Friday, April 27, 2007

Impressionist Painters

After my visit to MOMA in New York last month, my niece sent me this link this article "A New Look at Impressionists’ Failing Vision" by Nicholas Bakalar in the New York Times about recent research that connects speculation on actual vision questions of the French Impressionist painters to their art. Bakalar quotes and links to an opthamologist on the subject:

And in Degas’s work, the shading lines and details of the faces became increasingly blurred as his disease, probably a form of macular degeneration, progressed over 20 years. A French critic called his later sketches “the tragic witnesses of the battle of the artist against his infirmity.”

In a recent article in The Archives of Ophthalmology, Dr. Michael F. Marmor, a professor of ophthalmology at Stanford, used computer simulations to create images of what these artists might have seen as their vision declined.

“Here we can see ourselves what they were seeing through their eyes,” Dr. Marmor said. “Critics have known that these men had failing vision, but I don’t think they could appreciate what it meant to these artists. It gives both new respect for what they could do with limited vision, but also gives us reason to re-examine perhaps what these paintings mean in the evolution of these artists’ style and work.”

Because I majored in Art History at Bryn Mawr years ago and loved, as many do, the work of the Impressionist painters, this perspective is both intriguing and maybe saddening, to think that maybe their genius was "only" (?) the result of vision problems.


Friday, April 20, 2007

To work or not?

Leslie Bennetts has updated Betty Friedan. In her new book, Feminine Mistake, discussed on the blog "Fearless Voices," Bennetts argues that women should be alert to financial reality and not quit careers just to stay at home with children. As she says on that blog post above,
I wrote The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? because the typical reporting on the job-versus-family issue was so biased and incomplete. The media gave lots of coverage to women who quit the labor force to become full-time mothers, but they treated this decision as if it were simply a lifestyle choice. They never seemed to mention the risks of economic dependency -- or the myriad benefits of work. As a result, women were being lulled into a dangerous sense of complacency about relinquishing their financial autonomy. Why wasn't anyone telling the truth about how much they were sacrificing -- or what the consequences could be?
I so agree. Though of course, being raised in the "old days" I heard more about finding a husband than settling on a career. When I changed my undergrad major from math to Art History, people told me this was a bad career move. But when I was a senior and one of my art history professors asked if I were going to grad school, I was astonished. Of course not, I said, then. And little did I know that I would later, and am so glad. The summer before I started college my mother sent me to secretarial school "in case I ever needed a job." But the emphasis on girls in those days was always getting married and not careers. So Bennetts is right on, I think. Nowadays, everyone needs a career, a life calling, and financial independence. That room of one's own and 500 pounds (I wonder what the equivalent would be in dollars now?) a year.

But Bennett says that while she didn't expect everyone to agree, neither was she expecting such a backlash. Says Bennett,
Everyone knows that authors have to be prepared for negative reviews. What I didn't anticipate was an avalanche of blistering attacks by women who hadn't read my book but couldn't wait to condemn it. Their fury says a great deal about the current debate over women's choices -- all of it alarming.
Of course some of the opposition probably also would criticize Friedan. Years after Friedan wrote Feminine Mystique in 1963, I read it and thought that I recognized many of the frustrations my mother must have felt leaving her successful job when she married. All those years taking care of me, she lacked the satisfaction of her own work. Luckily, once I was in school, she went back to work she enjoyed. I have often wondered if this depression and lack of self direction was a factor in her developing Alzheimer's.

Bennetts' says that,
I hope I'm wrong about this. Maybe the stay-at-home moms will devour the information in The Feminine Mistake and debate my findings in their book clubs. Maybe some of them will even reconsider their choices and start making more sensible plans for the future than relying on the blithe assumption that there will always be an obliging husband around to support them. But judging by the opening salvos, I wouldn't bet the whole suburban Colonial on it.
This sounds a bit like Bennetts may be criticized as Friedan was for writing to and about upper middle class women who might even have a Colonial house in suburbia, rather than to poor women who have always had to work.

When I look around at the students here at OSU in our business writing classes, they seem so eager and powerful. I just hope that attitude lasts. And that they always have a house.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Update on "ThoughtCast"

In a previous post I used the word "Thoughtcast" to summarize these little think pieces of mine here. I mentioned that I had heard the term in a presentation at the CCCC conference in New York and found it a nice concept.

It turns out that the word "ThoughtCast" is a trademarked name used by Boston public radio station WGBH public radio station to describe "a podcast and public radio interview program with authors, academics and innovators" hosted by Jenny Attiyeh who says that "ThoughtCast offers something that is glaringly absent from the media today: a bridge between the publications and pursuits of the intellectual world and a curious, informed, mainstream audience."

Naturally, I was glad to know this and quite willing to clarify the point with any readers. I guess Jenny is now one of my readers, as she found my use of the word and wrote to let me know. A very nice "cease and desist" notice.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

I never knew Kurt Vonnegut

This morning the sad news of the death of Kurt Vonnegut, whose work I have yet to read. But in reading this article by Jackie Blaise from USA Today quoted by WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee, about his death, I am inspired by this lovely quote to sample him:

The article reports on Vonnegut's background and philosophy:

Maybe now is the time to meet this highly-respected author.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Teaching Online?

Today's Wired Campus Blog from the Chronicle of Higher Ed provides a post by Andrea Foster on adjunct teaching online drawn from a recent book How to Teach Online (and Make $100,000 a year) by Becky Brown who claims to have done just this. Brown's website does not say which classes she is teaching online. I wonder if any of these are writing classes? Granted that our MA's are eager for teaching jobs and that many of our students find online courses more convenient, still I wonder if this is the panacea that Brown claims.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Life outside Google? Does Wikipedia know all?

According to Stacy Schiff's July 2006 New Yorker essay "Know it All" (with editor's note), Wikipedia does not want any original research: " Among other things, the prohibition against original research heads off a great deal of material about people’s pets." Of course Wikipedia lets - encourages - requires? - its contributors to use screen names, which resulted in the interesting disclosure in the editor's note at the end that one frequent contributor turned out not to have the credentials he claimed.

The new kid on the block - Citizendium - founded by Larry Sanger, a former Wikipedia associate, not only allows real names, but requires them. In a recent blog post by Brock Read,
According to Larry Sanger, the site’s founder, it’s about civility and perception.“Anonymity tends to make people into jerks if they have any tendencies in that direction,” he told CNET News in an interview. Mr. Sanger has long criticized Wikipedia, which he helped found, for being too accommodating to trolls and vandals, but he says there are other benefits to removing the veil of anonymity.

The question of reality and originality comes up here as well. Schiff notes that Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's co-founder
"cites the Google test: “If it isn’t on Google, it doesn’t exist.” There's a thought to ponder.


Right on, Target

Ever since I got home from the C's conference in New York, I have wanted to thank Target stores for their generous (probably tax deductible) support of the weekly free admission time, Fridays 4-8 p.m. at the Museum of Modern Art around the corner from the Hilton.

I hadn't been to MOMA in 30 years and was pleased to find old favorites, such as Van Gogh's "Starry Night" (the verison with the crescent moon), and sad to not find Picasso's "Guernica" which went back to Spain om 1981. According to Wikipedia, the transfer of the painting was disputed:

However, MOMA were reluctant to give up one of their greatest treasures and argued that a constitutional monarchy did not represent the republic that had been stipulated in Picasso's will as a condition for the painting's return. Under great pressure from a number of observers, MOMA finally ceded the painting to Spain in 1981.

What an interesting juxtaposition of images. What does this tell us about America?


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Why are we teaching this stuff?

Here's a great post by James Lang that will help answer a student's question: Why do I have to learn this stuff? His suggestion to put rationale at the top of every assignment is not new - especially not new to K-12 teachers who write detailed lesson plans for every class. But it is essential. If we cannot answer concisely and cogently why we are teaching what we are teaching, then probably we need to think more deeply.

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Introducing College Students to the Gray Lady

The New York Times, known as the Gray Lady, according to Wikipedia:

"...for its staid appearance and style, [and...] often regarded as a national newspaper of record, meaning that it is frequently relied upon as the official and authoritative reference for modern events..."

(I still need to find out when and who started this nickname- Urban Dictionary says the term is disparaging), is trying to keep college students interested in newspapers, according to a new post by Scott Carlson on the Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus Blog.

Certainly, I strive to get my students to read newspapers so they are informed and can enter the ongoing conversation about topics. Extra credit if they get something published in the school newspaper, the Daily Barometer, whose top story today is about internet connection and social networking, or the alternative conservative weekly The Liberty.

Last term four students had articles or letters published. This is great.