Art, Science, and the Wild

In his Fall 2019 Publisher's Note, Will Hearst ruminates on the importance of staying unmoored.

Alta's editor and publisher Will Hearst.
Alta’s editor and publisher Will Hearst.

Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

—Mark Twain

At medieval universities, there were two parts to the curriculum: the trivium, concerning the arts, and the quadrivium, generally covering the sciences. The notion was to define and impart to students the essential thinking skills of a classical education.

Alta has a less grand ambition. Our editorial perspective celebrates originality and creativity. The people who migrated to California and the West, and their descendants who prefer to live and work here, have been equally inspired by achievement in the arts and by advances in science.

So we define arts and culture broadly, to include design, craft, engineering, adventure, and all voyages of exploration and of human expression.

In the 1970s, Yvon Chouinard, who went on to found the company Patagonia, was already an accomplished rock climber. He started to make technical equipment for other climbers and soon began publishing a catalog. Those Great Pacific Iron Works issues included essays by people who used his gear and were writing about their own expeditions, which spurred others to get outside and experience nature. Technology and inspiration went hand in hand.

Or consider David Brower, who founded Friends of the Earth and had been the executive director of the Sierra Club. In his youth, he’d been a prominent climber in Yosemite. Brower told me that one of the most powerful ways to persuade people to preserve wild country was to show them the Sierra Club’s Exhibit Format coffee-table books, with their beautiful oversize nature photographs. When people saw—in exquisite detail—the land and the landscape, and what was at risk, they were more moved to take action than by political arguments alone.

Those pioneers convinced us that a journal of arts and culture in the West should commit to showing the natural world, melding the practical and the inspirational, and staying amazed by wild places.

We are not the first to follow this path. Half a century ago, Stewart Brand created the Whole Earth Catalog, soon following it up with CoEvolution Quarterly. Brand’s celebration of know-how, beauty, green ethics, and toolmaking inspired a generation—the same cohort who created Silicon Valley and commercialized NASA.

Brand was not alone. A few decades later, Richard Saul Wurman launched the TED conferences in Monterey, California. The initials stood for technology, entertainment, and design. The annual gathering was an instant hit, drawing people from Hollywood and Silicon Valley and also attracting musicians, photographers, activists, and adventurers. It was a place where people like architect Frank Gehry could sit alongside deep-sea explorer Robert Ballard, information technology pioneer Ted Nelson, and musician Herbie Hancock.

Arts and culture should be defined broadly. As Twain noted, discovery depends on the explorer, not remaining moored in a safe harbor.

Will Hearst is the editor and publisher of Alta Journal, which he founded in 2017.
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