, Canada, through November 27, 2013), artist Jeremy Deller compares Warhol’s influence on the 1960s to Bowie influence on the 1970s. “They both ruled the decade,” Deller claims. “They defined it and they changed it.” However, the artist that Bowie mirrors the most may be another of his favorites, Pablo Picasso. Like Picasso, the single constant in Bowie’s career has been being on the cutting edge of change. Over the years, Bowie’s been Ziggy Stardust, Tao Jones, Halloween Jack, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, and John Merrick, the “Elephant Man.” But Bowie’s always been Bowie through all those incarnations. David Bowie is shows you how he’s been all those things and more, but also what he “is” today—an influential force beyond any single art form, the Picasso of our time.
The Art Gallery of Ontario hosts David Bowie is after a blockbuster run at the Victoria & Albert Museum in Bowie’s native England. (You can see images from the V&A run here.) Over 300 objects—everything from handwritten lyrics to original costumes to photographs to film clips to music videos to set designs to Bowie’s own instruments and album artwork—appear together for the first time. The sheer range of styles and media blows the mind (and blows it further when you realize that Bowie’s own paintings and sculptures are left out). Bowie began as a musician who really wanted to be a painter and became a musician who acted, a musician who set fashion trends, and a musician who essentially created the music video as an art form. Michael Jackson may have made MTV, but Bowie made the music video into an art form, starting with “Ashes to Ashes,” the storyboards for which and the Pierrot costume designed by Natasha Korniloff that Bowie wears in the video appear in the exhibition. Seeing the music video play beside the costumes and other artifacts really impresses you with just how meticulous Bowie is with his work as well as how well he collaborates with other artists to achieve his effects.
Bowie’s wide-reaching influence owes something to being in the right place at the right time. As music journalist Simon Price remarks in the same video, Bowie came “out of the 1960s at a time when all of the idealism of the 1960s had soured and died. A lot of people felt that these were end times–that we were looking at the end of the world.” In the middle of all that clock running out fatalism, Bowie comes along calling us to carpe diem. “[W]ith songs like ‘Five Years’– literally saying we’ve got five years left to live,” Price believes that Bowie’s “also saying it’s going to be a lot of fun, let’s celebrate the end of the world, let’s party in the ruins.” Thus, Bowie begins Ziggy Stardust and the whole Glam rock movement. Just as Picasso’s Cubism came along to deconstruct and reconstruct the shards of 19th century bourgeois existence, Bowie’s androgynous glam (as captured in photos such as Masayoshi Sukita’s 1973 shot above) not only cured the post-1960s spiritual hangover, but also ushered in an age of diversity and openness that inspired the gay rights movement to soldier on in pursuit of the victories they’ve won in more recent times. Amazingly, this one-man exhibit succeeds better in making the same point about pervasive societal influence of music and fashion that the Metropolitan Museum of Art's PUNK: Chaos to Couture (which I reviewed here) hoped to make.
David Bowie is is more than just museum pandering to popular tastes. Even the shallowest digging into Bowie’s art world connections brings up solid gold. Influences such as Surrealism, Dada, German Expressionism, mime, Kabuki, and others rise easily and irrefutably. Quotations from René Magritte, Sonia Delaunay, Gustav Klimt, Man Ray, and other figures strewn throughout art history appear in Bowie’s oeuvre, making him just as much a masterful magpie as Picasso himself. But within that multiplicity of influences and styles, Bowie always is Bowie—a pure artist open to any influence thanks to an unwavering confidence in his own vision.
The marketing for David Bowie is centers around a kind of “fill in the blank” campaign. David Bowie is this, or that, or something else. What this exhibition demonstrates is that he’s all of those things, and more. The present tense “is” isn’t just a marketing ploy. Bowie continues to influence and to create, so this isn’t the end of anything. Although the cover of Bowie’s 2013 album The Next Day quotes his own German Expressionist cover for four-decades-old Heroes, it sounds as new and fresh as anything out there. For Bowie, there’s always a next day, a new look, a new influence from the past to make relevant for the present. David Bowie is, if nothing else, a celebration of creativity itself, of how an individual can transcend labels and the anxiety of influence to create something new that inspires others to join in the fun. To paraphrase from the title track of Heroes, We can be Heroes of the spirit to create, forever and ever. What do you say?
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
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