Commentary: The arts need more 'edge-perts' - masters of boundary crossing

Andrew Taylor, Adaptistration blog, 1/18/12

A recurring theme at this year's Arts Presenters conference in New York was boundary crossing. Artists and arts organizations were celebrated for dancing with unexpected partners -- city planners, farmers, inner-city kids, health professionals. Other speakers encouraged such new connections and new commitments to becoming relevant to communities in non-traditional ways.  There was also much talk about silos, about the insular structures of deep experts in arts organizations, in higher education, in scientific knowledge. Here, again, the call arose frequently to find or build partnerships between such silos, to rethink them in more open, more engaged, and more collaborative ways. Some suggested we get rid of the silos altogether, which didn't quite make sense to me. Our world demands deep expertise, and tightly connected communities of really smart people who explore a common terrain. That's a silo. And without a silo, at least some of the time, we don't get the obscenely focused training, learning, and inquiry that's necessary for complex and challenging problems. We need to rethink and redesign silos, of course. But eliminate them? No. All of which led me to invent a new word (I think I invented it, haven't found it elsewhere). Because we can't entirely dissolve silos, we need people who are exceptional at working across and among them. I call them 'edge-perts': Masters of crossing boundaries of deep expertise. Experts of the edges. Whether you like it or not as a pseudoword, it's worth exploring what it might mean. Often, artists and arts organizations are uniquely positioned to be edge-perts in their community. How would we find, foster, and develop edge-pertise? How might we stretch the current capacity of artists and arts leaders to encompass even more experts -- in agriculture, policy, science, health, education, the environment? And how do we protect the deep focus and occasional isolation required of exceptional creative work while also extending its reach and enriching its connectedness? Figure it out. Let me know. Edge-perts of the world, unite (and then disburse).


REPLY from Trevor O'Donnell, 1/19/12

Having spent my career on the edge, I'm inclined to think those silos exist for a reason. Most people don't feel comfortable on the edge and most arts folks would rather cling to the security of their silos than subject themselves to the vagaries of the world outside -- even if their silos are in danger of collapsing. But I'm glad you're teaching this, because if the silos do collapse, only the edge dwellers will have the perspective to know what happens next. Do you mind if I suggest "nexpert" (nexus-expert) as an alternative to "edge-pert," though?


REPLY fromWilliam Osborn, 1/19/12

There is a long established word in German for edge-pert. It is Grenzgänger and in its simplest usage means border crosser. It is often applied to the arts, and I've even seen some festivals devoted to Grenzgänger.  The idea of inter-disciplinary work in the arts has been an ideal since the 60s, and schools like CalArts were founded on the principle. Unfortunately, none of the efforts have been successful. Even at CalArts, the departments quickly barricaded themselves in their insular, professional worlds and there is little inter-departmental interaction among faculty or students. The main problem seems to be a lack of people with enough expertise to work at a high level in at least two departments. The inter-disciplinary ideal is nice, but it doesn't happen unless there are people who can serve as the bridge. Perhaps that's why some of the best arts administrators have backgrounds actually working as professional artists in the field they later administrate. The insights provided are invaluable.


Commentary: New art movement? The 'Science Artist Feed' keeps growing

Glendon Mellow, Scientific American's blog Symbiartic, 1/12/12

Most people are aware that there are trends and movements in the Fine Art world, just as there are in design, fashion, music and architecture. The most powerful aesthetic movements with the most lasting impact in the last several centuries have had distinguishing attributes that crossed the boundaries of the various arts and permeated cultures. The utilitarian geometry of Bauhaus. The almost sloppy excess of Baroque mixed media. Last year, when the huge site launched, aggregating recent posts from a wide array of science sites, one of its organizers, Bora Zivkovic asked if there were enough science-art and scientific illustration blogs to warrant making a feed for the page. I assured him there was, and at his request began curating the Science Artists Feed, including scientific illustration, science-inspired fine art, data visualization, webcomics and cartoons, street art and more. You can see the initial list of blog URLs here. It has expanded enough I have had to create a second list. Science communication is not a one-way street between researchers & journalists to the lay public. From the Science Art Feed you can see the array of conversations non-scientists are starting through visual media. There's a response, an echo and an amplification to the impact the scientific method has had on culture. Researchers, too, are stepping in and showing the inspiring, baffling and illuminating images they come across and use. Does it mean there is a new aesthetic, a new movement afoot? Will there be leaders, schools, manifestos, turning points? I don't know for sure, but as someone interested in exploring science in artwork, I feel I've seen a rise the past 10 years, and this is coupled with it being easier than ever to find.


In Philadelphia, a new educational initiative: Crossing Boundaries

Barnes Foundation website

In 2012, the Barnes will launch Crossing Boundaries, a new educational initiative, illuminating connections between the Art and Aesthetics and Horticulture programs. Two cross-cultural courses, Understanding World Art and Understanding World Gardens, will debut in 2012-2013. Expanding the educational experiment begun by Barnes -- in collaboration with John Dewey and others -- these courses will be interdisciplinary, accessible, and engaging, stimulating imaginative and critical thinking.  Crossing Boundaries courses will be as rich and varied as the Barnes's art and plant collections. Courses will be taught by artists and designers, as well as experts in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, conservation, education, environmental science, horticulture, and psychology. In Crossing Boundaries, the Barnes will collaborate with cultural institutions like the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Winterthur, Longwood Gardens, the Morris Arboretum, and Chanticleer, as well as academic institutions like Lincoln University.

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