From Where Inspiration Arises

One can never tell from where inspiration arises. The Maker Movement is one of the best, most inspiration movements to have arisen in the United States since the Boy or Girls Scouts. The Maker Movement draws inspiration from circumstances and people from all walks of life, is not limited by race or gender, and is a fantastic activity for all family members.

I’d like to be a Maker, one day. Right now, I try to encourage people to do more making, to help them see how one thing can become something else, and how that something else can become this third thing.

I do make maps; I’m a geographer and part-time cartographer. I enjoy being given numbers and making a map from those numbers. Maps, are, after all, simply graphical representations of data associated with some sort of space. But, I’m not a Maker in spite of having a Maker badge. I don’t feel as if I’ve earned my wings, so to speak.

Around me, though, their are people who are honest to goodness Makers.

On the left, a self-bound book with a self-made cover sits atop a topographic map. One morning, I mentioned to the class so many cool things can be made with satellite imagery. Working with satellite imagery is nothing more than working with TIFF images. Remote sensing specialists, which I can claim some connection to, having performed numerous remote sensing projects for fun and profit, may balk at my  cavalier attitude towards satellite imagery. The reality is, anyone can download Landsat 8 imagery, manipulate the TIFF files using GIMP, or Paint.Net, or Adobe Illustrator, or Corel.

I mentioned this possibility to my class, offering to help anyone who wanted to try to use Landsat 8 imagery for something other than the typical land use/land cover analysis. A student of mine took my idea to heart. She didn’t ask me for help; I only planted the seed of an idea. She took the idea back to her book-binding class. The student took an idea posed to her in a STEM course, my cartography course, and used that idea to develop a book cover for her Fine Arts course. I give her tips along the way, suggesting how she might manipulate the color channels to enhance some landscape features versus other landscape features. In other words, not everything needs to appear in their natural colors. Now, she has a bunch of ideas for her book-binding course, stemming from a STEM course. And, I encouraged her to open an Etsy store and she could begin selling her unique, custom-made, self-bound journals. Maybe she will.

The image on the right is a showcase of work produce by local artisan Wyatt Severs. I haven’t known Wyatt very long, perhaps a year at this point, but this fellow is the type of woodsmith who can see shapes in wood no one else can see. The bowl resting on the pedestal is an amazing single-piece of wood turned with care and precision. Wyatt crafts his unique pieces generally from single chunks of wood, from local timber felled from weather, or the results of farmers clearing land. His favorite tool is a lathe, though Wyatt can form functional wood art using a simple pocketknife. In 2015, Wyatt was the recipient of the Emerging Artist Award from the Kentucky Arts Council in recognition of his efforts. When not helping local kids learn and improve their wood-working skills, Wyatt can be found at Penland School of Crafts, in Penland, North Carolina. Penland is a brilliant artist colony where artists share, collaborate, and hone their skills. Wyatt is a true Maker, beginning with little more than a vision, an inspiration, and making that vision manifest. Check out Wyatt Severs web site here.

There are those in government who don’t understand how inspiration works. There view is narrow and limited. They believe the only way to success is through obtaining an MBA, or becoming a licensed electrician, or a certified public accountant. The problem with that perspective is not that those achievements can’t happen – they clearly do – but the hubris infused in a limited perspective eliminates all other pathways to success, reduces success to a very simple construct which may not work for everyone and excludes many permutations to success. And that is horrible.

STEM cannot and should be the solitary road to success, nor should STEM become the primary focus or emphasis for funding in higher education. Engineers need inspiration found in Fine Arts. Physicists need inspiration in painting, playing piano, or poetry. Our global economy is becoming more intricately connected each day; our business people need to be sensitive to multiples cultures, speak their languages, be familiar with their history and geography. Those are pathways to success.

Ignoring liberal arts and the role those topics play in creating a robust and nimble workforce sets a dangerous precedent, will have a deleterious affect which won’t be responsible for destroying our economy but will force us to go through yet another massive restructuring in order to right the wrongs. Do we really want to have a conversation in 30 years: “You know, eliminating the Humanities and Fine Arts departments in the United States really was a bad idea. Who knew? Who among us could have foretold the United States would have slid from the world’s #1 economy to the world’s 17th economy in about a generation? Who could see that coming?” I’m not alone is seeing this problem, I’m just a voice in the ether. However, our elected officials are immune to seeing this as a problem, are seemingly ignorant of the impact of their narrow-mindedness. From Sam Brownback in Kansas, Bruce Rauner in Illinois, and Matt Bevin in Kentucky, several of our elected officials lack the intellectual capacity to see the dangerous course they are setting their states upon.

Because we cannot know for sure from where inspiration arises and we shouldn’t allow our own bias, our own hubris, or politics impair the success of people.

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