The Shock of the New
Art critic Robert Hughes recently passed. I vividly recall watching his documentary series on public television, The Shock of the New, about the rise and fall of the modern art movement. I recorded the series, along with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and reruns of Star Trek (all right, yes, I’m a Trekkie), on my Betamax VCR, because at the time I worked evenings.
I loved the Hughes series: it presented modern art in fresh yet contextual terms, breathing new vibrancy into familiar artists. Hughes was witty, insightful, and entertaining. Maybe, you remember the show. I wonder how well it holds up.
“The shock of the new” has stuck with me: the idea that a new way of looking at something can change or at least influence a culture. Our pervasive paradigm that change is terribly cumbersome and difficult gets turned on its head after watching the series. Maybe, all it takes to change what we see is to change how we look. Isn’t that the purpose of art, anyway? To give us a glimpse of “the new?”
Alas, I’m no art critic. I’m a lab tech. The laboratory is a regulated environment where glacial change is common. Walls are covered with charts, procedures, and safety signs -- not Matisse, Dali, or Warhol. (Tell me if your lab is different!) Labs are of necessity more science than art, which is probably a good thing for our patients.
Nevertheless, the power of new ideas to shock a culture is real. Every so often an incredible idea comes along that is new in the sense of being from the outside, never been tried, or never been thought of. The power of these ideas is not simply in their novelty but in the luxury of getting to try them as an experiment and not as a fire extinguisher. We all resist being pushed but enjoy a chance to steer. It’s always better to be proactive in improving a workplace.
What new ideas have shocked your culture?
NEXT: Change for the Sake of Change