Reflections in the Glass
We are in the middle of Great Human Experiment at the Center. Or perhaps just a human experiment.
It started ages ago when we realized that we'd been paying little attention to the aesthetics of the Center. The art on the walls was decades old. It was lovely when it was new. Long ago, we had invited fellows to send us something from their home towns to decorate the walls. They did and we amassed a nice collection. But even the best of collections age and must be renewed.
It was time for something different. But what? Well, what do we want? That took some thought. Here's where we settled. When you walk into the Center and cruise along the halls, you see something that makes you feel:
"Oh, this is a place where creative people think and work."
But how do we achieve that? We could put up portraits of our great philosophical and scientific heroes?
No. Too obvious. Too familiar. And it gives us a mausoleum like feel. They are all dead men.
What about images of ingeniously invented things? Ever seen a zipper up close? Really up close?
Maybe. But the stronger the images, the more they have a bad effect. Imagine that, every day, when you walk into your office, you see an image of a great achievement by someone else. Are you challenged or intimidated?!
So we settled on glassboards. The art came down and, outside each office, we installed a glassboard. Each fellow is to be given a set of felt tip pens. The rest will be up to them. They will have a tabula rasa.
All this happened over the summer. I now had to wait and see if the new Fellows would rise to challenge. One early sign said that they would.
We'd planned glassboards for the Fellows. What about the staff? They too have offices. Would they like glassboards as well? "Yes, we would," was the non-committal response. So they got them too. Were they humoring me, but secretly dreading the new obligation? Or were they getting drawn in to the exercise?
As soon as they were up, I was ready to go at it. But on the day when I arrived in my office, I found Cheryl was there first. She'd already put up a perfect balance of self-explanatory and not quite self-explanatory self-expression.
Over the days following, more news bulletins followed, all of which will eventually lead you to see her fascination with history, injustice and Richard III.
Other staff members also flew to their boards and drew.
This was a great start. My job now was to encourage the Fellows to let their philosophical creativity spill out onto the boards. Secretly over the last year, I'd been preparing by practicing drawing a cartoon of the top half of my head.
I now put it to good use. Once I'd drawn it, I realized in a moment of surprise that I was looking at a "Norton dome." So I quickly filled in the rest. I was feeling rather clever.
That feeling slowly faded. Time and again, I'd stand in front of the dome with someone and realize that I have to explain what it is about. "There's this funny quirk in Newtonian physics. If you shape a dome..."
Well, you see the problem. No one really wants to know. It's like a joke that needs to be explained. It might be clever, but it cannot be funny any more.
(If you really have to know, look at "The Dome...")
So I weakened and tried something else.
In the meantime, Fellows who were staying back over the summer had already put the boards to good use.
Now, after only a few Fellows have arrived, I'm seeing more. It's so interesting. Everyone has their unique style. There's more to come. We have barely started.
John D. Norton