At long last, we had a new Frank Ocean album. Or did we? On the opening track, “Nikes,” Ocean’s voice croons through heavy distortion until the third minute, when Ocean drops a melodic rap over looped acoustic guitar and woodwinds. Three minutes might not be long to wait, but after the near-hysteria surrounding a number of rumored but unrealized release dates, it was enough to make me doubt, if only for a moment, whether “Blonde” was really the anticipated album I thought it was. Further listens show “Blonde” to be similarly deceptive all the way through. Nothing is as immediate as “Thinkin Bout You,” let alone earlier Ocean songs like “Swim Good,” but beneath the lolling tracks, Ocean delivers the same complex, personal lyrics that made “Channel Orange” such a success.
If you’re in the humanities at Rice you’re probably used to hearing (and repeating) this familiar mantra: A liberal arts education is important! Students should be more well rounded! Taking an “easy D1” is missing the point!
It’s a good mantra, and all of its points are true, but how often is it reversed? The STEM fields at Rice are already big enough that no one needs to argue that they matter, yet you never hear complaints over other majors taking “Stars for Stoners” instead of BIOC 201 for an “easy D3.” It’s not seen as a cop-out, it’s what’s expected, and that doesn’t bode well for the arts.
Art is inextricably entangled with science. We have optics to thank for Realist painting, oxidation and reduction reactions to thank for the invention of photography, acoustics to thank for music theory; the list goes on and on. But when it comes time for humanities majors and budding artists to try out a science, many of us avoid more rigorous courses without a second thought. It makes one wonder what the arts at Rice are missing out on by ignoring the science behind them.
Cooking, for instance, has very visible roots in chemistry, yet at some point, chefs decided they didn’t need any more chemistry, only “practical” knowledge that they could use in the kitchen. Then Ferran Adri?a and Grant Achatz turned the culinary world upside down with molecular gastronomy, a new approach to cooking that incorporated more chemistry than the traditional methods. Now, even old-school chefs admit that citric acid is perfect for preserving delicate vegetables and that tapioca maltodextrin powder can be pretty delicious.
In poetry, writers rarely even consider how math and science might affect their art. But an experimental poet, Christian Bo?k, decided to study crystallography and apply crystal-like structures to his poems. His book, “Eunoia,” is currently the only Canadian book of poetry ever to become a best seller. Even at the MoMa, installations like the Rain Room, a field of falling water that uses sensors to avoid raining wherever its viewers are, draw eight-hour-long lines and seem to prove that science definitely has its place in art, and it’s an important place at that.
Rice supplies more than enough avenues for students to pursue interdisciplinary learning. Beyond courses like The Chemistry of Art and The Chemistry of Cooking, Rice plans on putting “innovation spaces,” rooms stocked with tools like 3-D printers, easels and laser cutters, in residential colleges starting in 2016. It would be a shame if we, as students, lacked the knowledge to take advantage of these resources.
So next time course selection rolls around, regardless of what side of the spectrum you fall on, use your distribution classes to challenge yourself. It’s said often to STEM majors but not enough to those in the arts. D3s are more than just a requirement to be fulfilled. They are a chance for science and the scientific methods to lead to new unconventional works of art.