I welcome Roger's call for a serious discussion of the
substrata of the STEAM/START debate, and I welcome
as well Ms. Buntaine and her SciArt in America to the
Indeed, I think she has hit the nail on the head by saying
that it is imperative that STEAM be more than a
catch-phrase; and this, in turn, makes it imperative that we
writers and thinkers promulgate the idea that art is not just
one of the many activities in which humans engage: it is,
rather, a profound and extraordinary and mysterious
phenomenon in its own right, and one no less worthy of
study and respect than the ability of a lump of pitchblende
ore to fog a photographic plate.
Consider, for example, the following series of images, and
the first of which depicts the then state-of-the-art
technology littering the floor of the 30,000 year old
Chauvet Cave site:
Although flint-knapping is in fact a quite tricky thing to
master, our first impulse here is to marvel that we members
of the species Homo sapiens sapiens could have ever
existed at such a primitive level. But technologies come
and go; and just as certainly there are advanced beings
elsewhere in our galaxy for whom our own "advanced"
technologies -- e.g., our spacecraft found here and there
on the lunar surface -- are themselves no more than
curious and pitiable litterings .
But consider, on the other hand, this art work on a wall
of that same cave, and of the same age as the chipped flints:
Here is a horse depicted with extraordinary insight and
sensitivity -- and indeed, we must admit that it has for us
a mysterious resonance and vitality, although created
some 30,000 years ago; and much the same thing might be
said about this work of cave art from Lascaux:
Post-dating Chauvet by some 15,000 years, and with
perhaps a slightly more sophisticated technique -- the
most distant set of legs not quite connected to the body
to give a three-dimensional quality -- we nonetheless
recognize at work here precisely that same resonance and
vitality; and we turn finally to one of the master works of
the historic era:
Endowed with -- we know not what -- it is that same
fat-bodied horse which is the focus of Zhao Mengfu's
treasured thirteenth century work; we again feel ourselves
being penetrated by that same mysterious influence; and
it is the reality of that phenomenon which we must first
confirm if we are to make "STEAM" more than a catch-phrase.
G. W. (Glenn) Smith
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