Submitted to AAM Vibrant Challenge. Published here March 14, 2016 12:50 PM
Reviving the Museum Field Trip 2040
Ms. Janson- high school teacher of Honors course on Global art topics [Member of GenZ (2000-2025–or iGen, Plurals) cohort after GenY Millennials]
Emory and Sasha– high school seniors [Alpha cohort (2015 – circa 2045) sometimes referred to as i-scapes for their love of natural environments]
AlphaKAI – 24th generation prodigy Google robot (in the line of AlphaGo, that defeated world Go Champion in March 2016).
Two high school seniors, Emory and Sasha, are planning to visit the art museum over the weekend to write their paper about an Asian art object required for their class TransAsian Traditional Arts—India, China and Japan. Their teacher, Ms. Janson follows a pedagogic model that was put into place in the Baltimore city school system by a young visionary mayor two decades earlier. He believed the best method to enhance inner city students’ Asian cultural literacy was by introducing Asian art to the curriculum. Because developing human potential is at the core of the model, art is considered the foundation of the initiative.
Google’s educational partner, DepthFind corporation has embedded some of its robots into ten American inner city schools as part of a national impact study. With the dawning of a new generational cohort, the “i-scapes,” the study will assess the effect artificial intelligence may have in secondary education. DepthFind’s AlphaKAI has been placed in Ms. Janson’s class because it is the foundational course in the school’s core curriculum of its “The Great Civilized Conversation.” This honors program seeks to promote dialogue and an exchange of ideas of the world’s greatest minds conveyed in through literature and art. The standing belief is that subjective experiences not only reveal a great deal about human potential, but also may provide the ideal conditions for learning (Walters, 467).
The format for the assignment is for the students to write an essay—derived from the French essayer, “to experiment”—rather than the traditional research paper for college students. Through guided-inquiry learning, Ms. Janson, uses art objects to demonstrate the many degrees of artistic truth. Once a student fixates on literal truth it can have an arresting effect on the curious mind because it is one-dimensional. Yet the curious mind sees into different worlds –the artistic, mythical, sacred—of the many degrees of artistic truth because an object’s significance is not just of form but also for a mind (Langer, 222-23). Artistic truth is best gauged through subjective experience and the standard of measure is first person essays of an “honest, real-time report of the attentive individual (Gilbert, 71).” AlphaKAI will be assigned to Ms. Janson’s class to specifically gauge algorithmic vs. intuitive ideas and whether they are best advanced in informal learning environments such as museums. Emory and Sasha have agreed to let AlphaKAI accompany them on their visit to the art museum in the upcoming weekend.
The Museum Visit
The trio meet in front of the university campus library and walked over to the museum. The museum is known for its education program and state of the arts technology-enhanced exhibits on the main floor. The Asian galleries are on the lower level off the beaten path. The three agree to walk around and take in the art individually and check in with each other in an hour. AlphaKAI asks his companions to program their devices with his preferred name, kAI.
When they meet up again, Emory is pretty excited and eager to show his companions his discovery, a Chinese landscape ink painting. As the three take in the painting they refer to the label to gauge how close their initial assessment is of it. Emory tells them that what drew him was the handscroll format which are although not monumental in scale like vertical scrolls, its width can sometimes can take in entire vistas miles long. Because they had studied a unit on this format and genre, he guessed right away it was from the Song Dynasty over a millennium ago. The label identified the artist as Qu Ding a painter who lived during the Northern Song Dynasty 960-1125 CE.
After a few moments, kAI lights up declaring “considered an ink painting and appears to be done entirely in black ink. the artist also used additional light colors. whirl on a gray scale of shades between black and white there can be thousands of shades. there are at least 180 shades of gray. whirl Qu Ding was active 1023- ca. 1056. influenced by two Northern Song masters. Also in style of high Tang painter, Wang Wei. whirl one sees the preference for shades of ink and no longer the use of bright mineral colors. the range of color is wider in black and white than color. whirl in the late 1980s, an entire exhibit was devoted to ink paintings. whirl the title of the exhibit was “The Colors of Ink.”
“This is all great, kAI and I am learning a lot from you about Qu Ding’s painting from you,” Sasha said, “but we are also supposed to consider our experience of the piece—I would love to hear your visceral reaction to it.”
kAI whirl, “I am sure there is more going on in this piece than I have noticed.”
“What about you Emory,” Sasha turned to Emory, “what about Qu Ding’s painting attracted you to it?”
“As I stood there admiring it,” Emory answered, “I started to imagine myself at its peak looking at the view below similar to the ones I see skiing in my home state, Pennsylvania. I actually started to visualize myself in the mountains and what it would have felt like. It was strange but I found myself get a chill that I would normally get on a midsummer’s night in the mountains.
I love the mountains and I spend many weekends in the local mountains of Pennsylvania. I think that they are so beautiful and the mountains in this particular piece of art are so amazing. I love to stand on top of a ski slope and feel like I am on top of the world; I could only imagine the powerful feeling of being on top of the mountains in this painting. I think that this is what drew me to it. I have always been intrigued by the Asian landscape and how beautiful it is. This painting displays this beauty in a marvelous and precise way.”
kAI lit up: “Yes, checking algorithmic ideas I can vouch that it is whirl a shanshui in Chinese, whirl literally translates to “mountain-water” or landscape painting. I am sure there is more going on in this piece than I have noticed.”
“For me,” Sasha said, “it is about the water. I love water. I find such peace and tranquility from it. One of my favorite places is Bingham Falls, a gorgeous waterfall in Vermont, where I go to almost every summer. I can spend all day there floating in the cold spring water. Looking at this piece, transports me right there to Bingham Falls in Vermont.”
kAI’s lights got even brighter. “This all sounds very much like Attention Restoration Therapy, or ART whirl which is when individuals to go out in nature to recalibrate their rhythms with those of nature. but we are not out in nature whirl we are in a building artifice, a museum. standing here. not someplace else at the same time –you cannot be in two places at the same time. Are these intuitive paths or algorithmic paths?”
Sasha thought about it a moment and answered, “That definitely may be part of it but not entirely. ART can happen looking at a painting just by seeing the symbols of mountains and water. The painting also reminds Emory and me of our past experiences. We know these forms firsthand from places special and familiar to us. Although it calls on our past experience, I know I will return to it again and again in the future.”
“I agree, Sasha. My love of mountains somehow makes me feel even closer to the painter of this landscape. Although he lived in the last millennia, Qu Ding has the same feeling for his special landscape retreat as we are for ours. I guess that is what Ms. Janson means when she says that works of art, even of other cultures very different from ours, are timeless. It is almost as if Qu Ding is standing right here with us in a four-way conversation!”
In the meantime, kAI had accumulated immense data on China from the cloud, info supplied by Google’s Culture Institute’s member museums on Chinese painters, categories of painting in addition to landscapes: bird and flower paintings, animal paintings, monk paintings, bamboo paintings, Xie He’s six laws on painting, a catalogue of 16,284 paintings all with the name of one of the four seasons in its title, along with the library meta-database on all journals, dissertations, theses and books related to Asian subjects published since 1940.
Seeing Qu Ding’s handscroll served to whet Sasha’s appetite to see more examples. The next day, she and her mother decided to take the bullet train into New York City’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she saw many examples on exhibit. She found her treasure: a handscroll with a poem in Chinese written by Mi-fu (1052-1107 CE) while riding on a boat on the Wu River. Sasha wrote
Unlike any other alphabet of the world that the viewer has seen, the Chinese
written word, also a poem or story, is not only beautiful to the ear but to the eye.
The flow and variation of characters gives the viewer a feel of the slow, steady, yet
varying movement of the river, which the artist was reflecting upon at the time.
That the poet shared the same love for water particularly resonated with her.
kAI had difficulty scaling down the vast store of information to 2000 words on Qu Ding’s painting and ended the essay summarizing the experience with these words “I am sure there is more going on in this piece than I have noticed.” Ms. Janson’s comment on the essay was “kAI you are a wealth of information but even if you could list all the thousands of chemical properties of the sun, I fear even then that you will never experience a beautiful sunset.”
All characters are fictional. AlphaGo, Google and Google Cultural Institute are real. The “Great Civilized Conversation” is outlined in Wm. Theodore de Bary’s The Great Civilized Conversation: Education for a World Community. 2014. ISBN: 9780231162777
“Autobiographical self/memory” from Antonio Damasio Feeling what happens: body and emotion in making of consciousness. 1999. Orlando: Harcourt; 1ST edition (September 27, 1999)
David Hansen—“an essay is not a demonstration or a proof. It is not a report on work or on thinking that has been completed, although it can be retrospective. An essay constitutes a living, ongoing, enacted, and visible inquiry.”
Suzanne K. Langer. Philosophy in a New Key. 1941. Full text at http://bit.ly/22edBWZ
Daniel Gilbert. Stumbling on Happiness. 2006.
Walters, K. S. (1990). Critical thinking, rationality and the vulcanization of students. Journal of