Hunter College and Aspen Institute Collaborate
By Margaux Montagner
Walter Isaacson, CEO, Aspen Institute (Photo by Patrice Gilbert)
Recently, Hunter College collaborated with the Aspen Institute Arts Programs, a branch of the D.C. based educational and policy studies organization devoted to the arts in America, to create a thoroughly unique experience : « At the Crossroads of Art and Science » at the Kaye Playhouse. Designed to celebrate Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute, as well as the release of his latest book, a biography of Leonardo Da Vinci, the event reflected the famed Renaissance man by mixing art and science. Eclectic dance numbers by Lil Buck, Michelle Dorrance, Chase Finley and Tyler Peck intermingled with discussion between the host, Damian Woetzel, Walter Isaacson himself and Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist, and music performed by Jacqueline Bolier, Kurt Crowley, Kate Davis and Andrea Lee.
Leonardo da Vinci isn’t Isaacson first subject. A journalist and a writer, he already penned several books about seminal historical figures: Steve Jobs, Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. As a subject, Da Vinci was an obvious choice, for his boundless curiosity put him right at the intersection of art and science on a rare level. Woetzel, who also serves as the Arts Program director, discussed Da Vinci’s seemingly insatiable thirst for knowledge with Isaacson, as well as his affinity for music, and the discoveries that resulted from them. Woetzel cited the story according to which Da Vinci was standing next to a pond as a rock fell in it, and that ripples in the water formed exactly as a bell began to ring. The correlation between the two events allegedly led to Da Vinci’s revelation that sound travelled in waves. “His ability to feel patterns within nature comes from being curious about everything”, said Isaacson.
As the sound waves of Philip Glass, Igor Stravinsky and Antonin Dvorak resonated in the Kaye Playhouse, Woetzel and Isaacson mentioned Da Vinci’s taste for the theatrical – he was a performer of sorts, like a previous subject of Isaacson, Albert Einstein. Brian Greene joined them on stage, and pointed out more similarities between the two luminaries. At the heart of their work, Greene said, is “looking out to the world and being deeply taken by the simple questions”, as both of them wondered, four centuries apart, why the sky was blue. Sound waves were also at the center of Einstein’s research, coincidentally. Accompanied by creative sound design, Greene told the story of how Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves and how, in 2016, they were finally heard, as waves from a collision between two black holes finally reached us, over a billion years later. And so, through Einstein and Da Vinci, “we learned that we could observe the universe not just by looking at it, but also by listening to it”.
Of course, no discussion about Leonardo Da Vinci can end without some advice on how to emulate him, and on that, Isaacson’s recommendations were simple: “we can all be a little more like Leonardo. Take notes on paper, make lists of the things you want to know, and be curious for its own sake”. #