What do origami, talking points and champagne toasts have to do with resolving the tradition/innovation conundrum? All suggest that the cutting edge of modern culture lies in dialogue between diverse arts and sciences from around the world and their integrated role in creative education.

Lang's origami telescope lens for use in outerspace.

Lang's origami telescope lens.

In our last post on UNESCO's 2nd World Conference on Arts Education, held in Seoul in May of 2010, we suggested that transformative fusions of traditional arts and modern culture must inevitably involve the collapse of the art--science divide. Consider here the recent boom in the ancient Japanese art of origami. Over the last two decades, origami practice has stimulated new forms of mathematics (a new type of geometry), engineering (foldable structures and new medical devices), and scientific applications (such as understanding leaf folding). Granted, if origami had not found its way around the world as an art and craft, it might never have attracted the interest of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers who rediscovered in its practice technical principles they could use for innovation. Cultural preservation and, equally importantly, its dissemination, could therefore be argued to be the engines that fuel scientific invention.

Lang's computational design for an origami bug.

Lang's origami bug.

The reverse is also true. Scientific interest in origami has, in turn, led to an international revitalization of the art form itself, as traditional techniques join with computer generated blueprints in the creation of wholly new, incredibly complex origami designs. The origami artist Robert Lang, formerly a physicist, has revolutionized this burgeoning artscience by inventing new means that make possible origami objects unimaginable just a couple of decades ago. A sign of things to come? We think so. As the 21st century unfolds, we argue, neither traditional culture nor cultural innovation will be able to flourish without the other. Indeed, the more and diverse cultural patterns modern society preserves, the more patterns of response society retains as part of its global toolbox for meeting the challenges of the future.

The way we see it, then, resolution of the tradition/innovation conundrum may be as simple as shifting from "either/or" to "both/and" thinking. To those who advocate "art for art's sake," or "art as a preserver of cultural traditions," we say "great!" Not in opposition to, but in conjunction with cultural innovation. Let's value the arts both for arts' sake and for the pragmatic knowledge and cognitive "tools for thinking" embedded in their practice.

When it comes to education, the arts must do as the literary arts and mathematics and the sciences have done: teach disciplinary knowledge fully and also pragmatically. Much as society needs poets and novelists and playwrights - or mathematicians and statisticians, for that matter - the reality is that language skills - and math skills - are taught because they facilitate communication. In a world that is overwhelmed with visual and aural and cinematic media, every world citizen needs to be as literate in the arts (and the practical ways which they can be used to inform or misinform) as they are literate in verbal language and mathematics.

It is our belief that only by directly addressing the value and function of arts within a global culture of innovation can the case be made to foster arts at the center of creative education. And it is our hope that the Seoul Agenda of development goals articulated at the close of the UNESCO conference will enable artists, educators, and other stakeholders around the world to do just that. At the end of May, the preamble to the Seoul Agenda was yet to be written, but expected elements included two notes of relevance to that discussion:

"Define and promote arts education as the foundation of a new paradigm of education.
"Take into account creative and innovative technologies, a powerful advocacy tool for arts education."

We look forward to the ensuing conversation among arts advocates and arts educators around the world. There is much to discuss. How old traditions and new technologies, ethnic and global cultures, arts and sciences may coexist and even synergize makes up the great challenge of tomorrow. And it was to

that challenge that we raised a glass in salute on our last day in Seoul, for it was our honor not only to give the opening keynote address, but to give the final toast at the conference Farewell Dinner.

To the arts at the center:

To the arts at the center of past, present and future
At the center of rapproachement, reconciliation and respect
Of inclusiveness, facilitation and collaboration
Of questioning, questioner and quest
Of passion, practice and process...

To the arts at the center of the interactive, the interdisciplinary and the interesting
Of science, technology and the humanities
Of search, research, and lifelong learning
Of truth, insight and human value
Creating, discovering and inventing...

To arts at the center of all education!

© 2010 Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein


origami bug image @ http://www.utk.edu/tntoday/2007/10/16/World-renowned-Origami-Artist-Visi...

origami telescope lens image @ http://www.vestaldesign.com/blog/2005/07/origami-in-space/

Our post on artscience @ http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/imagine/200904/artscience-is-big-idea

Imagine That!

Annals of Ordinary and Extraordinary Genius
Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein

Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein are co-authors of Sparks of Genius, The 13 Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People.

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