Arthur Kolat: Music, Art, and Literature

Community Profile

“When I first got into library school we all read The Invisible Substrate of Information Science by Marcia Bates. She says that information science is one of the meta disciplines, and says that people who are attracted to it are good with languages and good at getting the big picture of a subject. I remember seeing myself in those descriptions!”

Arthur Kolat, current MLIS Student
Los Angeles, California

Arthur Kolat grew up in Long Beach, California. One of his early interests was music, and he would come to weave that passion into all his future endeavors. Throughout middle school and high school, he played the bass clarinet, tenoasaxophone, piano, and drums. He attended USC with the intention of studying jazz music. However, he noted “I thought I was a big shot in my high school jazz band, but I was a much smaller fish in a bigger pond in college.” Since he loved reading books he decided to study comparative literature instead. However, the discipline and commitment required of music has remained with him.

“Knowing how to practice an instrument gives you the tools to engage in lifelong learning by acquiring new skills. Skill acquisition is not something you can just do, can’t cram, have to practice over time, starting and stopping.”

After college he discovered a connection between music and literature: opera. He worked for the LA Opera, driving the van that shuttles visiting musicians to a rehearsal space across town. He wanted to be an opera stage director but realized people with more theater experience would beat him out of the jobs. 

“What will set myself apart and come in handy for theater work? I should learn German, one of the main languages of opera. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Wagner are all in German, plus Berg, Strauss, Schoeneberg, the list goes on!”

This led Arthur to Berlin where he lived from 2008 to 2013 teaching English and learning the native language. However, after five years abroad, Arthur started to feel a bit adrift.

“I had learned German to the best of my ability and I felt like I was stagnating. Sometimes I thought, ‘What am I doing here, so far away from my family?’ My career trajectory was not going to be to start a language school. Teaching English was a means to an end. It was time for my next move, so I asked myself, ‘Now what is my plan?”

In the meantime, Arthur started to see his interest in art was broader than opera. He decided to move back to America, and after some consideration, attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for Arts Administration and Art History. One class, in particular, had a huge impact on Arthur: Writing with Images, a class on fiction that incorporates images in experimental ways, such as The Box Man by Kobo Abe, and Nadja by Andre Breton. This class would ultimately lead to a profound project for Arthur.

The Hockney Wagner Drives

For the class’s final assignment, Arthur was to write an experimental paper using images. He had an interest in the artist David Hockney who designed opera sets and decors beginning in the 1970s. In the early 1990s, he choreographed The Wagner Drives, car rides through the Santa Monica Mountains timed to different selections of Wagner music.  Specific moments of the music would be set with precise moments in the ride, matching music and landscape. It was a perfect blend of Arthur’s interests in visual and performing arts, and it combined his passions of music, opera, art and language.

“I said, hmm, I’ll imagine I went on a drive with Hockney but I’ll use paintings of his…Like I heard a drive would start at his house, so here’s a painting of his house…I started placing images in the paper, and imagining going on a fantasy drive with him. It was creative and experimental.”

This paper turned into his thesis under the supervision of the class’s instructor Jim Elkins. Just as he put full dedication and discipline into learning instruments, Arthur fully committed himself to his research.

“No one had looked at The Wagner Drives with critical scrutiny. I saw that I could contribute something to the discipline I was pursuing.”

At an art fair in Chicago, Arthur recognized the New Yorker journalist Lawrence Weschler,  who had written a book on Hockney and been on a Wagner Drive with the artist. Arthur approached him and through persistence and perseverance got in touch with Hockney himself. Hockney took Arthur on a Wagner Drive through the San Gabriel Mountains and marked the routes in a Thomas Guide map book that Arthur had brought.  Arthur then practiced the drives as part of his research.

In 2021, Arthur’s work on the Wagner Drives was featured in a New Yorker article, A Road Trip with David Hockney and Richard Wagner. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross had recently published Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music and wanted to go on a Wagner Drive.  Ross was able to perform a Wagner Drive based on the original research that Arthur had provided him.

Librarianship and SJSU

After graduating from art school, Arthur worked in graduate admissions. However, during the COVID pandemic, he reexamined his priorities and began to question if he was satisfied with his career. 

“I realized that my job in admissions was an accidental career, not an intentional career, and not what I studied. Did I really want to be doing admissions for the rest of my life?”

Arthur thought about how he loved music and art libraries, and thought, “I have a degree in art history, if I get an MLIS I can work in an art library.” He chose SJSU like many students because of its reputation and its user-convenience of being a fully remote program. 

Current Projects

Arthur currently works as a Library Assistant II at the Santa Monica Public Library. Additionally, he spends time with his wife and dog and has many passion projects. For instance, since COVID he has been in a reading group organized by his thesis advisor, Jim Elkins. They meet every Saturday over Zoom and read complex experimental fiction like Finnegans Wake by James Joyce and Bottoms Dream by Arno Schmidt. Schmidt wrote his novel in response to his experiences translating the work of Edgar Allan Poe into German. In turn, Arthur memorizes and recites these translations. Click Here for a recording Arthur made of Schmidt’s German translation of Poe’s poem, “The Sleeper.”

“When I’m memorizing and reciting a poem, practicing it, marking my breath, I practice it like a song, and I try to understand the  rhythms and vowel harmonies of the language. It marries ideas of literature and music and art, and highlights the musical qualities of the translation.”

Arthur also is helping Elkins prepare an upcoming Experimental Book for publication. This fall he is copyediting the second book in the five-book series. Lastly, along with three others from the reading group, he wrote an essay on Schmidt’s theory of  panoramas as projections of the unconscious in 19th century fiction, which will be published in the inaugural PIMS Yearbook.

What’s Next and Advice for Students

Arthur’s goal is to work for an academic music or art library.

“I really enjoy the experimental research that I do in my areas of interest, like literature, art and music. The Hockney project showed me how thrilling it can be to contribute even in small, modest, obscure ways to the knowledge of a discipline. It’s so exciting. I would love to help other people do research.”

He also hopes to be published again. He took Info 200: Information Communities with Michael Stephens and wrote about the Information Behavior of Classical Music Performers. He wants to continue this research and do a survey study of the information activities of professional classical musicians. 

Arthur advises fellow students to not be bashful and pursue opportunities as they come. 

“I would advise taking advantage of all of the things that come with being in school, above all talking to people: your instructors, your fellow students, your career advisors, people in your new professional networks and student groups. Talk to people as much as you can!”

Arthur will no doubt continue to let his passions and interests guide his decisions.

“When I review all these interests and how they came about, I see, – not consciously, but retrospectively –I see that certain interests are driving me, and that they serendipitously find their way to an intersection.”