The Sense and Nonsense of Specialization

Are the consequences of specialization good or bad? Yes, it depends on tasks; and yes, it depends on people. However, maybe the general discussion about job rotations and organizational structure can benefit from a historical example: Local autonomy of the knights of St. John in Malta.

The knights of this order were born in different countries (pre-national regions) of Europe. When the order came to Malta in 1530, there were eight so-called “languages”: Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon, England, Germany, and Castile—including Portugal. Each of these groups (or rather, sub-organizations?) had their own building, or auberge, as a meeting space and welcoming point for new compatriots. Every “language” as a division was responsible for a certain subject in the administration of the whole city, sending the head as a minister to the city government under the Grand Master, who was appointed by the order. For example, French knights were responsible for medical care and hospitals, Brits were responsible for maritime defense, and German knights were responsible for the army (ironically though, the Auberge d’Allemagne in the former capital city of Malta, Birgu, was destroyed by German forces in the second world war).

Unfortunately, we have no chance to interview the knights about the benefits and “dark sides” of such a structure. Fact is, the structure was stable (for 300 years), and there were highly educated and experienced experts in each area of governance due to the “predestination” of new members and maybe cultural “strains” and long-term experience. But, such a structure did exist on the island for the isolated cities by being “sponsored” by old Europe, and in the end, destroyed in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte—better known as the generalist!

“Nothing is new under the sun!” as King Solomon said. The specialization in the last decades in our industry and in education reaches its limits of innovation and effectiveness. Perhaps the (undoubted!) benefits of deep specialization are losing against general approach and interdisciplinarity once again nowadays?

Foto: Which talent is hidden here?

Source: Wikimedia Commons: Armour of Jean Parisot, La Valette Palace Armoury Valletta

Please read in German about benefits of interdisciplinarity:

 

Blended reality

Known the world over as the father of the „Fraternal Kiss“ graffiti painting on the Berlin Wall in 1990, Dmitry Vrubel created many more exciting works before and after this epochal piece. Since 1995 he has been working with Victoria Timofeeva, his artistic partner, wife and – sorry for this old fashioned but precise labelling – “muse”. I am happy to know both well since the exhibition I organized for them on behalf of the Berlin city government entitled “Moscow-Art-Berlin” in 2005. Thereafter I was „allowed“ to just call them Vica and Dima (I am Ira to them instead of Irina).

Vernissage of the exhibition Moskau-Kunst-Berlin

So as Vica told me, they have stopped running their open gallery in Berlin’s “Kulturbraurei”, where almost every Saturday intelligencia from all over the world used to meet, to chat and to philosophize about God, the world and, of course, art. They have decided to change the way they present their work by moving it into virtual reality. I was immediately interested in accepting their invitation to check out this concept. The same venue was not recognizable: instead of a hall full of furniture and people, I found allmost empty room with only Vica and Dima present. The bar, in the past difficult to reach because of the crowd around it, was there for me and my tea – alone. This tasty tea was my farewell to physical reality and my „one-for-the-road“ towards virtual reality.

And what did I find there? After putting on the VR goggles, it is difficult to explain the experience of VR with words and linguistic prototypes we use for physical reality – learned from parents and language teachers before VR was born. It was comparable with touring a museum, but much more extensive, diverse and comprehensive. I started the VR tour with a step into the past – the unofficial exhibition of 1993 in Vica and Dima’s Moscow apartment. While viewing the works which the Centre Pompidou bought from them recently, I moved forward along the timeline, towards future exhibitions, which will take place one day, somewhere. I did enjoy the absence of security personnel which used to talk about gardens or weather or politics, ignoring and at the same time annoying visitors. I did enjoy the personal explanations and exchanges with Dima (which were real, but technically possible online/virtually, too). And I did enjoy freedom to travel in my own time, to zoom, to skip, to immerse myself into the images I really knew before – in real time.

And this reality, new and not simply an „additional“ experience, gives me the reason to name this art project BLENDED REALITY. It is not simply the dichotomy of real and unreal. It is all and one, interwoven and something indeed blended not in the sense of „mixed“ but in the sense of a new quality. A blended format is my favorite system for my e-teaching at the university: not online courses INSTEAD of lectures and not present PURE teaching just because „we all learned in this way and we all will continue learning in this way“, but the interaction between these formats to bring the learning process into new dimension.

This comparison between VR-art and e-teaching brought up two questions I had after I was “released” from the VR-glasses and while I was drinking my welcome-back tea: Does the new „technique of presentation“ influence the process of creation itself, concisely or unconcisely? „Yes, – both Vica and Dima answer – “it is exactly what we reflect after getting into this VR-world. And not only the manner of working, the manner of painting, but also the way of thinking“. And thinking back to my half-a-year course of e-teaching, where at least one of the teachers and almost all other participants were quite young and theoretically could be my children, I made Vica and Dima a „compliment“, that they, as persons of a certain age and experience, would turn to such a modern method of working, and are taking part at the forefront of the art revolution. This was immediately countered by Vica: „An artist has no age“.

Allright, I said to myself, that would mean that creative thinking and innovative work does make you ageless and keeps you young. And this is one more reason for the journey towards VR and back and towards the use of both VR and real reality (s. venn diagram).