November 2010


{JB103} Happy 103rd Birthday, Jacques Barzun!
Few individuals live to be 103. Fewer still are as fortunate as America's pioneer cultural historian Jacques Barzun to be still actively pursuing their life's work. By way of celebration, we dedicate this issue of Aristos to our epistolary friend, with all good wishes for his 103rd birthday (on November 30th) and in the days that follow. To mark the occasion, we've added new material to our page dedicated to him. We call special attention to the video of his wide-ranging interview of just two months ago (see link under "Videos"). To honor Jacques Barzun as he begins his 104th year, and reward yourself at the same time, you would do well to read his crowning work From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present (2000) [more] (we recommend the hardcover edition, for ease of reading), or any of his many other books.

{JB103} Prince of Humanists
"On his 100th birthday [Jacques] Barzun observed that 'old age is like learning a new profession. And not one of your own choosing.' But he has in fact followed his old profession triumphantly up to the present moment. In his breadth of knowledge and interests, grace and precision of expression, courteous and elegant persona, and unflagging (but seemingly unlaborious) industry, Barzun stands alone among American intellectuals. Vivat Jacques!"-- Albert R. Vogeler, "Prince of Humanists," The Patron's Post, Patrons of the Pollak Library, California State University Fullerton, Fall 2010.

{JB103} Barzun on Teaching the Arts
"[T]he conquest of the public imagination by the arts, by 'art as a way of life,' has reinforced the natural resistance of the mind to ordinary logic, order, and precision-- without replacing these with any strong dose of artistic logic, order, and precision. The arts have simply given universal warrant for the offbeat, the unintelligible, the defiant without purpose. The schools have soaked up this heady brew. Anything new, obscure, implausible, self-willed is worth trying out, is an educational experiment. It has the aura of both science and art." Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning (1991), p. 27.

{JB103} Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning
Extended quotations from this book.

{JB103} More by Barzun on Teaching
Teacher in America. A classic, first published in 1944. See Preface to the 1983 edition.

In This Issue
As long-time readers well know, we don't shy away from controversy. Michelle Kamhi's Wall Street Journal article "The Political Assault on Art Education" (June 25, 2010) has caused quite a stir (see In Brief) in art ed circles and elsewhere. This month we feature a forum on the subject, as well as a new art ed article by her that is sure to lead to further debate. And Louis Torres continues his forthright critique regarding philosopher Denis Dutton's non-definition of art in The Art Instinct. In "The Ad Hom Instinct" he replies to Dutton's response to his review of the book in our April issue. Let us know what you think about what we think, but be civil, please, and we will be, too, if we reply. (See "Letters to the Editors," below. For examples of letters we've published, and our replies, see this issue and search for "LETTERS" in the Archives.)

Our Facelift
Attentive regular readers will have noticed more than a few new things about this and other pages throughout this issue. To begin with, the text is narrower and bordered by a dotted frame, making the content more readable and giving the website a cleaner look. Equally important, we've added a few practical tools that online readers have come to expect. Our search bar (formerly on a separate page) now sits conveniently atop each page to the right of the simplified navigation bar.

Also new are five icons opposite the issue date. Computer-savvy readers will recognize the "share" button, for telling others about the page through Facebook, Twitter, and a few hundred (!) other social networking sites. It will also be simpler to send e-mail recommendations to friends and colleagues regarding what you've just read. In addition, re-formatted pages are "printer-friendly," and many readers will also appreciate the text-sizing (+ and -) buttons. Write and tell us what you think.

As time and funding permit, we will continue reformatting earlier content, eventually reaching pages deep in the website. If you like the changes we've made thus far and want to see the redesign project continue apace, please consider making a special tax-deductible contribution to the Aristos Foundation at this time to help make it possible--mention "redesign" if you do. See Support Aristos! on our home page.

Our IT Man
Vincent Denich has joined Aristos as Internet Editor. An independent consultant with an M.B.A. from Long Island University, his experience includes an eight-year stint with Heineken USA (White Plains, N.Y.) as Operations Manager and Information Technology Manager.

Vincent has already utilized his knowledge and experience to assist and advise us in the first stage of an ongoing website redesign project. He is developing and will implement a strategy to dramatically increase our online presence in order to reach new readers, as well as attract support for the Aristos Foundation, which publishes Aristos and subsidizes related activities. In addition, he will work to expand and streamline our select in-house mailing list, which includes artists, arts critics and scholars, art teachers, journalists, and students, as well as ordinary readers interested in the arts.

EXHIBITION: Exploring the Idea of Heroism
Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece [Image Gallery] [more], Onassis Cultural Center, New York City, through January 3, 2011. Organized by Sabine Albersmeier, former associate curator of Baltimore's Walters Art Museum, this compact show offers a well-informed consideration of a compelling theme--the role of heroes in ancient Greek culture. Moreover, it is of far more than archeological interest. It features a remarkable variety of works of outstanding artistic quality, borrowed from the Walters and from a dozen other collections in the U. S. and abroad. Among the most memorable are a head of Herakles as a Youth--capped by the head of the ferocious Nemean lion slain by him in the first of his labors--and the poignantly contrasting figure of a still powerful yet deeply reflective Aged Herakles [zoom in on his expressive face]. Equally striking is the red-figure vase depiction of Helen and Menelaos at the Sack of Troy, in which the betrayed husband, approaching his wife with the intent to kill her, is so overcome by the sight of her that he drops his sword as she attempts to flee. These are but a few of the show's highlights. If you are in or near New York in the coming holiday season, this is an exhibition well worth seeing. What's more, it's free, thanks to the generosity of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA) --M.M.K.

EXHIBITION: Mindless Drawing at the Morgan
Roy Lichtenstein: The Black-and-White Drawings, 1961-1968, The Morgan Library, New York City, through January 2, 2011. The latest in the Morgan's coverage of twentieth-century "art," this exhibition on a leading Pop art figure represents a new low for this great cultural institution. (The exhibition will tarnish another great museum--The Albertina in Vienna, Austria--February 4 through May 15, 2011.) To quote from the Morgan's own materials, these "spectacular drawings" deal, among other things, with the "theme of the brushstroke" and such weighty subject matter as baked potatoes, foot medication, and BB guns. Moreover, they do so in the style of what Lichtenstein himself referred to as the "insensitive" and "mindless" drawing of commercial illustration. Thus he deliberately "subverted the traditional conception of the master drawing"--to quote one of the curator's wall texts.

Yet the Morgan's press release extravagantly claims that Lichtenstein endowed these drawings "with a heightened psychological resonance and formal intensity, raising them to the level of high art." He did nothing of the kind, of course. Unlike master drawings, these works are not made to evoke the particular qualities and significance of the objects they represent but rather to reduce them to a mechanical, characterless, nondescript cipher. When we asked the curator, Isabelle Dervaux, why one should nonetheless regard them as art, she responded that they have tremendous "energy" and offered something "new" and "different." After all, she added, "to keep doing the same thing would be boring."

EXHIBITION: From the Morgan's Better Side
For our part, we prefer the "boredom" of the modest exhibition across the floor from the Lichtenstein show now at the Morgan (see preceding note): Degas: Drawings and Sketchbooks, through January 23, 2011. This small selection of works from the permanent collection documents key stages in the life of the atypical Impressionist Edgar Degas (1834-1917), whose innate talent was evident from his earliest efforts at about twenty years of age.

Three by Mullarkey
Must-read critiques of current trends in art education by art critic Maureen Mullarkey: "Watch What You Do With Words" (October 19, 2010), "CAA [the College Art Association] and the Death of Art" (November 7, 2010), and "Art As Social Practice" (November 20, 2010). Of interest to those in the field and to general readers as well.

EXHIBITION: The Stars of AbEx
Abstract Expressionist New York [information] [NY Times review], Museum of Modern Art, New York, through April 25, 2011. You've read about them in What Art Is, or seen images of their work online or in art history texts, or learned about them on public television or elsewhere--Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning, and David Smith, artworld stars all. Now see their "masterpieces," along with works by lesser lights, in the Modern's comprehensive survey comprising 250 works drawn from its own collection. Little of it is really art in our view, yet it represents an important, if unfortunate, chapter in American culture, and is worth seeing for that reason alone. (Fridays are free from 4 to 8 p.m.)

Tracking the Avant-Garde Artworld
Yet more examples of the use of Artworld Buzzwords (including examples from the field of art education) and of alleged New Forms of Art.

EXHIBITION: An American Institution
American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell [1894-1978] [more], North Carolina Museum of Art, through January 30, 2011. Celebrates the life and work of America's beloved illustrator over a period of more than six decades. If you can't attend this show, don't miss reading Graham Fuller's informed review (a well-deserved appreciation, really)--"Norman Rockwell, the American Friend" at (January 24, 2010).

EXHIBITION: 19th-Century Japanese Master Artist
Hiroshige: Visions of Japan, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, Calif., through January 17, 2011. See The Woodblock Prints of Ando Hiroshige for numerous images, as well as for information on this renowned artist's delightful work.

Meg Moves On
Megan Sleeper, who became our first intern last year, then our first Assistant to the Editors, had long planned to return to graduate school. Last month she did just that, and is now working toward a doctorate in nineteenth-century British art at the University of Bristol in the U.K. Previously she had earned an M.A. in Art History at Richmond, the American International University in London. We will miss Meg's enthusiasm, diligence, and knowledge, and wish her well in her studies. She will make a fine art historian one day. (See her "Free-Market Art, c. 1555," a review of last year's exhibition Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.)

Letters to the Editors
We invite readers to comment on items published in this or past issues (see the Aristos archives for examples). Letters may be edited for clarity or length, but the writer will always be consulted prior to publication.

Privacy Notice
If you are on our e-mail list, your address will never be made available to a third party without your express permission. If you wish to be added to our list for publication notices, please let us know. If perchance you wish to be removed from the list, just say the word! --The Editors