Tag Archives: art

Not much change

A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all of my readers!

At this time of year, it is traditional in the media to review the previous year and comment on what lies ahead in the new year.  However, not much has changed in my blog during 2017: I wrote and published 52 posts that attracted about 20,000 views through the WordPress site, which is pretty much the same as 2016.  Although, there was a growth in readers via LinkedIn, Tumblr and Twitter.  This is not enough traffic to achieve a place in the UK’s Top 50 Blogs according to Vuelio, but then neither the title nor the content of this blog is designed to attract the mass-markets to which most of these high-volume sites appeal.  Instead, I suspect that I am writing for a small bubble of like-minded people [see my post ‘You’re all weird‘ on February 8th, 2017]; nevertheless, it would be nice to feel that the bubble will continue to expand.  Maybe the small face-lift will help though the Latin verse below will likely not help!

It is tempting at this point to ramble on further about the lack of interest in scholarship in modern society; however, to do so would be to follow a tradition that is at least 800 years old.  In the thirteenth century manuscript, Carmina Burana there is a poem called ‘Florebat olim studium’.  Its first lines are

Florebat olim studium

nunc vertitude in tedium,

iam scire diu viguit,

sed ludere prevaluit.

 

These translate as ‘Scholarship once flourished, now it is turned into boredom; for a long time knowledge was esteemed, but now playing is preferred.’  This seems to have been echoed by generations of professors and, as my editor says, is part of the human condition.

I read about the Carmina Burana in a beautiful book: ‘Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts‘ by Christopher de Hamel who takes the reader on a series of visits to twelve of the most important medieval manuscripts starting with the sixth century Gospels of Saint Augustine in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and finishing with the sixteenth century Spinola Hours in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.  It is part history book tracing the advent of literacy in Western Europe from the sixth century, when only the clergy could read and write, through to start of printing when 30,000 titles were issued in the last fifty years of the fifteen century; and part travelogue as de Hamel describes his visits to the museums and libraries where the twelve manuscripts are preserved.  Book reviews are not a regular feature of this blog but this is a book worth reading that might not otherwise be on your list.

Image: from front cover of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel showing detail from the Morgan Beatus M644, folio 252v © The Morgan Library & Museum/Art Resource, NY/Scala, Florence.

 

A reflection on existentialism

Detail from stained glass window by Marc Chagall in Fraumunster Zurich from http://www.fraumuenster.ch

I was in Zürich last weekend.  We visited the Fraumünster with its magnificent stained glass windows by Marc Chagall [see my post entitled ‘I and the village‘ on August 14th, 2013] and by Augusto Giacometti (1877-1947).  The Kunsthaus Zürich has a large collection of sculptures by another Giacometti, Alberto (1901-1966), a Swiss sculptor, who is famous for his slender statues of people which portray individuals alone in the world.  He was part of the existentialist movement in modern art that examined ideas about self-consciousness and our relationship to other people.  For me, this echoed a lecture that I contributed last week to a module on Scientific Impact and Reputation as part of our CPD programme [see my post entitled ‘WOW projects, TED talks and indirect reciprocity‘ on August 31st, 2016.  In the lecture, I talked about our relationship with other professional people and the development of our technical reputation in their eyes as a result of altruistic sharing of knowledge. This involves communicating with others, building relationships and understanding our place in the community.  The post-course assignment is to write a reflective essay on leadership and technical quality; and we know, from past experience, that our delegates will find it difficult to reflect on their experiences and the impact of those experiences on their life and behaviour.  Maybe we should help them by including a viewing of existential art in one of the Liverpool art galleries as part of our CPD programme on Science and Technology Leadership?

Pebbles – where are yours?

The picture shows a little collection of pebbles and a shell that sits on the desk in my office.  There are similar collections in various locations at home and some of my coats have a pebble permanently in one pocket – there’s even a shell on the dashboard of our car.  They have all been picked up during walks on beaches [see my post entitled ‘Take a walk on the wild side‘ on 26th August 2015] and serve as reminders of the ‘slowness’ enjoyed on vacation [see my post ‘Slow down, breathe your own air‘ on December 23rd, 2015].  Barbara Hepworth owned a similar collection of stones that you can see in the Hepworth Wakefield.  On the subject of this habit she wrote in 1961: ‘Many people select a stone or a pebble to carry for the day.  The weight and form and texture felt in our hands relates us to the past and gives us a sense of a universal force.  The beautifully shaped stone, washed up by the sea, is a symbol of continuity, a silent image of our desire for survival, peace and security.’  I could not express it better so I didn’t try.

The quote is from a contribution to the film Barbara Hepworth directed by John Read, BBC TV, 1961 and can be found in Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations, edited by Sophie Bowness, London: Tate Publishing, 2015.

Steamy show

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering published a report sometime ago called ‘Technology is really a way of thinking‘.  They were right.  Once you become an engineer, then you can’t help looking at everything through the same ‘technology’ lens.  Let me give you an example.

A couple of weekends ago we went to see  ‘Anthony and Cleopatra‘ performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon.  It was a magnificient spectacle and a captivating performance, especially by Josette Simon as Cleopatra.  Before the performance started, we couldn’t help noticing the columns of steam forming in the auditorium from the ceiling downwards.  Initially, we thought that they were a stage effect creating an atmosphere in the theatre; but then I realised, it was ‘steam’ forming as the air-conditioning pushed cold air into the auditorium.  It’s the same effect that sometimes causes alarm on an aircraft, when it appears that smoke is billowing into the cabin prior to take-off.

The air in the theatre was a mixture of air and water vapour that was warm enough that the water was completely gaseous, and hence, invisible.  However, when the air-conditioning pumped cold air into the theatre, then the mixture of air and water was cooled to below the dew point of the water vapour causing it to condense into small droplets that were visible in the auditorium’s downlighters, forming the columns of ‘steam’.  Of course, the large mass of warm air in the auditorium quickly reheated the cold air, causing the droplets to evaporate and the columns of steam to disintegrate.  Most people just enjoyed the play; it’s just the technologists that were preoccupied with what caused the phenomenon!

If you want a more technical explanation, in terms of partial pressures and psychrometry, then there is an Everyday Engineering Example lesson plan available : 5E lesson plan T10 – psychrometric applications.

Picture: https://www.rsc.org.uk/shop/item/30200-anthony-and-cleopatra-poster-2017/