What do algorithms really want? ASU’s Ed Finn investigates in a new book

March 31, 2017

From finding a movie to watch on Netflix, navigating traffic with Waze or Google Maps, fine-tuning your household budget with apps like Mint, or finding a date on Tinder, we find ourselves relying on algorithms more and more every day. But do we really understand them? What exactly are we buying into when we offload our data analysis, decision-making, and memory into these mysterious systems? And how is the proliferation of algorithms shaping the world around us, from high finance to pop culture?

Enter "What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing," a new book by Ed Finn, director of ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination. The book delves deeply into the history of algorithms, investigating the foundations of computing in early mathematics and rarefied philosophical discourse. Finn, who is also an assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and Department of English, argues that algorithms are mediators between our idealized dreams about perfect knowledge of the universe (and ourselves), on one hand, and the messy realities of people and organizations in the real world, on the other. Cover of Ed Finn's book "What Algorithms Want," showing a distorted city skyline in grayscale. Download Full Image

Finn’s journey into the elusive hearts and minds of algorithms creates unexpected bedfellows: economist and philosopher Adam Smith and the Facebook game "FarmVille," or Apple’s Siri and Denis Diderot, one of the creators of the world’s first encyclopedia. We caught up with him to discuss the history of algorithms, common misconceptions about how they work, the kind of future we’re building with and through them, and how we can get to know them better. (This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.) 

Question: How did you get interested in writing about algorithms, as someone with a background in literature?

Answer: I’ve always been interested in how computers are changing way we read and write. Something as simple as spell check has changed the way we spell by normalizing on a single spelling of words like “judgment” and, infamously, auto-correcting “cooperation” to “Cupertino” in many public reports and papers. Sometimes spell check feels like it’s encouraged generations of students to stop trying to spell things at all! Today when we think about what it means to be human, which is the fundamental question of the humanities, we have to consider our complicated relationships with algorithms.

Q: The jumping-off point for the book is that people tend to think of code and algorithms as purely objective and rational. Where does that idea come from? What are its historical roots?

A: Scientists and philosophers have talked about a universal mathematical language for the universe for centuries. One example I discuss in the book is Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, who imagined a mathesis universalis: a language that would perfectly describe the scientific laws of the universe. Computers emerge out of mathematics, and so we want to believe that they carry the perfection of that ideal world with them. But the more we bring computation into the world, the messier things get, because reality is not an ideal space; we can only pretend to understand what’s going on most of the time.

man's portrait
Ed Finn

Q: Are algorithms tools to expand and intensify the power of the people and groups who create them? Or do they exercise their own unique force in the world, beyond the interests of their creators?

A: It depends on what algorithm you’re talking about. Algorithms are ways for us to extend and magnify our thinking, our ideas, our intelligence, and that can be transformative in good and in bad ways. We’ve all seen instances where algorithms enable groups of people to act in ways that weren’t possible before, like Facebook and Twitter’s roles the Arab Spring. On the other hand, the pyramid of wealth erupting out of Silicon Valley only seems to be getting pointier, and we need to ask ourselves how we can use computation to truly make the world a better place, and not just a more efficient profit center.

Q: Are we in danger of being swamped by algorithms? After all, they’ve already wiped out video stores, undermined print newspapers and magazines, and they’re moving in on taxi companies and loan officers. 

A: I do think the sea change of computation is just beginning, from automation in the workplace to algorithms that are fundamentally changing dating, finance, music production, and many other spheres of activity. These are arenas in which the pace of social and technological change is so fast that it sometimes feels like we don’t even have the words to describe what is happening. That said, humans are incredibly adaptable, so I think the question is not whether algorithms are going to take over so much as, how are we going to change as we do more of our thinking and our work in collaboration with algorithms.

Q: One of your major conclusions in the book is that we need to understand algorithms better. But we’re using algorithms more and more all of the time, for an ever-expanding range of tasks. So how can we have this gap in literacy that you talk about? What are we missing about algorithms, as expert users of them?

A: One of the great seductions of algorithms in culture is their capacity to simplify our choices. If you and I both rate a movie four stars out of five on Netflix, we might mean completely different things, but those distinctions can quickly get lost in the numbers. One basic form of literacy is to reflect on all of the choices that are not on the elegant menus and interfaces presented to us. In the book I talk about the word abstraction, a very important idea in computer science. Every abstraction also involves leaving out some context – some of the messiness of life – and so we need to become more astute about the abstractions we buy into.

Q: What can people do if they want to increase their algorithmic literacy?

A: There are a few easy places to start. One is to get a primer on how symbolic logic works. By and large, code is built on a fairly simple set of logical operators, that, when you come right down it, are all about switching gates between on and off positions. The fact that from the bottom up, algorithms are defined by true or false – and not “maybe” – is one basic thing to understand. Another thing I’ve found really helpful is to learn something about the hardware, not just at the level of an individual computer, but the networks, huge server farms, and physical infrastructure that makes the internet possible. People think the internet is everywhere, like some kind of spiritual presence, but it is very real physical infrastructure, and there are places like these centralized data centers that you can go to see it.

Q: Some of the most memorable analyses in the book focus on popular culture, from "House of Cards" and the movie "Her" to poetry and science fiction. How are algorithms changing the actual content and aesthetics of popular culture? It’s obvious that Netflix and Spotify revolutionize the delivery of content, but are they also changing what we actually see, hear, and read?

A: One idea I’m noodling on is what happens when every art form has its auto-tune. If you think about the art of digital photography, from high-end professional cameras to the lenses we all carry around in our pockets now, you see not only an explosion in the quantity of photographs, but also, I suspect, a rising level of quality. Most new smartphones automatically correct and improve images as soon as you take them, and that raises interesting questions about what it means to be a photographer or an artist.

Q: What algorithm do you rely on most in your own life?

A: Google. It’s not even a contest. For me, as I suspect for many other people, almost every knowledge-based question I have starts with a Google search or a delve into the terrifying array of archives Google has of my life: notes, emails, photos. Google seems committed to empowering and extending the minds of its users in very concrete ways, and I think it behooves everyone involved in so-called “knowledge work” to think about how much our thinking and even the horizons of our possible thoughts are shaped by platforms like Google.

Joey Eschrich

program manager, Center for Science and the Imagination


Lyric Opera Theatre’s new works reading series lands students at national festival

March 31, 2017

Several ASU School of Music students are slated to participate in the 2017 National Women’s Music Festival in Wisconsin this summer following the success of the ASU Lyric Opera Theatre’s new works reading of “BABE: An Olympian Musical,” a musical composed by an ASU alum and based on the first American female Olympic athlete Babe Didrikson.

The Lyric Opera Theatre’s presentation of “BABE” in November was its first installment of a new works reading series at the ASU Kerr Cultural Center. For the first reading of the new series, the Lyric Opera Theatre chose a work composed by an alum, Andrea Jill Higgins. Higgins and award-winning playwright Carolyn Gage, who wrote the book and lyrics for “BABE,” were in residence with the Lyric Opera Theatre for a one-week workshop of the piece, which has had previous workshops with Arizona Women's Theatre Company and Theatre Unbound in Minneapolis. ASU Lyric Opera Theatre new works reading The success of ASU Lyric Opera Theatre's new works reading of “BABE: An Olympian Musical” in November led to students participating the presentation of "BABE" at the 2017 National Women's Music Festival. Download Full Image

“BABE” will receive a full concert reading with orchestra at the 2017 National Women's Music Festival in Wisconsin this summer. During the reading in the fall, the composer and librettist selected two ASU students, Ali Wood, a senior in musical theatre, and Melanie Holm, second-year doctoral student in voice, to reprise their roles in the professional workshop at NWMF. 

The new works series continues at ASU Kerr this Sunday, April 2 with a reading of Ellen Reid's and Roxie Perkins' experimental opera “PRISM,” produced by Lyric Opera Theatre alum Beth Morrison, who was hailed by the Wall Street Journal as "a 21st century Diaghilev" and listed among Musical America's 30 Innovators in 2016. Morrison and the creative team for “PRISM” are in residence with the students for one week. The public reading will include a Creative Response Process with audience participants facilitated by Herberger Institute Professor Liz Lerman.

Following the success of its first reading, the ASU Lyric Opera Theatre in the Herberger Institute plans to continue its new works series at ASU Kerr Cultural Center for the 2017–2018 season.

Students throw down creativity at ASU poetry slam

Sparky Slam gives students, teachers an outlet to share their work in a safe environment

March 29, 2017

On a warm Saturday night on ASU’s Polytechnic campus, the sound of snapping fingers fills a classroom.

This noise indicates that the audience likes what it is hearing from the high school sophomore pacing around the front of the room, delivering a poem to her friends, family and other lovers of poetry. man talking to crowd Sparky Slam emcee Tomas Stanton interacts with the crowd March 25. Download Full Image

This was the scene at the first-ever Sparky Slam, held this past weekend inside the Agribusiness Center on ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa.

The unique poetry slam format allowed the kids — ranging from 14 to 17 years old — to perform their written work in front of their teachers, and vice versa.

Mountain Pointe sophomore Godelive Sadiki, who ultimately won the slam’s student competition, enjoyed multiple aspects of the event. 

“I thought the format and size was perfect,” Sadiki said. “The crowd was just the right size because it wasn’t so big that we were nervous, but it wasn’t small either. Everyone got a chance to vibe off each other.”

Sadiki was the only poet, student or otherwise, to receive a unanimous perfect score from the four-person panel of judges. Her poem touched on the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality and the current state of race relations in the country today.

“That was the first poem I’ve written in two years,” Sadiki said. “We had a diversity assembly at our school, and I was reminded about how many black lives were lost recently. I know that is something that can’t continue, and I felt the need to speak about it.”

Sadiki started writing poetry in seventh grade, being taught by the co-founder and executive director of Phonetic Spit, Tomas Stanton. Stanton served as the emcee for Saturday’s event, providing an energetic and upbeat source of energy throughout the evening.

Stanton emcees, hosts and teaches workshops throughout the Phoenix area in an attempt to advance the art of poetry in people of all ages. On this night, his primary duties included introducing each contestant, reading off their score after they were finished and filling in the assembled audience on some of spoken word’s nuances, such as why people snap while a poem is being read (they do so to show they like something in the poem).

“I am fortunate to do this quite often, but there’s always an element of surprise because it’s not a formal situation,” Stanton said. “You just never know who’s going to get up and what they are going to say. But whenever you give people a space to tell their stories, it is going to be a dope result.”

“I think we need this to become an annual event,” said Wendy Williams, the organizer of the slam and an assistant professor of English education. “The poems were really deep and personal, and I thought everyone got to be honest and real. I loved it.”

The Sparky Slam is just one way Williams is attempting to grow poetry throughout the ASU community.

Williams has been putting on different types of slams and workshops throughout the past year, and she will be teaching a “young authors’ studio” next semester. The studio will provide ASU students the chance to take an internship course for credit and allow them to act as mentors for children who come in for free writing workshops.

Connor Pelton

Communications Writer, ASU Now

ASU Art Museum receives Contemporary Craft Initiative grant from Windgate Charitable Foundation

March 28, 2017

ASU Art Museum is the recipient of a two-year, $330,000 grant from the Windgate Charitable Foundation in support of the establishment of the Windgate Contemporary Craft Initiative. This gift will support a series of contemporary craft exhibitions, visiting artists and scholars, new acquisitions, conservation, public and university programs and student awards in contemporary craft.

ASU Art Museum has a long-standing commitment to this particular area of interest.  Installation shot from “Crafting a Continuum: Rethinking Contemporary Craft” (2013) Installation shot from “Crafting a Continuum: Rethinking Contemporary Craft” (2013). Photo by Craig Smith Download Full Image

“The museum was one of the first in the United States to present craft exhibitions and programs in the broader context of a contemporary art museum within a major research university. Since the 1950s, we have been a major force in contemporary craft through collecting, commissioning artists, contributing to the scholarly dialogue and presenting public exhibitions,” said Heather Sealy Lineberry, senior curator and interim director. “This generous support from the Windgate Charitable Foundation will allow for sustained, substantive contributions to the American contemporary craft scene, impacting artists, scholars, students and communities.”

The initiative includes exhibitions that will help to further discovery and dialogue in the field and will actively advance awareness of contemporary craft to a broad range of audiences. The fellows program will bring curators, scholars and practitioners to the museum and university to engage in innovative research, writing, teaching and curating on contemporary craft.

Collaborating with museum staff, School of Art faculty and community members, fellows will participate in classroom instruction, public presentations and workshops, and informal mentoring and critiques for students. In addition, fellows will go on to distribute their experiences and enhanced knowledge through their subsequent positions and roles across the country.

Finally, the museum’s International Artist Residency Program will provide contemporary craft artists with space and support to develop new bodies of work. The university context for this initiative allows for deep collaborations with faculty and students and impact on the next generation of artists.

ASU Art Museum’s relationship with the Windgate Charitable Foundation has been strong for well over 20 years prior to this current gift. The foundation has supported several museum exhibitions, ranging from “Turned Wood Now: Redefining the Lathe-Turned Object” (1997) to the recent “Wayne Higby: Infinite Place” (2013) and “Crafting a Continuum: Rethinking Contemporary Craft” (2013). Also in 2013, support from the Windgate Charitable Foundation made possible the museum’s symposium “FlashBackForward: Rethinking Craft,” which explored critical issues facing contemporary craft locally, nationally and internationally.

The Windgate Charitable Foundation has also supported paid curatorial internships at ASU Art Museum since January 2005. ASU student interns are integrated into departments across the museum, working alongside the museum’s staff and mentoring in museum professional practice and research. After their graduation, many have become staff members at museums across the country including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Boise Art Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum.

Upcoming visiting artists, scholars and fellows include Yuri Kobayashi, Nancy Servis, Donald Fortescue, Neil Forrest, Isabel Berglund, Sequoia Miller and Garth Clark.

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum


Double the wonder: ASU artists' collective chosen for two of the top art exhibitions in the world

To be in either the Whitney Biennial or documenta is an honor; to be in both? That’s the stuff of “art fantasy,” alum says

March 28, 2017

In the contemporary art world, exhibitions don’t get much more esteemed than the Whitney Biennial and documenta

Over the course of an artist’s career, it’s an honor to be included in one; in both, overwhelming. But both in the same year? That’s the stuff of “art fantasy,” said ASU alum Cristóbal Martínez. The indigenous arts collective Postcommodity consists of (left to right) Cristóbal Martínez, Kade L. Twist and Raven Chacon. The indigenous arts collective Postcommodity consists of (from left) Cristóbal Martínez, Kade L. Twist and Raven Chacon. Download Full Image

“It’s like being invited to plug your idea into an amplifier,” he said.

Martínez is one third of the indigenous arts collective Postcommodity, formed in 2007 “to look at indigenous narratives of self-determination” and use them as "a place of creativity and a means of sharing knowledge systems," in the words of member and co-founder Kade L. Twist, also an ASU alum. 

The Whitney Biennial is “so important for American discourse,” Twist said. “And to have your contributions included in that is a very heavy experience. … It’s one of most gratifying moments of my creative life.”

He adds that to be included in documenta in the same year is “crazy.”

In addition, the group opened a solo exhibition March 25 in New York City, commissioned by Art in General. Titled “Coyotaje,” the exhibition continues Postcommodity’s ongoing investigation into the military and economic life of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, this time highlighting the complex dynamics among U.S. Border Patrol, the communities living in the San Pedro River Valley region and individuals moving across the border. The show runs through June 3.

For documenta, an exhibition of contemporary art based in Kassel, Germany, that takes place every five years, Postcommodity is installing a piece in Athens, Greece, that interacts with the archeological site of the philosopher Aristotle’s Lyceum, or school. The foundations of the school were discovered in an Athens park in 1996.

“This is the first time a work of contemporary art has been allowed to dialogue with an ancient Greet heritage site,” Martínez said.

Titled “The Ears Between Worlds Are Always Speaking,” the piece is centered around walking, Martínez explained, and Aristotle’s idea of a peripatetic, or walking, classroom. The work itself is a long-form, two-channel opera projected onto the ancient ruins by two long-range acoustic devices mounted on rooftops around the site’s periphery. “Movement takes the form of sound” is how the documenta organizers describe it. They go on to say, “Transmitted through highly precise military-grade speakers, stories of forced displacement, imposed journeys, and transformation are broadcast—sometimes sung, sometimes spoken, and at times merely indicated by silence.” The piece will be up April 8 through July 16.

Heather Sealy Lineberry, interim director and senior curator for the ASU Art Museum, said that Postcommodity’s work in the 10 years since the group’s inception has been “increasingly ambitious, site specific, performance based, technology based, always grounded in indigenous perspectives and concerns, and conceived in a deeply collaborative practice.”

“It is no surprise that their work is now central to some of the highest profile art museums and exhibitions around the world,” she said. “I have learned so much from working with them.”

Sealy Lineberry cited the “incisive questions” Postcommodity brought to the museum’s 2009 project “Defining Sustainability.”

“Their installation 'Native Confluence: Sustaining Cultures' was a simple yet profound gesture of cutting a hole in the gallery floor, revealing the earth and its indigenous history, and questioning the narrow Western perspective of sustainability science,” she said.

The group’s monumental project on the border, “Repellent Fence,” further cemented Postcommodity’s international reputation, Sealy Lineberry said, and “extended their collaborative methods to working with the complex web of social and political bodies spanning the U.S. Mexico border and, once again, brought to broader attention and understanding indigenous histories and current realities.”

A new documentary, “Through the Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film,” follows the artists at work along the U.S./Mexico border. The film's first Arizona screening is Saturday, April 22, at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

News about Postcommodity in the Whitney Biennial: 

ASU Now reporter Emma Greguska contributed to this story.

Deborah Sussman Susser

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


image title
Space exploration, Arctic ice preservation, physics & more topics at TEDxASU.
March 20, 2017

ASU faculty, students to share their ideas and new ways of looking at issues in hopes of sparking inspiration in the audience

Electricity, cellphones and the internet are just a few examples of tools we use every day that have become indispensable to modern life. None of them would have been possible without the sharing of knowledge and revolutionary ideas that make innovation possible.

Arizona State University students and faculty who have made a meaningful impact on the world will speak to a crowd of more than 600 guests about their contributions at the second annual TEDxASU event from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, March 22, at the Tempe Center for the Arts. (A research and entrepreneurship symposium begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by the first block of talks at 6:30.)

The theme this year is “Innovation Worth Sharing,” and speakers will present on a wide range of topics, including art, science, technology and education.

“Innovation is a mechanism through which we as a species accomplish new things, make ourselves better and create a better future,” aerospace engineering undergraduate Jaime Sanchez de la Vega said.

He will be speaking about his work with an ASU cubesat mission, for which he is building a satellite that will help scientists study urban heat islands by taking thermal images of various U.S. cities from space.

The independently produced event, operated under a license from TED, was organized by ASU students and is aimed at sparking dialogue and providing members of the university community a platform to share their passion, ideas and innovation with the world.

"You don’t have to be a genius to make the world a better place through innovation."
— Jaime Sanchez de la Vega, ASU aerospace engineering undergraduate

“It’s always a moment of pride when we see our students taking on innovative projects and bringing them to life,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU.

“TEDxASU has been envisioned and implemented successfully by ASU students, which demonstrates their enterprising spirit. It aligns with ASU’s focus on empowering students to accomplish great things that benefit our communities.”

With a nod to the popularity of the internationally recognized TED Talks, ASU recently launched its own KEDtalks in the same vein, which feature ASU experts discussing things like the nature of risk, the plausibility of a weekend on the moon and the future of information security.

Knowledge Enterprise Development calls the talks a “bridge between your curiosity and what ASU researchers are exploring and discovering.”

Separate from that, TEDxASU was born out of TEDx, a program that supports independent organizers who want to create a TED-like event in their own community.

At Wednesday night’s event, topics to be discussed include autonomous decision-making systems; Arctic ice preservation and carbon dioxide emission; the future of multidisciplinary education; the next revolution in physics through biology; and the future of space exploration.

The venue will welcome more than 600 guests, compared with the 100 seats offered last year, marking significant growth.

“I hope it’s inspiring, especially for students like me,” de la Vega said. “I hope to demonstrate to them that even though I’m just an undergrad, my work can still make a meaningful impact on the world. You don’t have to be a genius to make the world a better place through innovation.”

The full roster of ASU speakers at TEDxASU 2017 include:

  • Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president and chief innovation and research officer, ASU Knowledge Enterprise Development
  • Nancy Gray, professor, W. P. Carey School of Business, and founder, GrayMatter Creative
  • Klaus Lackner, director, Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, and professor, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment
  • Danielle McNamara, senior research scientist, Learning Sciences Institute, and professor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Sara Imari Walker, assistant professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration
  • Theodore Pavlic, assistant professor, School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering
  • Jessica Rajko, assistant professor, School of Film, Dance and Theatre
  • Meenakshi Wadhwa, director, Center for Meteorite Studies, and professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration
  • Steve Desch, professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration
  • Ariel Anbar, President’s Professor, ASU, and distinguished sustainability scholar, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability
  • Pat Pataranutaporn, undergraduate student, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Jaime Sanchez de la Vega, undergraduate student, aerospace engineering


National arts leader Ruby Lerner brings innovative approach to ASU

Founder of Creative Capital named the Herberger Institute’s first policy fellow

March 17, 2017

Ruby Lerner, founder of Creative Capital, is bringing her revolutionary thinking to Arizona State University in her new role as the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ inaugural policy fellow. According to Herberger Institute Dean Steven J. Tepper, Lerner will be advancing ideas related to support for faculty, new enterprise models for the institute and engaging professional artists in the community.

“Ruby is helping us figure out how ASU can be the national laboratory for testing and scaling innovation in arts and culture, including how the methods and principles that she put in play at Creative Capital can be applied in a university setting to help our students and faculty,” Tepper said. “She is the perfect person to help us design solutions in an environment where resources may not always align with ambitions. She knows how to find partners and she thinks like a venture capitalist, something we need not only across the arts field, but also within universities.” ASU alums April Bojorquez and Matt Garcia credit Lerner and Creative Capital with helping them deepen and extend their research. ASU alums April Bojorquez and Matt Garcia credit Lerner and Creative Capital with helping them deepen and extend their research. Download Full Image

As president and executive director of the groundbreaking arts nonprofit Creative Capital, Lerner spent almost two decades mentoring some of the most adventurous and forward-thinking artists in the U.S. Designed and led by Lerner, with support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Creative Capital reinvented cultural philanthropy by applying the venture capital model that has helped entrepreneurs thrive.

“It’s really a success methodology,” Lerner explained. “Money alone doesn’t do the job. You need advice, you need skills building. Get artists the help they need. Get them the people they need. That was such a big revelation to me.” 

The approach is very different from the standard, “Here’s some money and good luck,” as Lerner put it. And it has been wildly successful. Included on Creative Capital’s roster of grantees are art stars like Theaster Gates, whom the Wall Street Journal named 2012’s innovator of the year for his work transforming a neglected neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side into a dynamic cultural center. Artists who’ve benefited from Lerner’s vision and support use words like “revolutionary,” “authentic,” “transformative” and “life-changing.”

Lerner spent two weeks at ASU in February meeting with students and faculty, attending classes and workshops, and collecting information. 

portrait of
Ruby Lerner

“I’m absorbing,” she said. “I’m trying to see what’s going on and where there might be gaps that could be addressed.” She’s excited to return in the fall for another two weeks to put things in motion.

“This is such a dynamic place right now. Honestly just to get to be here is such a privilege and to get to learn more about what people are doing. I’m as excited about what I’m going to learn as I am about how I might advise.”

Lerner notes that work at ASU around sustainability and the environment is part of what makes it “one of the most exciting campuses in this country right now.” A favorite recent Creative Capital project of hers is Desert ArtLAB’s the Desertification Cookbook, which received a grant last year. Desert ArtLAB is the brainchild of April Bojorquez and Matt Garcia, both ASU alums. (Bojorquez received a BA in anthropology and a certificate in Latin American Studies from the College of Liberal Arts and Studies in 2003, a certificate in Museum Studies from the Herberger Institute in 2010, and an MA in anthropology in 2011; Garcia received a BA in journalism in 2004 from Cronkite and an MFA in intermedia from the Herberger Institute’s School of Art in 2012.)

In addition to Desert ArtLAB, Creative Capital has supported several artists with ties to the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, including painter Beverly McIver, fiber artist Mark Newport, Grisha Coleman (associate professor in the Herberger Institute’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering), Gregory Sale (assistant professor in the School of Art) and the indigenous arts collective Postcommodity.

Now based in Colorado, Bojorquez and Garcia credit Creative Capital’s recognition with helping them deepen and extend their research.

“To get that kind of support has been incredible,” Garcia says. “Creative Capital thinks about the lives artists have to live to make the work they make. How do artists have holistic stability and success? It’s not just your art practice. They really do believe in your life, as people. As artists, we have these big dreams we sacrifice so much for. So when you come across someone like Ruby who tells you it’s possible and you’re on the right path, it’s rare. There’s an optimism, but there’s action to back it up. It’s really special that ASU is able to have a scholar and thinker like her. It speaks highly of ASU’s vision and direction.”

Garcia says he knows he sounds like a cheerleader for Creative Capital, but, he said, that’s because of the results. “You see the artists they’ve supported out there and the network of relationships they’ve created.”

If artists seem to believe in Lerner, that may be in large part because she believes so fiercely in them, and in the power of art. 

Asked why she feels strongly about art and the need to support artists, she cites a quote from Joshua Cooper Ramo in his book “The Age of the Unthinkable,” about our country’s foreign policy challenges. 

Ramo writes that “there are forces for change at work that are invisible using old ways of seeing.” He goes on to say that the greatest historical disasters occurred because so few people at the time either recognized or understood the shift. “Artists,” he writes, “with their tuned instincts for the new, often do.”

Lerner says that if Ramo is right, and she believes he is, that makes the support for, and validation and recognition of, contemporary artists – all the things Lerner has worked to ensure – not a luxury, but a cultural necessity.

Read Lerner’s vision for the art school of the future: http://creativz.us/2016/04/07/art-school-future/.

Deborah Sussman Susser

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


image title
What do Twitter and ancient poetry have in common? More than you might think.
March 14, 2017

Mike Tueller to discuss the connections between Twitter and short Greek poems called epigrams during March 16 lecture

portrait of ASU professor
Mike Tueller

What does Twitter, one of today’s biggest social media sites, have to do with ancient Greek poetry that was written more than 2,000 years ago?

The connections are broader than one might think, according to Mike Tueller, an associate professor of Greek in Arizona State University’s School of International Letters and Cultures.

Tueller will be exploring those connections between Twitter and short Greek poems called epigrams in his talk, “The Original Tweets: Tiny Poems of the Ancient Greeks” at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 16 on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

“Twitter is a genre that is constrained by technology, very similar to epigrams,” Tueller said. “Some people look at Twitter and think, ‘How can you make any kind of social commentary in such a small space?’”

But “there's always been brief genres and while you can't do everything, you can do some things,” he said.

Tueller is working on a revision of the Greek Anthology (the primary source for Hellenistic epigram) for the Loeb Classical LibraryThe Loeb Classical Library is a series of books that provides access to Greek and Latin literature and is currently published by the Harvard University Press., a project that will take the better part of a decade. His research focuses on the Hellenistic period, when Greek language and culture started to spread across the Mediterranean.

“Professor Tueller combines an absolute mastery of the ancient Greek language with a keen eye for literary detail and sly wit,” said Matt Simonton, an assistant professor in the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural StudiesThe school is part of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.. “You will come out of his courses feeling like you've truly earned your newfound knowledge of Greek, but you'll also have heard some good jokes along the way.”

Tueller doesn’t make his jokes on Twitter, but he is a fan of the application. He also finds himself fascinated at how certain things go viral, finding that the fame that comes from that is similar to what writers sought back in the 10th century.

“What makes a tweet good? There are a number of different ways to do it, whether it’s referring to something bigger or making a joke.,” Tueller said. “Epigrams are often that way too.”

The earliest Greek epigrams were inscribed on monuments or offerings at sanctuaries. And just as comedians work today to create “memes,” riffing on top of one another to try and make better jokes, writers of these epigrams did the same thing as they attempted to make new and better meanings.

“They had to reinforce their cultural narrative,” Tueller said. “They wanted to prove how smart they were, how complex their literature was, and how amazing Greeks were.”

Tueller will spend roughly half of Thursday’s lecture talking about those epigrams and what made them special, while taking the rest of the time to explore the medium of Twitter and the connections between the two.

The talk is part of the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts spring 2017 Humanities Lecture Series. It will be held in room 128 inside the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Admission to the event is free.

John Risseeuw

March 14, 2017

John Risseeuw, professor emeritus in the School of Art, will participate in a panel at the Center for Book Arts in New York on March 17. The panel for “Paper as Social Practice, Engagement and Intervention” will look at “complex ways in which paper can unite and build communities or create cultural identity, and how that identity shows continuity or elicits calls for change.”

Visit the Center for Book Arts website for more information. ASU School of Art Professor Emeritus John Risseeuw Download Full Image

Exhibition brings work of 33 master Chinese artists to ASU

'Flowing Beyond Heaven and Earth' exhibition on display at ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center through May 27

March 13, 2017

The history of Chinese ceramics dates all the way back to the Paleolithic era, with different regional traditions evolving over time. Today it remains ones of the most significant forms of ceramics globally (to the extent that porcelain is still casually referred to as “china” in everyday English usage). 

This season, ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center celebrates this rich history and takes a closer look at how artists have reshaped those traditions in the new exhibition "Flowing Beyond Heaven and Earth." The show features over 60 pieces from 33 artists, the majority of whom have been recognized as national masters in China. Image credit: Xu Ruifeng, "Chang’e’s Ascent to the Moon." Porcelain, 28 x 15 x 33 cm. Courtesy of the artist. Xu Ruifeng, "Chang’e’s Ascent to the Moon." Porcelain, 28 x 15 x 33 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

“Although these artists are revered in their native China, most do not show their work in the United States,” said Garth Johnson, ASU Art Museum curator. “This exhibition is a rare opportunity for us to understand the important role that ceramics play in Chinese cultural life.”

The exhibition is coordinated by artist Xiaoping Luo, who lives in Arizona part-time. Luo partnered with the China Ceramics Industrial Association, which is sponsoring the exhibition this season to foster international exchange.

“The exhibition’s title, 'Flowing Beyond Heaven and Earth,' is taken from a poem by Tang Dynasty Poet Wang Wei,” Luo said. “In Chinese contemporary ceramics, twined streams of heritage and innovation flow together to form a mighty river.”

Along with Luo, a delegation of 45 Chinese artists and officials visited Arizona for the exhibition opening reception and ceremony in February.

"Flowing Beyond Heaven and Earth" will be on view at the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center from now through May 27. The ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, with additional hours available by appointment. Admission is always free.

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum