I found myself writing to a former professor that the translator of Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists” should be taken out behind the ivy tower and shot in both knee-caps. The reason being that the “Lives” are wonderfully gossipy and dishy, once the reader gets past the god-awful diction. Unfortunately, and unforgivably, the frequent infelicities of language make it hard for a reader to stay that long. We should be indulging ourselves in guilty pleasure, the naughty deliciousness of scoping out intimate, graphic details of the actual personalities of master artists from Cimabue to Sansovino. Instead we’re slogging through a contorted, antiquated dialect of English to which it is very hard to relate.
I am sparring with my middle daughter’s high school principal and her history teacher. I want her to have the opportunity to revise an “F” research paper on the Industrial Revolution so she learns how to write a good history paper. They are refusing. I don’t even care about the grade. I certainly don’t care about the industrial revolution. I just want her to learn. Moreover, she wants to learn, and will do the revision, with guidance.
The necessary disclosure: this 9th grade girl is feisty, brassy, exuberant, creative, beautiful, talented, intelligent, and original. She’s also naughty. She breaks boundaries and tests limits. She doesn’t take “no” for an answer and she won’t do most of her work. I look at her and think of that famous quote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
And then my heart breaks. Because 80% of what she does ends up being self-sabotaging. Her scrambled-eggs teenage brain has an exquisite talent for bad choices. I am her mother, I ache for her, and I am sad for what she will put herself through before she understands.
But she likes her history teacher, who is dynamic and charismatic. She wants to do well for him. She works in his class. But she started to struggle and to look perplexed while doing her papers in the fall. I started making a request: “Please let her revise a paper until she understands what a good one is.”
She also admitted to me that she didn’t know what to do. I conveyed that, thinking that surely the teacher would want to help her learn what to do.
But the teacher consistently refused it. He didn’t want her to revise and he wouldn’t help her with a revision. It perplexes me. Isn’t the job of a 9th grade history teacher to teach the kids how to write a high school history paper? Isn’t his job more than to be snazzy in class? How are the kids going to learn critical thinking unless they learn how to write, and the ONLY way to learn how to write is to rewrite?
Did he expect her to write a good paper, or even a passable paper, when she hadn’t learned how to write one? Was she supposed to simply stumble across the way to write well? Does keeping-fingers-crossed-for-good-luck pass for careful pedagogy?
I know about learning to write both because it’s my lifelong pursuit, and because I taught writing at the college level. I taught Logic & Rhetoric, aka Freshman Composition, at Columbia University. With 100% certainty, I can say that the freshmen who learned how to write are the ones who revised, revised, revised.
Yes, there are some people who are born good writers. With a small amount of guidance, they become excellent writers. But mostly writing is a skill like piano playing. The more you practice, the better you get. And it’s closely related to learning how to think.
In these notions, I am not alone. George Orwell articulated the argument much better than I can. In his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, he writes, “Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits, one can think more clearly….”
So why wouldn’t the history teacher, and the principal, want to take the necessary trouble to help a student think more clearly? Isn’t that their reason for being? At least partly?
My daughter attends a private school, and the tuition is exorbitant. One would think that, at a school charging more than most people earn in a year, she would be required to learn how to think clearly, which means learning how to write clearly.
Orwell is talking partly about diction and construction in his essay. I guess that would be the purview of the English teacher, not the history teacher. But the message about the relationship between clear thinking and clear writing bridges all disciplines. The more clearly my daughter writes about history, the more clearly she is thinking about it. If the history teacher isn’t there to teach her how to write a history paper, shouldn’t he at least be teaching her how to think about history? Or does he just want her memorize that Robert Fulton received a patent for the steamboat in 1809?
Regarding revision, E.B. White stated it best in The Elements of Style: “Revising is part of writing. Few writers are so expert that they can produce what they are after on the first try….Remember, it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers.”
So why wouldn’t the teacher, and the principal, want to instill that work ethic in their students? Why wouldn’t 9th graders be taught as freshmen that revising is writing?
It’s more work for the teacher, for sure. And a teacher who knows he is lively and engaging in class might not be motivated to take the extra time and effort. He knows the kids love to be in his class. But is he really doing his job as a 9th grade history teacher, if he doesn’t require a motivated but struggling student to revise a failed paper until it is passable, so that she learns what to do? So that she learns how to think, both about history, and about an argument?
I don’t think so.
A blog post on Identity Theft.
Someone I know used my name to send a gift to a third party. Then my private email was posted to that transaction. All of this without my foreknowledge.
This person who committed this act is generally a good person–intelligent, well-meaning, generous, well educated. Deleted: Subsequent actions by this person showed that this person is bat-crap psycho crazy.
But this breaching-of-my-privacy shocked the hell out of me. Not even my husband would sign my name and private email without asking my permission first. He certainly would never impersonate me.
Almost certainly, the person who did this does not know how much I am invested in privacy. That’s one of the reasons I stopped supporting Obama: his big brother NSA scanning my emails just didn’t work for me.
I’m actually shocked that so few people are complaining about Obama’s NSA tactics. HAS NO ONE READ 1984 by George Orwell?????? Here’s what Wikipedia says about that novel:
“Nineteen Eighty-Four, sometimes published as 1984, is a dystopian novel by George Orwell published in 1949. The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the government’s invented language, Newspeak) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrimes“. “
Substitute “USA” for “Airstrip One” and “racism” for “thoughtcrimes” and you’ve got a near perfect picture of the dystopia we are currently experiencing under the far left.
It is clear to me that the far left and the far right meet in one place: Totalitarianism.
It’s also clear to me that the far left has created the deadlock in our political system. By insisting that anyone who disagrees with Obama’s far left agenda is racist, they’ve given the right no where to go and nothing to lose. It’s so terrible and horrific to be racist that the right is left with no options except to dig in their heels and refuse to negotiate.
I saw “All the way” on Broadway this week, and I was left in awe of LBJ’s effective use of the fine, calculated art of horse trading. He got things done, important things, because he was willing to negotiate.
I won’t talk about his coarseness and vulgarity as a human being because I have a soft spot for those sorts, anyway.
Unfortunately, the far left has prevented negotiation in our political system by insisting that anyone who does not believe as they do is a bad person (racist).
Even as recently as this week, someone asked me what I would have preferred Obama do while in office. I gave a well-thought-out and coherent answer, which included: 1, going after the Health Insurance companies instead of the states; 2, reining in the NSA and ensuring citizen privacy; 3, supporting the growth and wellbeing of American small businesses instead of foisting wealth redistribution on the struggling middle class; 4, regulating and TAXING large, multi-national corporations that function as sovereign nation-states without accountability or oversight; and 5, not bailing out Wall Street, or if he had to because he is a liar and a corporate pimp of the sleaziest variety, then sending the CEO’s of Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs TO JAIL.
Naturally, the specter of racism came up. The far left simply can not grasp the concept that people who are NOT racists would want different policies than the appalling socialist ones Obama has instituted. And in that failure, they, the far left, have created the current deadlock.
Nothing is getting done, no horse trading is accomplishing anything, because the far left has given themselves a monopoly on the high ground. It’s a big political mistake.
Back to my personal issue. The company from whom the gift was ordered did not know, and could not know, that I was not the person ordering the gift. It’s hard to know who is who on the internet. Anyone could pretend to be me.
But to have someone I know pretend to be me? Shocking. Horrifying.
And it led me to think about people who experience far more than I do–people who are the victims of the kind of identity theft that costs them cold, hard cash and then time and energy to straighten out. My heart goes out to those people. I had a small taste of what they feel, and it’s not good.
Post Modern Irony isn’t worth the toilet paper to wipe it off our collective tushie…
A sub-title could be, “How to make money off people who are afraid to appear stupid.”
There is an art movement afoot. It is a movement to bring back values to art. It is a movement to bring artistry back into art, artistry founded first on an aesthetic of beauty and truth, second on real craftsmanship, and third on an extraordinary grounding in, and comprehension of, the history of art and the great, seminal problems of form that were last faced with integrity by the likes of Gauguin. By “craftsmanship” I mean years of training, apprenticeship, focus, and hard work.
An artist should be better trained than a lawyer before he or she starts selling his creations.
The art movement is tentatively called “the new realists.” My husband Sabin Howard is one of them. There’s an off-shoot called “the slow art movement,” patterned on the “slow food movement,” which affirms the quality of food and the dining experience in a restaurant that doesn’t take shortcuts but takes the real time required to make the ultimate reduction, for example.
You can eat at MacDonalds, if you wish–but we all know it’s going to make you sick.
Speaking of MacDonalds. We’ve all been victimized by the scam artists of post-modernism. One hundred years ago, Marcel Duchamp did us all a disservice by foisting a urinal on us. Okay, for 2 seconds, there’s a surprising juxtaposition, a shock. Intellectual chicanery. But “they” are still doing urinals, one hundred years later. Shock value is over, guys. I guess it’s just hard to leave the ponzi scheme.
All these post modernist pieces that have garnered acclaim–Piss Christ, Dung Madonna, anything by Julian Schnabel–they have a few seconds of shock value. And nothing else. They have no sub-stratum of meaning or value, no connection to a historical continuum and the crucial dilemmas of composition and structure and light, to rest on. HOWEVER, art critics, PhDs, and museum curators like post modernist pieces because they can blather on about how important they are and RACK UP SALES. Folks, it’s about money–scam art–not real art.
Koons worked at the Met and saw how the trend was going. He’s a smart businessman, I’ll gladly give him that. But he’s no artist, and he’s not creating art. And not just because he doesn’t actually make the stuff, he hires NY Academy students and kids in Italy to do it, either. (I hear he pays them $15 – $18 an hour.) It’s because the expensive chotchki’s he’s putting out there aren’t art.
Is it big business? Yes, but so was Bernie Madoff.
I congratulate Mary Boone and that ilk on their rat-like street cunning; I can admire a pickpocket with the best of them. They created a movement that they were able to perpetrate on people who were afraid to say, “The emperor has no clothes.” So many people have been afraid to denounce this crap for the crap that it is because those gallery owners and PhD students could BLAH BLAH BLAH them under the table. No one wants to look ignorant. And boy oh boy them salesmen and dissertation wonks can really talk! But the impact of visual art is visceral. The point is–the silent truthful ones weren’t ignorant. They were being railroaded by mercenaries.
Yes, your five year old kid can do something equally worthy.
There are no masterpieces of post modern art because the stuff isn’t worth the cardboard, dung, condoms, or lucite case that are used to make it. It’s ugly and valueless. The banal is only worth about five seconds of our time; Marcel Duchamp took up those five seconds. The fact that the National Endowment for the Arts funded this junk on the basis of freedom of expression is one of the great idiocies of our time.
Freedom of expression does not validate the ugly, the meaningless, the valueless. It’s still junk. It’s just junk that the NEA funded–to the shame of the USA.
Specifically, post modern art lacks beauty and truth. It lacks transformational power. It lacks the capacity to vault us out of the coma of our everyday life into a state of heightened awareness, heightened consciousness, greater compassion for the human condition, increased seeking for what is higher. Yes, it makes money for the brokers and museums who pawn it off on people. (I heard that the director of the Brooklyn Museum got a kickback for showing some of the junk; can’t say if it’s true, but it was told to me by an art critic who runs a foundation in Manhattan.)
Look for the new realists. Look for the guys like my husband Sabin Howard, and I guess Jacob Collins is one of them, and I really love John Morra’s work, who are taking the long road around to create something meaningful and real, something that addresses art with integrity. Something founded on an aesthetic of beauty and truth. They may not be the most popular people around, but hey, the doctor who told everyone to wash their hands before delivering babies got railroaded out of medicine. Go look at Frederick Hart’s work on the National Cathedral. I admire Burt Silverman’s portraits, too. Check out Daniel Sprick. I personally find Judy Fox’s sculptures cartoonish, but they’re cute. Worth looking at. She seems to be engaged in it and she’s competent.
Go find the artists who have studied their crafts for years, who are engaged in what art means on a daily basis. They’re there. One thing is for sure: your five year old can’t do anything REMOTELY like what they do.
These are the guys who deserve millions of dollars. I am convinced they will reach those heights–Michelangelo died a millionaire–and that the tide will turn as people get sick of meaninglessness and search again for values, meaning, beauty, and truth. We’ll find the Koons balloons in the garbage where they belong.
Last note: my husband looked at this blog and exclaimed, I’m not a realist. Then he said, Oh lord, they’re going to sue you. Just to clarify, this blog contains my personal opinions.
Day 8: Letter to a friend
Today I am most blue, missing my beloveds at home. I am following the wave of the feeling, watching it swell and spend and rise again: surfing. The thing about space alone is that it offers the opportunity for emptying out. This is not something you and I ever discussed, when you encouraged me toward this writing retreat.
There’s no good reason for such melancholy. If feelings need reasons–and you always claimed that feelings trump reason. I spent a sweet afternoon at the birthday brunch for my friend Lynn, enjoying her gourmet cooking and meeting her friends: Valerie, the documentary maker and her husband Bernard; Barbara, who will be my neighbor in August; Clara, the singer with the face of a Botticelli goddess; and Sheila, the osteopath, great-grand-daughter of a Hungarian count (the one, in fact, who saved wine!); a few others. Lovely folks, all, fun to connect with.
Naturally I made an email introduction between Sheila and our very own Wayward Austrian Countess. Consider it a nod to the Austro-Hungarian empire. They probably have cousins in common, a century ago. They probably have cousins in common now. The only people who interbreed as much as the old aristocracy are my cousins, the hill-billies. I did once tell you that there was a whole town in Arkansas where everyone is either my first cousin, second cousin, or third cousin, or all three at once, didn’t I?
When I returned, as I was unlocking my door, Mme Durand cracked hers and watched me enter my apartment. I waved but she said nothing. She was just closing her door when I stomped over and stuck my foot in.
“Madame Durand, I have to know. Is that a Cezanne?” I inquired. I wedged my shoulder in her door to open it enough so I could point.
She smiled. “Meet Francois tomorrow and he’ll tell you.” Then she shoved her door shut, pinching my arm to get me to retract it.
Sure enough, another note lay folded on my floor. “Shakespeare & Co, 1:00 pm tomorrow. Francois.” I supposed it won’t hurt to check their history of Paris section anyway.
Jean-Sven and a boisterous crew trooped down just as I was getting ready to do yoga. At some point, I have enough of surfing and emptying out: Basta! I opt for a sweaty hour of yoga, which inevitably elevates me while also evening me into peacefulness. There’s nothing like surya namaskar, pigeon, and urdva dhanurasana to lift one’s spirits. There would be far less need for psychopharmaceuticals if more people practiced yoga on a daily basis.
I promised Jean-Sven to meet them at the club for the concert, which is not until late anyway. I would like to hear Angelique, and to support her. So, yoga and poulet roti finished–a fresh slick of lipstick and I’m on my way.
Til tomorrow, then, and as always, your devoted, warmly, etc.
Go see this movie, it’s GREAT!
Now that my loyalty has been assuaged, let me discuss the movie more thoughtfully.
This latest addition to the franchise pays loving homage to the first Terminator. For people like me who are fans of the first Terminator, that’s a beatific thing. There were moments…lines…scenes…that made me cheer, because they precisely evoked the first Terminator.
The first Terminator is a perfect movie. Artistically speaking, it was extremely well done. I’m talking as a writer now, as a professional storyteller. The first movie has no loose ends, no extraneous moments, no extra dialogue, no unnecessary anything, no flab whatsoever. The entire movie argues to the specific value that machines can never be human.
What’s the name of the bar where Kyle Reese first reveals himself to Sarah Connor, when he saves her? Tech Noir. What’s on the answering machine for Sarah and her roommate? “Machines need love too….” Nope, they don’t. That’s the point. Machines don’t need love…they never feel remorse or pity. Machines are not human.
Machines will destroy humanity.
The original casting of Arnold Shwartzenegger as the Terminator was brilliant. As a young dude, he was so buffed up on lifting and steroids that he didn’t look human. He looked like a machine–like living tissue over metal endoskeleton.
In Terminator Genisys, Arnold looks…old but not obsolete. Never obsolete. No, never. I don’t care how many children he sires out of wedlock. As the Terminator, he can be gray, but he will always be relevant.
This movie was fun, and it had appropriate slow moments, too. What I mean is that, in order to be satisfying, movies need to flow between heightened intensity and lowered intensity. What I see lately–even in Mad Max Fury Road, which I enjoyed, [HELLO: CHARLIZE THERON, YOU ARE MY QUEEN!!!] is that too many movies are one long chase with explosions, boobs, and cars. Not good.
You get that kind of crap when you have too many suits involved in the process. Those people should not give a creative opinion. They should keep their traps shut and count beans. They should not try to weigh in on art–because when they do, they destroy art.
Terminator Genisys had moments of reflection and pause to balance and heighten the moments of wild over-the-top intensity. Someone exercised a little bit of control over those stupid suits.
My husband didn’t love the movie as I did. He’s not a fan of the first Terminator, that perfect movie. He asked me, “Why do you like those kinds of after-the-world-ends movies?”
Since I was a kid, I’ve looked around and noticed the insanity and evil in the world at large. Genocide. Monsanto. Bio-engineered fruits and vegetables that look good but taste like crap. Terminator genes. The unrepentant, unbridled financial ambition of large, multinational corporations that function as sovereign nation states without oversight or accountability.
The apocalypse is coming and it will be unleashed by one of these companies.
Am I really the one person who sees Google in Genisys? The head of Google says they come up to the line of being creepy but don’t cross over. I disagree. It is my personal opinion that Google crosses right over. Data mining is the latest iteration of EVIL. Big Brother is watching: Brought to you by Google.
I think Google is Genisys is Skynet.
So I am attracted to these themes because I see them being played out in front of our eyes.
Few people care. As long as they have the latest iPhone, Netflix, Spotify, and access to marijuana, they don’t question what is really going on.
A stoner is a subject, not a citizen.
The suits are winning. In the real world and in the making of movies.
Go see Terminator Genisys. And think about it.