Back in the 1960s, when he was a professor at Purdue University, the late Steven Sample was hired by an appliance manufacturer to devise a new way to control a dishwasher. At that time, technology was making leaps forward, but the dishwasher’s basic operating system remained stagnant.
Initially, Sample – who went on to be president of the University of Southern California – found his thinking mired in the prevailing systems. So he stretched out on the floor of his family room, closed his eyes and imagined how a dishwasher would work if it were controlled by … ladybugs … French horns … trees … hydroelectric dams … all working separately and together. Ten minutes later he got the idea that led to the digital circuitry that controls home appliances to this day.
What Sample embodied on his family room floor a half century ago is what Indiana Humanities and the Arts Council will encourage at TILT: An Arts & Humanities Mixer: the understanding that our minds work most creatively when we encourage unlikely collisions of thought.
TILT brings together unlikely collaborators to discuss unconnected topics, and then invites the audience to link the two topics in wild and fun Q&A sessions.
When we launched TILT last year, the result was exhilarating, hilarious and insightful. It prompted mental gymnastics and conversational jujitsu. By drawing dotted lines between unrelated ideas, it drew people together. It taught, enlightened, inspired, engaged and delighted.
In other words, it did all of the things the arts and humanities do every day. Think about it: The humanities (such human pursuits as literature, history, poetry, religious studies and ethics) and the arts (such creative expressions as dance, music, painting, sculpture and film) are the things that allow us to reflect and reflect on our humanity.
We hope you can join us for our last TILT event on Tuesday, Oct. 25 (Science Fiction and 16 mm Film).
As a warm-up (or in case you cannot join us), we want to challenge you to acknowledge October as National Arts & Humanities Month by engaging in your own brain-tilting activities. Not sure how to start? Here are a few suggestions.
Gather with friends at an ethnic restaurant to discuss the American history lessons that made the biggest impressions on each of you when you were younger. Read an article about a topic unfamiliar to you. Have a friend read a piece of unrelated fiction. Talk about how the two pieces of writing are similar or different.
Gather friends to consider an everyday object – a piece of farm machinery, for example, or a chair or ink pen – not as a practical item but as a carefully designed piece of art. Debate what you think the designer was trying to create from an aesthetic point of view.
With friends, watch a dance performance without knowing the title or subject matter of the dance. Then have each person separately create a story based on his or her interpretation of the performance. Compare stories, and then compare them to the actual subject matter of the dance.
Do what Sample did in his quest for new ideas: Together with a friend, imagine how your dishwasher would work if it were powered by ladybugs, French horns, electronics or some other unlikely means.
The point of these exercises? The collision of ideas, connections with other people and a new way of thinking. It is what creativity is all about. Or, to put it another way, it is the very things that, each and every day, define and derive from the arts and the humanities.
This piece was written by Keira Amstutz, President & CEO, Indiana Humanities, and Dave Lawrence, President & CEO, Arts Council of Indianapolis. The last TILT: An Arts & Humanities Mixer will be held at 5:30 p.m. on October 25 at Gallery 924 in downtown Indianapolis. Grab your seat here.