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Art Is a Different Kind of Cosmic Order – The New York Times

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This is the essay is part of The Big Ideas, a special section of The Times’s philosophy series, The Stone, in which more than a dozen artists, writers and thinkers answer the question, “Why does art matter?”


The torrential rains at the summer resort in the Catskills, where my dad was a weekend bass player, entitling us to the use of a free if leaky bungalow, drove all us campers into the cavernous dance hall for an impromptu game of trivia. I was 5 years old, and the first up. “Where are you from?” the head counselor asked when I had climbed onto the stage.

I was so intently focused on my private, newfound passion that I hardly registered the question. “Math!” I answered, only to be baffled when everyone around me erupted in laughter.

Mathematics is a universal language of pattern. Equations articulate relationships. They speak to unassailable truths that stand beyond the vagaries of perception and interpretation. Every flat, right-angled triangle drawn before Pythagoras, and every one after, until eternity, satisfies the famous theorem that bears the ancient Greek philosopher’s name. There are no exceptions. That’s the nature of mathematical insight. And through its terse, pristine delineation of inflexible truth, mathematics offers us the comfort of reliability and the beauty of precision. Since my earliest introduction, I have felt the deep allure of these unchanging patterns. Patterns that are impervious to authority. Patterns that transcend all things personal.

It is a perspective I have found to be widely shared among those who practice mathematics or physics as a profession.

All the same, many more of us are drawn to patterns of a different sort, patterns conveyed through particular combinations of sounds and colors and shapes and textures and movements, yielding works of music or dance or film or painting or sculpture — patterns, that is, which emerge as creative human expression. These are patterns we value because of, not in spite of, their capacity to reflect thoroughly personal, deeply subjective responses to the infinite spectrum of human experience. As cave paintings, ancient figurines and archaic musical instruments attest, since the earliest glimmers of thought our species has intensely pursued and consumed such expression.

And that presents a puzzle.

I have little doubt that should we ever make contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, they will understand our mathematics, especially the equations we have developed to explain the regularities of reality. After all, recognizing the patterns inherent in physical phenomena is central to survival. We have prevailed because we can sense and respond to the rhythms of the world. Every tomorrow will be different from today, but beneath the myriad comings and goings we rely on enduring qualities.

The sun will rise, rocks will fall, water will flow. The vast collection of allied patterns we encounter from one moment to the next profoundly influence our behavior. Instincts are essential, and memory matters, because patterns persist. While the specific environment of a distant intelligence may differ significantly from our own, it is likely that it, too, prevailed by developing a refined sense of pattern described with precision through some version of mathematics.

Yet when it comes to our artistic yearnings, there’s a chance that the extraterrestrials will be thoroughly perplexed. Why would any species spend time and energy on creative works that seemingly have no survival value? In a precarious world with limited resources, the puzzle is thus to understand why we are drawn to activities that relate so obliquely to the goals of securing food, or a mate, or shelter.

Charles Darwin himself took up this question, and wondered if the goals might not be as oblique as they seem. Perhaps, he suggested, the art impulse originated as a type of mating call, drawing various of our forebears together and thus steering the propagation of the species. Other researchers have suggested that the creation and consumption of artistic works may provide an intellectual playground, where ingenuity and imaginative problem-solving skills are brought forth and refined in a safe environment. According to this view, the sorts of minds that can summon forth everything from “The Starry Night” to “Guernica,” from the “David” to “The Burghers of Calais,” from the “Goldberg Variations” to the “Ode to Joy” finale, are minds that have creatively imagined their way out of one potentially devastating challenge after another. Perhaps, then, art matters because it primed our very capacity to survive.

Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Among those who think carefully about the relationship between art and evolutionary selection, there is as much controversy as there is consensus. Establishing an irrefutable Darwinian basis for art is no small challenge. Moreover, in considering why art matters today, not just in our ancestral past, the adaptive role may give us insight but at best would provide only a partial accounting. To fill in that account, we must focus on the many nuances of truth.

Mathematics and science seek objective truth. Physicists approach it through their analyses of fundamental particles and the mathematical laws that govern them. Chemists illuminate it by invoking collections of these particles, organized into atoms and molecules. Biologists consider higher levels of organization, amalgamating atoms and molecules into the fantastic complexity evident to us within cells and life forms. Psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers add further layers still, examining the workings of the mind and the questions minds can pose about themselves and their experiences. No single story tells it all. Only by blending insights from each of these accounts can we gain the fullest understanding.

Art is a critical component of this project, a pathway toward a yet broader variety of truths that encompasses subjective experience and celebrates our distinctly human response to the world. This is vital. There are truths that stand beyond articulation, whether in the language of mathematics or that of human discourse. There are truths we can sense, truths we can feel, that would be diminished by translation from inner expression. Art is our most refined means for accessing such truths. There is no universal summary of art, no definition that unambiguously delineates it. Our reactions to art are uniquely our own. But it is this very flexibility, this dependence on the individual, this reliance on the subjective, that makes art essential for grasping our all-too-human place in the cosmic order.

Whereas the patterns of math and science matter because they speak to qualities of reality that exist beyond us, the patterns of art matter because they speak to qualities of reality that exist within us.

Brian Greene is the director of Columbia University’s Center for Theoretical Physics and a co-founder of the World Science Festival. Portions of this essay were adapted from his latest book, “Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe.”

Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments,” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

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Nature is an Artist explores relationship betwee art and nature – MorinvilleNews.com

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Nature is an Artist

Nature is an Artist was released last week and is available wherever books are sold. 

by Stephen Dafoe

Sturgeon County’s intergovernmental advisor Jennifer Lavallee has published her first children’s picture book. 

Vancouver’s Greystone Books released Nature is an Artist, written by Lavallee and illustrated by Argentinian artist Natalia Colombo, on May 17.

The book looks at the various art forms children can find in the natural world surrounding them and follows a group of children exploring nature and discovering an art show in front of them. They are inspired to create works of art, recreating what they have seen in nature. 

Although Nature is an Artist is Lavallee’s first published picture book, it is far from her first published work. The author has previously written articles for local newspapers and magazines, including Morinville Online. She has also written for national publications and many of Lavallee’s short stories have appeared in anthologies. 

“Those have been more adult-focused stories, Lavallee said of her short story work. “This is my first professional publication in the world of children’s literature,” and that is where I am focusing all my efforts. That’s really where my passion is.”

Lavallee explained that when she was trying to determine the direction of her writing, it dawned on her that children’s writing was a great pairing to where her interests were.

“I’m an adult, but I still read middle-grade books and YA [young adult] and that kind of literature,” she said. “So it just kind of clicked – yeah, I should be focusing my attention here.”

Lavallee recently spent the day at École Morinville Public School reading her new book to students. Children were surprised to learn that an adult enjoyed books written for children. 

“I said absolutely I do because I think there is something so very special about pairing really beautiful illustrations [with words],” Lavallee said. “When you look at illustrations in picture books, you can find some really special artwork. Pairing that with beautiful text; it reminds me of magic, kind of, and it’s almost like comfort food.”

Lavallee said she has always been someone who loves fairy tales and someone who loves to watch classic children’s movies over and over again. Films like the adaptation of William Golden’s Princess Bride, Hook and Peter Pan have helped form her current writing path. 

“I’ve always just been in that space,” she said of her interests and the types of books she wants to write, paraphrasing author Toni Morrison’s quotation – ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’  

But writing a children’s book is challenging for the mother of three, balancing full-time employment with Sturgeon County, completing graduate school, and taking care of her family. 

From the initial idea in the author’s mind, writing the manuscript, then being able to drive to Chapters and take the book off the shelf, was a four-year journey.

“It takes a long time. There are not even 500 words in here,” Lavallee said of the new book, adding that just finalizing the text with the publisher is a lengthy process. “It has to be exactly right, and the thing about this book is it’s a rhyming book. Not only do you have to find the right words, but the right rhyming words to match the story you are trying to tell. It was about a year to finalize the text.”

Working with Buenos Aires-based illustrator Natalia Colombo was also an exciting experience for Lavallee, which also took a year. 

“This is her twenty-third book, so that was a neat experience. Most people think I drew the pictures, but I wish I could draw,” Lavallee laughed. “The illustrations are what makes picture books pop, and I’m so pleased with how it came out. It’s very bright and cheerful.”

Great art is significant for Lavallee’s book, which is about the artistic beauty found in nature.

“You can go into nature and see things that are like fine works of art,” Lavallee said. “A sunset is like a beautiful painting, or a rainbow is like stained glass. The point of it is to inspire young readers to see themselves as artists, but in the context of also having respect for nature, and wanting to get out into the environment and the natural world. It’s the pairing of those two.”

Lavallee said Nature is an Artist is perfectly aligned to the existing curriculum, lending itself to simple crafts based on the content of the book. 

“Some of those things that you need to learn in the younger years about artistic styles are all interwoven into the story,” Lavallee explained. 

The author worked with the publisher to create some free downloadable companion guides to the book for parents and teachers. 

Nature is an Artist is available wherever books are sold, including Chapters and Amazon. It retails for $22.95 per copy.

Lavallee has written a sequel to the new book and hopes to see it published in the future. She is also working on a longer chapter book aimed at middle grades. 

The author is also doing workshops at the upcoming St. Albert Children’s Festival.

Click here for more local news
Click here to visit author’s website

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Contest open to young artists; art grads needed more than ever – SooToday

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Art students in Grades 6, 7 and 8 are invited to submit samples of their work to be included in a separate exhibition and contest within the annual St. Mary’s College art show to be held at the Second Line East high school beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 14.

Students have until 3 p.m. Thursday, June 9 to submit their drawings, painting or digital art work with their identification and contact information in person at SMC’s main office.

While the SMC art show is an annual event – featuring work by artists from Grades 9 to 12 and including not only visual art but also musical and dance performances in one night – this year marks the first show and contest for students in Grades 6 to 8.

The contest is the brainchild of Adriano DiCerbo, SMC art teacher and Samantha Lance, an SMC graduate now pursuing a career as an art show curator in Toronto.

“Adriano approached me with this idea. He wanted to get the ball rolling on this and try to attract kids’ attention to this. We came up with the title Spring Back To Life, to get students to think about what inspires you about this new season?” Lance said.

That includes:

  • What images of spring best represent your personal connection to this season?
  • What moments of spring do you cherish?
  • Are there certain aspects of spring (flowers, plants, landscapes, animals) that hold a special place in your heart?

The contest poster has been designed and will be sent out soon to parents and teachers across the H-SCDSB system.

DiCerbo hopes word will get out to art students in Grades 6 to 8 students in other school boards.

Students and parents can contact DiCerbo by email

Lance will judge the Grades 6 to 8 art show.

“I first got immersed in visual arts in Grade 10 with Mr. DiCerbo’s class and then I started helping with the arts festivals from Grade 10 to 12 and I realized, while curating the work, that art is what I wanted to do as a career,” Lance said.

Lance graduated from SMC in 2017 and went on to study art for four years at Toronto’s Ontario College of Art & Design – OCAD University. 

There she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts, specializing in Criticism and Curatorial Practice, learning how to organize art shows at galleries, museums, art shows and festivals. 

She plans to attend the University of Toronto in September to begin a Master of Curatorial Studies program.

At OCAD, she was inspired by the work of many artists including Vincent Van Gogh, American photographer Nicolas Bruno and Christian painter Akiane Kramarik.

“After I graduated from high school I came back to help curate the arts festival at SMC. Every year it was nice to see the work and the talent students brought to the table,” Lance said.

“I appreciate art history and love looking at the different types of media people bring into their art. When I go for my Masters in Toronto I want to support local, national and international artists by showcasing their art,” Lance said, adding she’ll always enjoy keeping in touch with the Sault arts scene.

Admission to the June 14 SMC art show is free for kids, $10 for adults.

Proceeds from admission go to Tumaini Afrika, a Sault Ste. Marie-based, non-registered group of volunteers dedicated to working with children and women in Kenya in such spheres as education and nutrition.

“After COVID, everybody needs this art show,” Lance said.

Both Lance and her high school art mentor DiCerbo spoke of the importance of art and art education for kids despite the heavy emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math in schools.

“Art speaks when words can’t,” Lance said.

“Art gives anyone – students, young and old – to speak about their background, their culture and their response to everything that’s happening in the world in their own way, it gives them that freedom to do that. That’s so critical, to express yourself, and to have that confidence.”

As for exposing younger students to art at an early age, Lance smiled “if we nurture this at the beginning in younger students we could be fostering the next Monet or Van Gogh.”

“I believe in having a well-rounded education. Yes, science and math, but the arts as well,” DiCerbo said.

“That enables students to have creative skills, critical thinking skills and they need those opportunities to be self expressive. It’s an incredibly valuable skill for the 21st Century, more than we realize. It helps us to connect with nature and each other. An arts festival is a celebration of when we come together and celebrate creativity.”

“There are jobs out there for creative people,” DiCerbo said.

“They’re just not as visible as the teacher, the doctor, the dentist. There are so many creative people behind the scenes working in traditional and digital media, architectural studies, the business world needs creative thinkers. They’re needed.”

“Imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower. What if the Mona Lisa vanished? It’s priceless. These are iconic pieces of art that help define who we are. The Group of Seven helps define who we are. Filmmakers, musicians give us a sense of identity and belonging. How can we possibly take that out of our world? We need more of that particularly during these times more than ever before,” DiCerbo said.

“Hopefully we get a lot of submissions,” Lance said.

“We’re not expecting students to donate a huge painting or drawing, but it’ll be exciting to see what comes in.”

Lance said she hopes it will be an encouragement for kids to start building a portfolio and consider a career in art.

It’s late in the school year but kids can submit work they’ve done earlier in the current school year.

Prizes of $100, $75 and $50 will be awarded to first, second and third place winners in the Grade 6-8 show and competition.

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'Deaf Shame to Deaf Same': Art exhibit aims to destigmatize hearing loss – CTV News Regina

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A new art exhibit at the George Bothwell Library is hoping to examine and remove the feeling of shame associated with people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Students in Winston Knoll’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) program helped create the art installation “Deaf Shame to Deaf Same.”

Different dioramas illustrate the students’ collective experiences with isolation, bullying, humiliation and challenges with communication and acceptance due to their hearing loss.

The stories for the installation are based on personal narratives from the students.

The exhibit was made up of different dioramas representing the DHH students experiences within school. (Allison Bamford/CTV News Regina)

“I’ve often felt a lot of shame because in my past it was quite traumatic, going to school and even at home,” said Grade 11 student Amna Warda Wahid.

“A lot of people would bully me because I was deaf.”

Warda Wahid said she used to identify as a hearing person before she entered the DHH program.

Her experience is quite common among DHH students, according to Michelle Grodecki, certified teacher for the deaf.

“Many times students say, ‘I can’t do it, I’m stupid,’” Grodecki said.

“But it’s not that they’re stupid, they just don’t have the access.”

Six students from Winston Knoll’s DHH program helped create the dioramas at the centre of the exhibit. (Allison Bamford/CTV News Regina)

Yamama Alrweilei, a Grade 11 student in the DHH program, struggled in “mainstream classrooms” without an interpreter.

“I didn’t understand a lot of what the teacher was saying, people talk very fast and I was missing a lot,” Alrweilei said.

Through the DHH program supports and interpreter, she said she can now understand the lessons.

Grodecki said hearing loss needs to be normalized in society and in the classroom. If that happens, she said, bilingual education and supports of all modalities will be widely accepted.

For now, she said the goal of the art exhibit has been achieved, and her students have accepted themselves and their identity.

“For each of our students to stand in front of an audience and proudly say, ‘I am hard of hearing. I am deaf. I wear my hearing aids. I have my confidence back,’ I would confidently say we’ve achieved our goal,” Grodecki said.

The exhibit is a collaboration between the DHH program, SKArts and Deaf Crows Collective.

From Deaf Shame to Deaf Same will be on display in the Creation Cube at the George Bothwell Library until June 25.

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