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Floating University

WATCH: The Great Unexpected Utility of the Arts

The most important thing about art is every person’s capacity to make it, and that the body/mind discipline of cultivating your artistic abilities has collateral utility for every aspect of life.

Art is often dismissed as being purely subjective, but Bard College President Leon Botstein, who also conducts the American Symphony Orchestra, argues that there are some commonalities among the diverse products that different people call art.


He argues that the most important thing about art is every person’s capacity to make it, and that the body/mind discipline of cultivating your artistic abilities has collateral utility for every aspect of life. By the end of the lecture, you will understand why you should actively make art part of your life-long education.

This video is part of Big Think’s Floating University video playlist, featuring some of the most mind-changing ideas delivered by America’s leading thinkers. There are 11 other discussions waiting to feed your mind and spark your imagination. Check out the entire Floating University. Enjoy!


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It’s plain to see that I’m an optimist, sometimes more than is socially comfortable. The ease with which I dismiss the disastrous economic decline above serves as one example of that. I wrote that the recession will benefit our political system, and, before I cut this line, as having “rewarded our company for methodical execution and ruthless efficiency by removing competitors from the landscape.” I make no mention of the disastrous effects on millions of people, and the great uncertainty that grips any well-briefed mind, because it truly doesn’t stand in the foreground of my mind (despite suffering personal loss of wealth). Our species is running towards a precipice with looming dangers like economic decline, political unrest, climate crisis, and more threatening to grip us as we jump off the edge, but my optimism is stronger now than ever before. On the other side of that looming gap are extraordinary breakthroughs in healthcare, communications technology, access to space, human productivity, artistic creation and literally hundreds of fields. With the right execution and a little bit of luck we’ll all live to see these breakthroughs — and members of my generation will live to see dramatically lengthened life-spans, exploration and colonization of space, and more opportunity than ever to work for passion instead of simply working for pay. Instead of taking this space to regale you with the many personal and focused changes I intend to make in 2009, let me rather encourage you to spend time this year thinking, as I’m going to, more about what we can do in 2009 to positively affect the future our culture will face in 2020, 2050, 3000 and beyond.

Up Next
By the 1960s the two most criticized art forms in America were modern art and television.  Some critics called modern art mystifying junk, while others targeted TV as anything from trash to a threat to democracy.  Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television at The Jewish Museum, New York, hopes to redeem both media by exploring how modern art provided an ethos and aesthetic for early television — a debt repaid later as television, in turn, inspired a new generation of modern artists, including Andy Warhol, who began as a modernist-influenced graphic designer for, among other clients, television networks. By looking back at modern art and television’s mutual love affair from the 1940s to the 1970s, Revolution of the Eye challenges us to reflect on the artistic aspirations of TV’s latest golden age.