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The future and why we are terrible at predicting it « You Are Not So Smart

I am listening to the You Are Not So Smart Podcast and reminded of how often Stephen Duncombe and I encounter these faulty visions of the future. Thing like “We’ll never be able to do _______.” or “That’s just not going to happen.” come up in our workshops because we all have such a hard time being able to imagine realities outside our own.

Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s just how our brains work. However, we do need to work harder to envision alternate futures. Since no one knows what will really happen in the future, pretending there will be an ever-present hegemony, capitalism, racism, or whatever problem is just another form of resignation.

We don’t know what’s possible, so we might as well work toward justice, equality, balance, peace, and a richer humanity.

Here’s some info from the podcast:

If you love educational entertainment – programs about science, nature, history, technology and everything in between – it is a safe bet that the creators of those shows were heavily influenced by the founding fathers of science communication: Carl Sagan, David Attenborough, and James Burke.

In this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast we sit down with James Burke and discuss the past, the present, and where he sees us heading in the future. Burke says we must soon learn how to deal with a world in which scarcity is scarce, abundance is abundant, and home manufacturing can produce just about anything you desire.

james BurkeJames Burke is a legendary science historian who created the landmark BBC series Connections which provided an alternative view of history and change by replacing the traditional “Great Man” timeline with an interconnected web in which all people influence one another to blindly direct the flow of progress. Burke is currently writing a new book about the coming age of abundance, and he continues to work on his Knowledge Web project.

We also sit down with Matt Novak, creator and curator of Paleofuture, a blog that explores retro futurism, sifting through the many ways people in the past predicted how the future would turn out, sometimes correctly, mostly not.

Together, Burke and Novak help us understand why we are to terrible at predicting the future and what we can learn about how history truly unfolds so we can better imagine who we will be in the decades to come.

After the interview, I discuss a news story about how cigarettes affect the way your brain interprets cigarette advertising.

YANSS Podcast 020 – James Burke and Matt Novak ponder the future and why we are terrible at predicting it « You Are Not So Smart.

Weird works

Goya passes this test

But was Goya himself weird enough?

You may not think I’m weird, and I may live in a suburb and tend a garden, but talk to people who know me, all right? I am. I really am! This Atlantic: article points out that this would be a good thing, in marketing terms, even though studied weirdness when it comes to the art world doesn’t appear to be in short supply:

Our brains associate eccentricity and creativity in musicians, painters, writers, and other artists—as long as weirdness doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Once we form a stereotype of the erratic artist, we may see those who fit the stereotype more snugly as being better artists.


Even if you decide to scheme up a whole crazy artist persona, it’s likely that at least some people won’t see through the plot and will grant you greater regard. So don that outfit of veal or vomit—assuming you’re doing something edgy with your work. If, however, you’re hoping to make it big in still life, it’s probably better to keep the food on the table.


CAA, YesLab, and Beautiful Trouble work on Action Switchboard

On Feb. 8-9, 2014, the Yes Lab, the Center for Artistic Activism, and Beautiful Trouble conducted a workshop with fifty participants, including members of eight social justice NGOs and a number of NYU students.

The eight projects that resulted were posted on the Action Switchboard and will be helped forward by facilitators.

Please sign up at to be notified when the Action Switchboard
is launched for the public, or to organize a workshop for your organization or school.

Gabriella Mingoia, Former Britt Intern


Catching up with Gabriella Mingoia

We like to check in with our former interns to discover what new adventures they’re having and how being a Britt Intern contributed to their career goals. Gabriella was a Development Intern during 2013.

Education Fellow at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Since graduating from Southern Oregon University in 2013, I have been working as an Education Fellow at the award-winning Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The fellowship is an 11-month program consisting of 16 professionals working in either the production or artistic side of the theatre. My fellowship at Berkeley Rep has been extremely valuable and I can’t begin to describe how much I’ve learned in the past 6 months. I work on behalf of the School of Theatre’s Teen Council program, an umbrella program for a variety of events/classes for Bay Area High School students. I function as an administrator, a marketing associate, a producer, and an educator. The most exciting aspect of my job is that I make sure that San Francisco Bay Area teens have access to theatre. I’ve learned directly from mentoring a teen, how important it is for the arts and the community to intersect. Working with teenagers has taught me how impactful community engagement really is.

My Future Goals

After my fellowship, I hope to continue to work in the Bay Area. I’m interested in producing community engagement projects that bring together a myriad of arts organizations and the communities they serve. In the future, I hope to get my MFA in Theatre Criticism. But honestly, my plans seems to change every day!  

How the Britt Internship Help Me Grow

I don’t think that I would be a fellow at Berkeley Rep if I hadn’t done my Britt Festivals internship. My mentors at Britt believed in my career goals and pushed me to pursue them. The skills I learned at the Britt were really applicable to my fellowship at Berkeley Rep. I still apply what I’ve learned to the daily tasks of the fellowship. It really prepared me administratively.

It’s alive



starry nightVisual art attempts to go places that words and thought can’t reach. I couldn’t help but think of Blake, Van Gogh and Burchfield–and the “everliving fire” of Heraclitus, for that matter–while reading this skeptical atheist scientist’s account in the New York Times of when the whole world seemed to be come alive around her. It was a harrowing experience that she now can’t find words to describe and was consistent with mystical experience described in most cultures. Her rediscovery of this experience many years later in her journal enabled her to reach “a truce with God”:

Fortunately, science itself has been changing. It was simply overwhelmed by the empirical evidence, starting with quantum mechanics and the realization that even the most austere vacuum is a happening place, bursting with possibility and giving birth to bits of something, even if they’re only fleeting particles of matter and antimatter. Without invoking anything supernatural, we may be ready to acknowledge that we are not, after all, alone in the universe . . . it could be that the universe is itself pulsing with a kind of life, and capable of bursting into something that looks to us momentarily like the flame.

Upcoming shows

Human Skull circa 1930, oil on linen

Human Skull, circa 1930, oil on linen

My work will be featured in a number of shows this spring and summer. It was a bit of good news just in time to pick up my mood this morning that I’ll have a painting in the 29th Tallahassee International at Florida State University. I’m honored to be among some impressive company.  I’d like to know more about Cynthia Mason’s work, for example. Here are some shows on schedule so far:

SOUTHWORKS, Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation, April 11 – May 9.

PROVERBS AND COMMONPLACES, Oxford Gallery, May 3-June 14.

POLARITIES, Still Lifes and Other Oppositions, solo exhibition, Viridian Artists, June 10-June 28. Reception: June 12, 6-8pm.

29th TALLAHASSEE INTERNATIONAL, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, Aug. 25 to Oct. 5.

INTERNATIONAL PAINTING ANNUAL 4 Exhibition in Print, Manifest.

I hope to get into a couple more, but if I don’t, I can’t promise that I’ll keep you informed about it.



Gallery mortality alert

Nicole Klagsbrun, who closed her Chelsea gallery last year

Nicole Klagsbrun, who closed her Chelsea gallery last year /Photo: Christopher Burke

Long  directories of open galleries and the recent overview of the gallery scene in the New York Times to the contrary, your trusty sentinel will continue to conduct his ongoing gallery death watch. Many seem to believe lately that all we’ll have in the future are buyers with jet lag from art fair hopping or carpel tunnel from Web surfing, followed by the writing and mailing of checks. The Internet has been good to me, in that regard, now and then, and may bring buyers in the future, thanks primarily to Art Brokerage, but a solo show in a gallery is for me the equivalent, in music, of a great album, as opposed to a single. Where are the White Albums, the One Man Dogs, the Evil Empires of our day? Well, actually, some bands, like Spoon, do produce integrated sets of music on LP. Gimme Fiction, for example. Fox Confessor Bring the Flood, which is all of a piece, from Neko Case. The album as a coherent unit of creative effort survives. And great solo shows, like Susie MacMurray’s at Danese, are still happening. I’d hate to lose them. The best shows are greater than the sum of their parts. The museums we will have always with us, anyway, right? But the loss of galleries is just another loss of Main Street mom-and-pop commerce in favor of the big box warehouse. This article tries to finger the culprits, but it’s pretty much everything: our top-heavy ancien regime income distribution (that wouldn’t be a pejorative historical reference if the super rich woke up to what’s needed), the Internet, the art fair, and, I think, the way art has tended since, well, Manet, addressing itself to a more and more exclusive, insular audience. Art is itself part of the problem when it’s a cerebral, clever, recherche exercise addressed to a tiny coterie of initiates and forgets that mysterious beauty is Job One.

From the piece by Anthony Haden-Guest: “One truism is that the market now governs the art business as never before and that the market is subject to the 99/1 effect, as most markets seem to be these days. What I mean by this is that there is generally one percent of winners in a market and then there is everybody else.”


2014 Season Announcement Party Rocks!

Britt announced its 2014 line up of artists this Wednesday to a packed house of excited Britt Festival subscribers, TV reporters, and local businesses.  Donna Briggs, Britt Festival’s President and CEO, presented the artists creatively, offering patrons the opportunity to guess the band from the song, played with gusto by the Matt Hill Trio.  (All photos were taken by Vicki Rosette).


The stage was absolutely packed with Britt Festival patrons who were wined and dined with a delightful display of local wines and beers and gourmet pizza.  People reconnected, toasted to the upcoming season, and discovered new artists as video played of the headliners gracing our stage this season.


Britt staff member Bow Seltzer (left) and Britt Board member Jim Earley reconnect.


Ken and Linda Reeder look forward to hearing the Season Announcement.


The Matt Hill Trio plays “Kokomo,” while guests play “Guess that Artist,” to win Britt-focused prizes!


Paula and Terry Erdmann enjoy local wines.

Sue McNally

Spring Eclipse after Burchfield, Sue McNally, oil on canvas

Spring Eclipse after Burchfield, Sue McNally, oil on canvas

Wonderful painting. Instantly recognizable as a “cover version “–in musical terms–of Burchfield’s painting, and yet it stands on its own perfectly, and is clearly the work of this artist, Sue McNally. A great example of how creative work can draw deeply from earlier art, without “commenting” on it in a postmodern way, but simply by absorbing what was most powerful in the past and extending, deepening it, personalizing it.

Everything must go. Maybe.

Bruegel's Wedding Dance, detail

Bruegel’s Wedding Dance, detail

In a recent story in the New York Times about Detroit’s dilemma, whether to sell its art collection to pay its debts in bankruptcy, Robert Frank suggests that the art market ought to be seeking out lesser-known work by emerging artists rather than bidding up the value of “masterpieces” in turf battles for trophies. Yet what the article emphasized for me was how dismal it is, indeed, to reduce a work of art to its economic role in the world, as if its price is an accurate way to express its value in the lives of those who make or encounter it. “Yes, communities benefit from famous paintings, but they also benefit from safer roads and better schools.” Oh well. On a completely different note, apparently, if Detroit decided to hold its garage sale, I might actually be able to own Bruegel’s Wedding Dance for $200 million? That would be the highest price ever paid for a painting, but somehow it sounds like a bargain in a world where you add a trillion here and a trillion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. From the article, whose opening summarizes the plight of talented artists working in the “long tail” of the market everywhere:

Yet the point remains that prices affect the options we face. Relative to famous art, lesser-known works have become much cheaper in recent years, despite no evidence of any decline in their quality. In a rational world, this change would encourage curators to invest more heavily in emerging artists.

Many of these artists produce works that are deeply affecting, yet surprisingly affordable. Talented curators could assemble collections of their art that would delight visitors and draw fulsome praise from critics. And as those works became better known, their value would climb rapidly.

Ownership by public or nonprofit institutions is also not a prerequisite for public exhibition of prized art. The superrich pay so much for these works largely because they are already so famous. Yet being chosen for prominent display in public spaces was how many of these works became famous in the first place. If fewer museums owned them, the rich would have good reason to lend them more often for public display, as indeed many already do, thus preserving and enhancing their value. If sold, many of the institute’s famous works would return as loaners, along with such works from other collections.

If billionaires choose to bid up the prices of trophy art, that’s their privilege. And because most of them will die with large fortunes unspent, they can buy what they want without having to buy less of other things they value. But because money for worthy public purposes is chronically in short supply, city officials and true philanthropists must grapple with agonizing trade-offs.

Yes, communities benefit from famous paintings, but they also benefit from safer roads and better schools.