Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Artistic Adventures of an Ardent Amateur: Devoted to the Art of the Lecture

I was blessed on Christmas Day this year to be given the gift I needed most, and it came to me in the form of a lecture by Richard Florida on the rise of the “Creative Class”. In recent months I’ve taken to listening to lectures whenever the opportunity presents itself, so if I’m washing dishes, wrapping presents, on a road trip, sitting in an airport, or performing some other necessary but mostly mindless task I typically have my earbuds in and my mp3 player set to Podcasts. So, while I spent a significant number of hours wrapping the gifts my mother was giving to everyone, the presents I had purchased for loved ones were still mostly in their original shopping bags come Christmas morning. Luckily my family was not getting together until the afternoon, so I put on a pot of coffee, dialed up the radiator, and settled myself on the floor with the wrapping paper, ribbon, scissors, and Big Ideas, “the only regularly scheduled program in North America devoted to the art of the lecture.”

It’s difficult for me to put into words how exactly Mr. Florida’s lecture affected me, and frankly some of my revelations are a little too personal for me to feel comfortable posting them publicly, but over the course of the 57 minutes I became more and more excited, more and more elated, and when it was over I laid on the floor of the living room in my little apartment and wept with joy. And then I called Annie.

Mr. Florida’s book is winging its way to me from a warehouse in Utah as I write, and I look forward to diving more deeply into his work, but I am oddly certain that the greatest revelations his book has to offer me have already been imparted by his lecture. It was as though the hyper-distillation of years of study into a one hour talk was specifically designed to hit every button I had and eradicate all the fears I’d been nurturing for months. So while the detailed examination of those now extinct phobias will also be a joyful exercise, it is the lecture I will always remember, and the way it left me lying open and freed and new, alone in my apartment on Christmas morning.

“The Art of the Lecture.” How true. Powerful and dense and precise and bold, this art form has so much to offer and asks so little of its audience. And thanks to TVO you can sample knowledge from a myriad of subjects, tasting wisdom in bite-sized helpings, and perhaps find a lecturer who is an expert in the insight you need most.

While Richard Florida’s lecture has had the greatest impact on me, it is by no means the only lecture that has changed my perspective and informed my life. Other TVO episodes worthy of high praise are Margaret Atwood’s Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, Christopher Hitchens’s The Ten Commandments, and Margaret Visser’s The Gift of Thanks.

And if you’re interested in the origins of morality, many PBS stations have been airing Justice, the lectures of philosopher Michael Sandel as delivered to his Harvard class. The arrogance and willful ignorance of some of his students can be a little grating, but Mr. Sandel takes it all in stride and gracefully delivers lectures that rise above his students’ selfishness without also flying over their heads.

If you have further suggestions of where to find great lectures or thoughts on examples of this art form that have affected you, I’d love to hear them. Happy learning!

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