Truth and Style:
ART WARS at Harvard
Notes by Steven H. Cullinane, February 2004
In chronological order, the following notes give some philosophical background for the Feb. 28, 2004, obituary of the style editor of the New York Times Magazine. The background involves an ongoing dispute on how the arts should be regarded in Academia.... specifically, at Harvard.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004 12:25 PM
"Oh, Sara!" she whispered joyfully. "It is like a story!"
"It IS a story," said Sara. "EVERYTHING'S a story. You are a story-- I am a story."
-- Frances Hodgson Burnett,
A Little Princess
For further details, see Why Narrative?
Wednesday, February 18, 2004 7:20 PM
Diamonds and Whirls
New applets have rotating 3D versions of the diamond
and whirl cubes in Block Designs.
Thursday, February 19, 2004 12:00 PM
Five Easy Pieces
for Lee Marvin's Birthday
"EVERYTHING'S a story.
"You see that sign, sir?"
Thursday, February 19, 2004 9:22 PM
What is Poetry, Part II --
Gombrich vs. Gadamer
Tetsuhiro Kato on
Hermeneutics of Art
Kato on Gombrich
"... according to Gombrich, an image is susceptible to become a target for 'symbol detectives'.... But the hidden authorial intention... ([for example]... astrology, recalling the famous warning of Panofsky [1955: 32]) almost always tends to become a reproduction of the interpreter's own ideological prejudice. Not to give into the irrationalism such psychological overinterpretation might invite.... we have to look for the origin of meaning... in... the social context.... The event of image making is not the faithful transcription of the outside world by an innocent eye, but it is the result of the artist's act of selecting the 'nearest equivalence'... based on social convention...."
Kato on Gadamer
"For [Gadamer], picture reading is a process where a beholder encounters a picture as addressing him or her with a kind of personal question, and the understanding develops in the form of its answer (Gadamer 1981: 23-24; Gadamer 1985: 97,102-103). But, it must be noted that by this Gadamer does not mean to identify the understanding of an image with some sort of 'subsumption' of the image into its meaning (Gadamer 1985: 100). He insists rather that we can understand an image only by actualizing what is implied in the work, and engage in a dialogue with it. This process is ideally repeated again and again, and implies different relations than the original conditions that gave birth to the work in the beginning (Gadamer 1985: 100).
What matters here for Gadamer is to let the aesthetic aspect of image take its own 'Zeitgestalt' (Gadamer 1985: 101)."
Example (?) -- the Zeitgestalt
of today's previous entry:
The Quality of Diamond.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1981. "Philosophie und Literatur: Was ist die Literatur?," Phänomenologische Forschungen 11 (1981): 18-45.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1985. "Über das Lesen von Bauten und Bildern." Modernität und Tradition: Festschrift für Max Imdahl zum 60. Geburtstag. Ed. Gottfried Boehm, Karlheinz Stierle, Gundorf Winter. Munchen: Wilhelm Fink. 97-103.
Panofsky, Erwin. 1955. Meaning in the Visual Arts: Papers in
and on Art History. New York: Anchor.
Friday, February 20, 2004 12:00 AM
The Da Vinci Code
and Symbology at Harvard
The protagonist of the recent bestseller The Da Vinci Code is Robert Langdon, "a professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard University." A prominent part in the novel is played by the well-known Catholic organization Opus Dei. Less well known (indeed, like Langdon, nonexistent) is the academic discipline of "symbology." (For related disciplines that do exist, click here.) What might a course in this subject at Harvard be like?
While Opus Dei members said that they do not refer to their practices of recruitment as "fishing," the Work’s founder does describe the process of what he calls "winning new apostles" with an aquatic metaphor.
Point #978 of The Way invokes a passage in the New Testament in which Jesus tells Peter that he will make him a "fisher of men." The point reads:
Exercise for Symbology 101:
Describe the symmetry
in each of the pictures above.
Show that the second picture
retains its underlying structural
symmetry under a group of
Having reviewed yesterday's notes
on Gombrich, Gadamer, and Panofsky,
discuss the astrological meaning of
the above symbols in light of
today's date, February 20.
Relate the above astrological
symbolism to the four-diamond
symbol in Jung's Aion.
Friday, February 20, 2004 3:24 PM
Today is the 18th birthday of my note
"The Relativity Problem in Finite Geometry."
That note begins with a quotation from Weyl:
"This is the relativity problem: to fix objectively a class of equivalent coordinatizations and to ascertain the group of transformations S mediating between them."
-- Hermann Weyl, The Classical Groups, Princeton University Press, 1946, p. 16
Here is another quotation from Weyl, on the profound branch of mathematics known as Galois theory, which he says
"... is nothing else but the relativity theory for the set Sigma, a set which, by its discrete and finite character, is conceptually so much simpler than the infinite set of points in space or space-time dealt with by ordinary relativity theory."
-- Weyl, Symmetry, Princeton University Press, 1952, p. 138
This second quotation applies equally well to the much less
profound, but more accessible, part of mathematics described in Diamond Theory
and in my note of Feb. 20, 1986.
Sunday, February 22, 2004 8:53 AM
"What modern painters are trying to do,
if they only knew it, is paint invariants."
-- James J. Gibson in Leonardo
(Vol. 11, pp. 227-235.
Pergamon Press Ltd., 1978)
Those who have clicked
on the title above
may find the following of interest.
I see modern art's usefulness for Stevens in its reconfiguration of the relationship between imagination and reality.... Stevens will incorporate a device from painting to illustrate his poetic idea. For instance, "Metaphors of a Magnifico" (Harmonium) illustrates an idea about the fragmentation and/or subjectivity of reality and the importance of perspective by incorporating the Cubist technique of multiple perspectives.
Also perhaps relevant:
Monday, February 23, 2004 3:00 PM
Solving for X
On the Hudson Review, whose longtime editor Frederick Morgan died on Friday, Feb. 20, 2004:
"The first issue featured... poetry by Wallace Stevens...." -- NY Times 2/23/04
A search on "Wallace Stevens" "Hudson Review" yields a reference to
“Solving for X:
The Poetry and Prose
of Wallace Stevens.”
The Hudson Review,
51.1 (Fall 1998): 250(7).
A further search on "Mark Jarman" leads to
by Mark Jarman,
The Hudson Review,
55th Anniversary Issue,
a poem in which X himself makes an appearance:
The years into old age and death
were set then.
And I have often thought
about those years.
For this was the peak moment
in family history,
The Lord come unto Granddad....
We may imagine Granddad as played by the recipient of last night's Screen Actors Guild lifetime achievement award:
"This is the peak for me."
-- Karl Malden, Feb. 22, 2004
Tuesday, February 24, 2004 2:30 PM
The Crimson Passion
Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004 2:00 PM
Modernism as a Religion
In light of the controversy over Mel Gibson's bloody passion play
that opens today, some more restrained theological remarks seem in
order. Fortunately, Yale University Press has provided a
From a review by Adam White Scoville of Iain Pears's novel titled An Instance of the Fingerpost:
"Perhaps we are meant to see the story as a cubist retelling of the crucifixion, as Pilate, Barabbas, Caiaphas, and Mary Magdalene might have told it. If so, it is sublimely done so that the realization gradually and unexpectedly dawns upon the reader. The title, taken from Sir Francis Bacon, suggests that at certain times, 'understanding stands suspended' and in that moment of clarity (somewhat like Wordsworth's 'spots of time,' I think), the answer will become apparent as if a fingerpost were pointing at the way."
Inside Modernism: Relativity Theory, Cubism, Narrative, Thomas Vargish and Delo E. Mook, Yale University Press, 1999
Signifying Nothing: The Fourth Dimension in Modernist Art and Literature
by Dali. Not cubist,
The Crucifixion of John O'Hara
The Da Vinci Code and Symbology at Harvard
The Crimson Passion
Material that is related, though not
The Aesthetics of the Machine
Connecting Physics and the Arts
Thursday, February 26, 2004 1:01 PM
The Oscar for best picture goes to...
"... And when at last one has arrived at San Sepolcro, what is there to be seen? A little town surrounded by walls, set in a broad flat valley between hills; some fine Renaissance palaces with pretty balconies of wrought iron; a not very interesting church, and finally, the best picture in the world.
The best picture in the world is painted in fresco on the wall of a room in the town hall.... Its clear, yet subtly sober colours shine out from the wall with scarcely impaired freshness.... We need no imagination to help us figure forth its beauty; it stands there before us in entire and actual splendour, the greatest picture in the world.
The greatest picture in the world…. You smile. The expression is ludicrous, of course."
Yet not as ludicrous as the following
The Harvard Jesus:
Maureen Dowd on
The Passion of the Christ:
"I went with a Jewish pal, who tried to stay sanguine. 'The Jews may have killed Jesus,' he said. 'But they also gave us 'Easter Parade.' "
-- New York Times, Feb. 26, 2004
For a truly cheesy Easter parade at Harvard University, see
Thursday, February 26, 2004 4:07 PM
ART WARS at Harvard
From today's Harvard Crimson:
"The VES [Visual and Environmental Studies] department is still recovering, both internally and in public perception, from the firing of former chair Ellen Phelan in spring 2001. Phelan, a distinguished painter who brought in top New York artists, was replaced by Kenan Professor of English Marjorie Garber, an English scholar with no formal background in the practice of visual arts."
Here's more on Phelan and art at Harvard
(rated R for colorful language).
See also Strike That Pose.
the Harvard Crimson,
By Lauren A. E. Schuker
Summers... expressed his strong commitment to the visual and performing arts at Harvard.
“In many ways, the arts are the highest achievements of man,” Summers said, “and universities have always been focused on humanities.”
Summers added that he was concerned that there is a disparity between critiquing and creating works of art.
“You don’t have to be particularly accomplished to study macroeconomic theory or European history,” he said, “but you do if you want to study creative writing or musical performance. That is problematic.”
Summers also added that he hoped to see the University develop more respect for the arts and more “explicit academic evaluation” in the future.
Saturday, February 28, 2004 1:00 PM
Truth and Style
From today's New York Times obituary for Amy M. Spindler, former fashion critic of The New York Times and style editor of its magazine, who died yesterday at 40:
"Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, whom Ms. Spindler
regarded as a competitor when she became style editor of The Times
Magazine, in 1998, said: 'She took criticism in a new direction. She
wasn't afraid to tell the
"I don't believe in truth. I believe in style."
-- Hugh Grant in Vogue magazine, July 1995
Again from Spindler's obituary:
"In a front-page article on Sept. 5, 1995, she [Spindler] noted a
new piety on parade, marked by store windows and catalogs full of
monastic robes, pilgrim's boots and dangling crosses. Perhaps, she
wrote, 'the financially strained fashion industry is seeking salvation
Amy M. Spindler
Strike That Pose (August 1995).
Related material: ART WARS and The Diamond Archetype.
Page created Feb. 28, 2004