What they said about arts, science


"The arts, when taught seriously and deeply, offer our students opportunities to expand their imagination, broaden their perspective and imagine ever-widening new possibilities. This is true for all of us. When we develop our ability to think creatively, we are able to find new solutions to the problems on which we are working, both in laboratories and in other aspects of our lives." -Charles M. Vest

"As we work to improve the quality of designs and products, it is going to be increasingly important for engineers to cooperate with artists, to tackle the visual, tactile and aesthetic qualities of their work. But quite aside from their role in scientific and engineering endeavors, the arts should of course still be an important part of our lives and of our education. Why? Because they are part of our humanity. They reflect our human experience." -Charles M. Vest

"Whether you worked in Doc Edgerton's strobe photography lab, played in the symphony, sang in the glee club or acted in the theatrical production, I am sure that at some point art touched your life at MIT and has continued to touch your life thereafter. Arts offer us discipline. Arts offer us imagination. They offer us the flexibility of a pursuit where there is not one right answer. The arts challenge us, surprise us, sometimes they anger us. But the arts also bring us wonder and joy."- Ellen T. Harris

"The scientists and engineers are concerned with matters of prosperity and penury. Or sometimes life and death. Or sometimes peace and war. This seems more serious perhaps than the more playful activity of the artist. But I recommend to you. that the word "play" has wide connotations. Lightness of heart is not the whole story. Play, which is unique in the vertebrates and best developed in those closest to us, is profound. Charles Eames said that one of the most serious activities in life was play. And he demonstrated it every day by what he did. Play is a means of what the word implies, model-making of the future. [It] is an indispensable feature of human behavior, from wordplay of the infant and the mother in the home to the most profound thought of an Einstein or a composer of great value, Bach, in the course of his work." -Philip Morrison

".The pyramid has one virtue: it's a very stable form. Consequently, it requires the least amount of steel in order to support it. If you use the finest technology available to you, technologically it will be the most transparent of form. And it must be the most transparent form, because you want to see that composition. That composition is so important to the world, not just to France. You also need a symbol. Because if this is going to be the main entrance to the Louvre, it cannot be just a subway entrance-it simply cannot be." -I.M. Pei

"One of the things that really binds me as an engineer to the casting process is the process itself...[which] is violent and wonderful and dangerous.... In early times people who worked with metal were shamans-they were magicians. After all, the first metals were meteors from heaven, Mother Earth disgorging gold nuggets, so metals have always had a very powerful role in our lives." -Richard Polich

"Bright young people come to MIT to learn, to learn the latest and the newest technology, what works and how it works. In the study of science and engineering a discarded or disproved idea is just that, discarded. Interesting perhaps only in where it was wrong. In engineering there is also a real world test. Questions totally inappropriate to works of art get asked of the engineer, like "What's it for? Did it work? Did the bridge fall down?" Contrast that to art, where discarded ideas and artists can and do reappear and certainly in art there is no sure test for the quality of art. What can happen, then, to the young engineering student which does not happen to the artist is that he may overvalue the contribution of his teachers and either ignore or not develop awareness of his feelings and the importance of expressing those feelings. We need to make young engineers aware of the importance of including their own feelings, their own expression, in the solutions to problems they will face in their careers.... [and] provide them with frequent opportunities for aesthetic experiences. Whether or not this will make better engineers can and will be debated, but art and aesthetic experience will do what it always has done-enrich the individual and give a historical and aesthetic perspective and artistic dimension to our students' understanding and aspirations." -Richard Polich

"The sense of not fitting in was at least for a lot of my life tremendously salutary for me. I've always loved that feeling. It probably begins back at the time I told my parents that I wanted to compose an orchestral piece one summer and they sent me to baseball camp."-John Harbison

"Some of us who started out here in music at MIT a long time ago in Klaus Liepmann's days were aware that the core of us were the kind of musicians working with a sort of stone age technology that didn't even include mechanical pencils. We were aware that MIT would need to develop in directions appropriate to the resources of MIT.... So I think some of us who are of the dead white male persuasion, of which I've been told I was already part, have in some visionary way tried to connect the resources of MIT to the arts. We have also tried to preserve a place for those of us who are obviously involved in doing essentially what I was thinking of when I was five years old, which is adding some pieces to a repertoire which at that age I already thought was extraordinary. I've stayed so interested in string quartets and orchestral music that that's really where I expect I'll probably wind up, but MIT is incredibly hospitable to all kinds of activity in the arts. Our students are extraordinarily diverse. Some of them really just want to learn how to play a Schubert trio, and others really want to find out on day one how the computer can help them as artists. I think that that diversity is something that we're trying to respond to here with the resources we have." -John Harbison

".MIT students are the most open-minded, intelligent and nicest people that I've met anywhere. They also have incredibly different backgrounds and nobody knows the same thing. I see them almost as pieces of a puzzle. When you put them all together you have an enormous amount of knowledge. So I sort of go out of my way, when I choose people for my class, to pick people who are very different from each other. I usually pick people who are both graduate students and undergraduates, people who are engineers and hardware builders and composers and performers and sometimes visual artists, and we often end up doing things which I don't think really could be done anywhere else." -Tod Machover

A version of this
article appeared in the
June 15, 1994

issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume
38, Number
36).


Topics: Arts, Special events and guest speakers

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