A Whole New Mind

In college, I lived on campus in the engineering residence halls for three years as a music major. I would often get in discussions and debates about current events, philosophy, theology, and various matters of personal preference. In the rare event that I made a good point and my opponent did not have an immeadiate response, he’d say something like “yeah, but what do you know, you’re an arts and crafts major.”

Justin surrounded by engineering students

My engineering friends knew this would always get a rise out of me because they sensed my victim mentality when it comes to the value of performance arts. I remember those debates with friends so well because I was at a loss. I was not able to provide a defense of my vocation to these engineering students who were taught in their first weeder courses that their degree area was superior and posessed the greatest chance of making decent money and improving society as a whole. While I’m not sure if studying music is superior to other areas, it is essential to provide some kind of a defense of it.

One of the greatest arguments for why fund the arts can be found in Daniel Pink‘s book, A Whole New Mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind–computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind–creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people–artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers–will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

Pink’s major point in this book is that, due to various factors (abundance, Asia, automation), our society and economy are changing from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. While left-brained, knowledge-based skills will continue to be important, it is now essential to develop the right-brained sensibilities of emotional intelligence, beauty, and spirituality. This involves being able to connect with the human psyche, not just bring information but meaning, not just function but beauty, and not just math and science but arts, too. He divides these into six senses: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Of course, I appreciate his use of the symphony metaphor!

I first became aware of this book at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention in 2009. Dan Pink gave the keynote speech which is available in its entirety at TMEA.org. He began by telling the audience something they’ve always believed but never been able to effectively prove as well, that “arts education is not this kind of nice ornamental thing in our kid’s life, but arts education is economically fundamental to preparing our kids for their future.” He believed that our education system does not readily speak to the need for right-brain directed skills, but that the arts do. I love this slide:

His response to reading this was “gee, I wonder where our kids could learn that?!” The answer is that all of the above skills and abilities may be developed over the course of just about any music rehearsal (except for understanding the business context of engineering).

I count this as an influence for why I chose to write about Classical music because Classical music need advocates. If students are not being educated in the arts, their capacity to understand, appreciate, and participate will cease and their money will be spent elsewhere. This is already happening, given a number of non-profit performance organizations going bankrupt. One major example is the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of our nation’s oldest, most prolific and famous orchestras.

My hope is that you would read Dan Pink’s book, continue to read my blog, and go to a concert or two in your area this summer or fall. There are often many free concerts in parks this time of year. Bring a donation. Buy one of their recordings. Meet the musicians after the concert and give them specific feedback. If you don’t, your right brain may get out of shape from lack of exercise!

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4 thoughts on “A Whole New Mind

  1. I really love this post, as it reflects my value on my own personal journey from the left brain into more of the right brain. I’m going to have to get Dan Pink’s book! Thanks for another well-thought and nicely worded entry here.

  2. Agreed! As an extreme right-brainer(no left brain function whatsoever) I was labeled “disabled” by the education world. I welcome such a shift in thinking and priority. As an educator myself, I have only seen study of fine arts enhance learning and cognitive function. As a person I participate in vocal music (choir and small ensemble) to stay sane and fuel that right brain.

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