Thursday, September 27, 2012

Red Dog Howls

The New York Theatre Workshop solicited a comment from the audience, and I wrote the following.  "I came to see Red Dog Howls last night, 26 September.  I was lured by the promise of Kathleen Chalfant's appearance, and her characterization of Rose, the hardened survivor of the Armenian Genocide, was credible, if a bit overwrought, and her histrionic climax gripping.  I am not familiar with the earlier plays by Alexander Dinelaris; but this one was rhetorically overstrained and dramatically flat like a history lecture in its effort to be political; as it often happens with a play which tries to be explicitly political the impact is doubly dissipated, dialectically and theatrically.  Plays that excite us instruct us implicitly.  The character of Michael addressing the audience aggravated this problem; and Alfredo Narciso's talent was wasted."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writing about Death

We are advised that we write, if we write, about what we know from first hand experience, even if it is a fiction that we write.  So, we write about the death of others as we observed it and wept over it and describe the sorrow we had experienced.  But of dying we can only write from imagination because we are no longer in a position to write after experiencing death first hand, with the exception of a rare instance, of course, of a person writing after having been revived from what was mistakenly taken to be death.

Beautiful things

I love beautiful things.  Who doesn’t, you might say.  I mean I really love beautiful things, inensely and passionately; they touch my soul and elate my spirit.  I not only love beautiful things but delight in discovering beauty in all kinds of things which escapes the attention of most people who miss it by failing to be more mindful of what they see and hear and feel.  I love all beautiful things --  natural and artificial; bodily and mechanical; visual, audial and tactile; culinary, sartorial, and behavioral; concrete and abstract; material and spiritual.  Call them art or non-art, beautiful things are beautiful.  John Cage, whom I esteem, said in his characteristic Zen spirit: “If you listen to Beethoven, it’s always the same, but if you listen to traffic, it’s always different.”


Zealots sadly never realize, for the most part, that they are zealots, in the belief that they are only zealous, that is, passionate and dedicated to the cause they espouse, blind to other causes espoused by others.  If they had eyes to see them. . . buy they don’t and that’s why they are zealots.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Gift for my 80th Birthday

Anticipating my 80th birthday, which comes on 30 January 2013, I decided to celebrate it with an extravagant gift as I had never dreamed of receiving.

I taught at Swarthmore College exactly 35 years.  I started in 1966 as Assistant Professor.  I already had three-year experience teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI; but I finished my doctoral dissertation only then which I had promised in the interview in January.  I was promoted to Associate Professor two years later and to Full Professor in 1975, appointed the chair the Art Department at the same time.  In 1993 I was awarded the William R. Keenan, Jr., Professorship.  I retired in June 2001.  My career as an art historian was my tenure at Swarthmore. 

It is an overstatement to say that Swarthmore made my career, as a friend warned me.  Still, I say that Swarthmore allowed me to shape and develop my career the way I wanted, and I am deeply indebted to the institution for this reason.  I was given a free rein to teach new subjects of my own invention, like “City,” “Cinema: Form and Signification,” “Philadelphia: City and Architecture” “Hollywood 1939,” “Everyday Things,” and “Streets,” aside from the standard subjects in Art History: “Michelangelo and his Times,” Rembrandt and his Times,” “Florence,” and “Roman Heritage.”  I was trusted to organize the Department according to my design; I made Studio Arts, formerly extracurricular, into a creditable program and brought it together with Art History into one Department of Art.  

A good college prides itself on its superior faculty, and I enjoyed wonderful colleagues in all departments.  But it is the students that endow a college with distinction, and I had the fortune of having had remarkable young people in my classes.  It is my belief that there is no better way to learn a subject than teaching it, and nothing inspires me more than inquisitive and imaginative minds that challenge me hard continually.  They made my day-to-day duties a tremendous pleasure.  Moreover, many of them remained fast friends for years and decades after graduation and remain so to this day and form the circle of my best friends, near and far.  I owe Swarthmore more than a successful career and far-reaching education through teaching; so much of my happy life was nursed and nurtured by the College and its students.  This is what prompted me to make endowment donations to Swarthmore College.

Such donations are normally made after one’s demise by the bereaved -- relatives and friends -- in memory of the beloved.  I chose to give on my own while alive, not without an ulterior motive; I wanted to have a measure of control over the use of the income from the endowments to promote those areas of intellectual endeavor which represent my interests that I had held while teaching and which also represent my belief that these are the areas the College has been neglecting and/or needs strengthening or expanding.  I wanted to oversee the use of the fund as best as I can because it is my hard-earned money that I had saved by exercising frugal living through my career.  

I started with a smaller endowment of $25,000 “to support a visiting lecture or lecture series in the Mathematics and Statics department colloquium with a preference for topics in geometry, topology, and history of mathematics,” the subjects motivated by my desire to fulfill my alternative ambition for a career in mathematics which never materialized.

The second proposal was another smaller endowment of $25,000 for Silent Cinema, an important cultural artifact of ever expanding importance in scholarship, preservation and public interest; its resources are global. I wanted to support public showing of silent films, eventually the annual Silent Cinema Festival that should make Swarthmore known for it nationwide, a sequel to my pioneering effort in creating Cinema Studies.  The proposal met some resistance, however, and I agreed to expand the scope as the endowment to support “curricular, scholarly and public events that explore history of cinema, especially silent cinema, such as the annual public screening of silent films from worldwide sources, in recognition of its historical, cultural and cross-cultural importance.”

Then, for the Endowment for the List Gallery I donated $100,000 to support “a variety of educational initiatives, “ including “a student fellowship in curatorial studies, the publication of exhibition catalogs for emerging artists, on-site sculpture and installation projects, and the hiring of technical and administrative assistants.”

Finally, I contributed a $125,000 fund for Humanities Research Fellowship to support “students in the humanities by providing grants to encourage and facilitate historical research, original scholarship, and professional development, with a preference for Italian Studies, Japanese Studies, and Performing Arts.”

The approval of the donations and their documentation have now been completed, and I am ecstatically happy to have accomplished the giving, by which I am leaving behind tracks of my teaching career for decades to come in the form of a modest effort to assure the Arts and Humanities, the essential core of Liberal Arts Education, into the distant future.  For this reason I consider my Endowment program the most extravagant gift to myself in celebration of my upcoming 80th birthday.

Back in May, it occurred to me that I crossed the Atlantic 60 years ago; and coincidentally I discovered my diaries from those years which made me reflect on the extraordinary course my life had taken me through.  This, in turn, prompted me to think of my  80th birthday and the idea of making a big occasion of it with this gift.

Friday, September 7, 2012

60 Years Ago, 4 - UC Berkeley

I found another diary last week, covering my first months at UC Berkeley, jotted down in a date book with a space for two dates on each page.  The entries were therefore brief and at times fragmentary; there were days with no entry.  Late in January, I made several trips to Berkeley, and made the move on 10 February.  Prof. Schneider drove me down. 

I was received as a guest for the transition period at the home of one Mr. Long at 1195 Euclid Ave., about whom I have regrettably no memory, except that his kindness is repeatedly noted.  I was treated as a family member.  After three weeks, the University’s Bureau of Occupation found me a place for room and board in exchange for housework, and moved in on 5 March, and it was the home of the distinguished political scientist Professor Robert Scalapino (Ashby St.).  My task was nominally house cleaning, kitchen work, table setting and serving; but my diary is peppered with entries simply saying “Tired, tired, tired,” or “I’m so tired.” At the end of the semester, I applied for another place for student-work home closer, this was the home of another professor of political science, Eric Bellquist, at 2251 Hearst Ave., closer to the School of Architecture on the north side of the campus.  It was said to be largest private home in Berkeley, and the room assigned me was 11.5’ x 13.5’.  The task was considerable lighter; they had a regular house cleaner, and my task was cleaning up after breakfast and dinner, some garden work,  and babysitting for the couple’s young son.  When I first cleaned the kitchen, I washed the top of the refrigerator and Mrs. Bellquist thought I was going overboard; I remember this though the diary does not make note of the incident. The couple was warm and generous, and I was able to concentrate more on my studies.  I felt pampered.

In June I spent days looking for a summer job in an architect’s office; but with no experience I was not successful.  I had occasional odd jobs, like mowing and washing windows.  At the end of the summer, out of dire necessity, I wrote home for help, and I was sent $200 converted through a stock company with a branch in the US., this was the first and the last time I imposed on the family.  The diary ended on 17 September.

The following two summers I got a job as a counsellor at camp near Fort Ross, where I learned to ride a horse and befriended J. B. Blunk, then a ceramicist, now a sculptor.  After that I got a job drafting in an office of architects and engineers, full time during the summer and 20 hours per week during school years.  With this income and the scholarship from the University, I felt secure.  The architecture program led to the Bachelor of Architecture in five years; but after three years I changed to the old four-year program that led to A.B. in architecture in order to proceed to the Master’s degree in art history.  I completed the thesis for M.A. in January 1961 after starting the doctorate program at Harvard University.  A year later, I got a fellowship to go to Rome, where I stayed till the summer of 1963 and started teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design as an assistant professor of Art History.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Malado's Governor's Island

Malado Baldwin, Governor's Island, 2007

Last Saturday I visited Malado Baldwin’s studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, talked with this lively, articulate, and multi-talented artist, saw her numerous works, large and small, in all kinds of media, fell in love with this small painting and bought it.  The painting encapsulates the pastoral island against the Manhattan skyline, enthralling in the contrast of shapes -- geometric and woolly -- and of colors from green to pink, and charming in the clumps of trees that I read as a scrimmage of dancers with fluttering feet, which wavers and may at any moment may disperse.  It is one of the set of four shown in the New York Studio School’s 2007 Alumni Exhibition , and in my opinion the best of them.