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Machine Beauty

June 22, 2001

While weeding the library shelves recently, I came upon a book I’d meant to read when it first arrived. What, why, and how I was weeding will make another column, but this particular book reminded me of an unfinished column. The book is called “Machine beauty: elegance and the heart of technology,” by David Gelernter–the Yale professor who in 1993 lost a hand and sight in one eye to one of the Unabomber’s letter bombs. The book had not been checked out in 18 months. This is no crime, but it brought the book to my attention via the zero-usage list I was using. Gelernter makes the case that beauty in design is a fusion of simplicity and power, and that our high-tech society is suffering from our lack of concern for beauty. In addition to a variety of witty and insightful things, he had this to say: “Some people are born with and some without an acute sense of beauty, but anyone’s beauty sense can be improved by training. The best training is the study of art — art being the freest pursuit of truth and beauty for their own sakes that humans are capable of. “Art education is crucial to the nation’s technological and scientific well-being. Not because ignorance of Velazquez (say) makes a person incapable of doing physics; because studying Velazquez sharpens the sense of beauty, which in turn helps guide physicists toward the truth. “Art study to a scientist or engineer is like jogging to a boxer. It is no replacement for mathematics or assiduous punching-bag smashing, but it develops a faculty that is crucial to success.” In a valley full of artists, we have many people interested in art education, for both children and adults. For several years now, the local Art of the Rockies Association has donated money, as well as books and videos from members’ personal collections, to the library. Most recently, the association donated money for the purchase of art videos for children. Parents may want to take note of these for possible summer activities. “Drawing for all” is a five-video set geared for children. It covers basic shapes, animals, landscape and perspective, people, and color. “Art lessons for children” is a six-video set that covers techniques in watercolor and felt pen and then continues with projects, such as painting rain forest plants and animals. For older artists, such as the Art of the Rockies members themselves, we have a variety of videos on technique. The library has the set of six Stephen Quiller videos on color and water media. Quiller is a reknowned Colorado artist and teacher who works out of his studio in Creede. “How to visit an art museum” is a 30-minute video that offers an introduction to art museums and art appreciation in general. The Sister Wendy videos about art history have been popular, too. It’s hard to imagine art education without art history. The library has built up a nice little collection of art history books through donations, including those from the Art of the Rockies members. Some of the member donations have been books about technique, but others have been beautiful “coffee-table” books. The coffee-table books tend to be about paintings, as do our museum books and artist retrospectives. But the collection can and will grow. If you have coffee-table art books that are in your way, consider donating them to the library. We’ll make room.

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