Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Art Antidote for the Apathetic

A poem by Edgar A. Guest was used as a previous art antidote (for a lack of resolve) and you're likely to see more of him here as he is one of my favorite poets.

"If I Had Youth" is a good poem for any occasion, but it may be particularly valuable to those who need a fire relit in their soul. I myself can't read it without being more excited about life. Enjoy!

If I had youth I'd bid the world to try me;
I'd answer every challenge to my will.
And though the silent mountains should defy me,
I'd try to make them subject to my skill.
I'd keep my dreams and follow where they led me;
I'd glory in the hazards which abound.
I'd eat the simple fare privations fed me,
And gladly make my couch upon the ground.

If I had youth I'd ask no odds of distance,
Nor wish to tread the known and level ways.
I'd want to meet and master strong resistance,
And in a worth-while struggle spend my days.
I'd seek the task which calls for full endeavor;
I'd feel the thrill of battle in my veins.
I'd bear my burden gallantly, and never
Desert the hills to walk on common plains.

If I had youth no thought of failure lurking
Beyond to-morrow's dawn should fright my soul.
Let failure strike--it still should find me working
With faith that I should some day reach my goal.
I'd dice with danger--aye!--and glory in it;
I'd make high stakes the purpose of my throw.
I'd risk for much, and should I fail to win it,
I would not ever whimper at the blow.

If I had youth no chains of fear should bind me;
I'd brave the heights which older men must shun.
I'd leave the well-worn lanes of life behind me,
And seek to do what men have never done.
Rich prizes wait for those who do not waver;
The world needs men to battle for the truth.
It calls each hour for stronger hearts and braver.
This is the age for those who still have youth!

Update: Want more? Check out this post sharing eight quotes from Mind Over Mooda book on changing how you feel by changing the way you think.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Behind-the-Scenes Look at the New American Wing

The New American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been opened a little over a month already.

This interesting, behind-the-scenes look at some of the statues visitors will be allowed to experience takes us through the new wing while it was still under construction.

Fans of Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French may find this video especially interesting. Nothing more about it needs to be said. So, enjoy!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

3 Quotes from Luther Burbank on Raising Children

I've been working on a review for The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants by Jane S. Smith.

The book should be interesting to those who want to know more about the person who created faster growing trees; larger, sturdier, better-tasting fruits and vegetables; and more beautiful, better-smelling flowers.

One of the main points that I will probably make in my review is that, if you want to say justice (as opposed to grace) this Thanksgiving, you should raise your glass to Luther Burbank. That's because his innovations deserve acknowledgement on a day when we enjoy a bounty of delicious treats that he (in many respects) made possible.

A part of the book that I won't be mentioning in the review, except possibly as an aside, is his view on raising children--which many homeschoolers (and unschoolers) follow. For those interested, however, here are three quotes by Burbank on the subject:
1. "If we paid no more attention to our plants than we have to our children, we would now be living in a jungle of weeds." (p. 189)
2. "'Don't feed children on mauldlin sentimentalism or dogmatic religion,' he urged his listeners. 'Give them nature. Let their souls drink in all that is pure and sweet. . . . Let nature teach them the lessons of good and proper living, combined with an abundance of well-balanced nourishment. Those children will grow to be the best men and women. Put the best in them by contact with the best outside. They will absorb it as a plant does sunshine and the dew.'" (pp. 191-92)
3. "'Every child,' Burbank wrote, 'should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water-bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud-turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade in, water-lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who is deprived of these has been deprived of the very best part of his education.'" (p. 193)

Update: my review of The Garden of Invention made its way into the Fall 2009 issue of The Objective Standard. You can read the opening paragraphs of it here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Global Architecture Competition

I've been meaning to post this ever since I read about it at ArtDaily: Guggenheim has teamed with Google in a global design competition inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Between June 8 and August 23, 2009, everyone from students to amateur designers to design and architecture professionals can visit the Design It: Shelter Competition Web site for information on how to enter the competition and download Google Earth and Google SketchUp.

After choosing a location on Google Earth, participants can use SketchUp 3-D modeling software to create original designs for 100-square-foot structures in which to live and work.

Completed designs are then uploaded to the Google 3D Warehouse and submitted via the Design It: Shelter Competition Web site where site visitors will be able to browse through all of the entries.
If any readers design something of note, leave a comment here. I'd be happy to see it!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New Acropolis Museum

This is the new acropolis museum, designed by architect Bernard Tschumi.

I don't like the pillars that seem to be painted on the side--but I'm no fan of pillars on anything new.

That said, I think the top of the building, situated parallel to the acropolis, is very nice. And the inside of it, from what I've seen so far, is very nicely laid out.

All in all, it's an interesting building and if I had to rate it on a scale of good to bad, I'd rate it a good one. Click through to the link for some other views. And leave a comment here if you have any thoughts on it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One Question, One Answer with Burgess Laughlin

An interview with Burgess Laughlin, author of The Aristotle Adventure and co-founder of Study Groups for Objectivists.

The Nearby Pen
: If a biography is a selective account of someone's life according to the author's judgments about what is important, what makes for a good (or bad) biography?

Burgess Laughlin: This is a fascinating question. There are three related issues here. The first issue is: What is a biography? Etymologically, the term names the idea of a written account of someone's life as a whole. For some subjects--for example, an ancient mathematician such as Euclid--so little information is available that a biographer might present all the facts known about the events of that person's life. For some other subjects of biographies, so much information is available that the biographer must be highly selective.

Where plenty of information is available, a second issue emerges: What criteria should a biographer use in selecting facts to interpret and report? The one element that most sets the context here, as often in life, is purpose. What is the biographer's purpose? For example, is a particular biographer of Thomas Aquinas writing mainly to examine the career of Thomas as a teacher; to explore Thomas's own philosophical development throughout his short life; or to consider Thomas's role in the social history of his time, that is, his relations with men of power in Church and State? The answer affects which aspects of Thomas's life the biographer will choose for most careful consideration in his research, which facts he will report, and in what level of detail.
Like all writers, a biographer considers other criteria as well, such as the nature of his intended audience.

That leads us to the third issue. In deciding whether a biography is "good," one should ask: Good for whom? An objective biographer defines his audience even before beginning his research. A scholarly, 800-page, two-volume biography, like Jean-Pierre Torrell's Saint Thomas Aquinas--written for historians of medieval philosophy or religion--would not be "good" for a beginner who merely wants an overview of Thomas's life; instead, a 30-page "Thomas Aquinas" article in the 10-volume Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy or in the 13-volume Dictionary of the Middle Ages would be appropriate.

What makes a biography "good" for any reader are the following qualities, with the most important first: objectivity (all conclusions should be drawn logically from facts of reality); clarity (the author's style should reflect his quality of thinking, for a specified audience); conciseness (following the principle of form and function, the author should say no more than he needs to say to fulfill his purpose); and an entertaining manner.

In particular, in biography "objectivity" means not only that footnotes include accurate and complete citations, but also that the biographer has logically essentialized the information he has discovered. Essentialization here means that the biographer has studied the facts and identified which characteristics are causes of most of the other characteristics.

For example, an essentializing biographer of Thomas Aquinas would ask what philosophical and personal values--which are the essential (causal) characteristics of a man's life and character--explain all, most, or many of his particular actions. A non-essentializing biographer would merely present a hash of facts, some broad and some narrow, perhaps in chronological order, but without indicating a cause-and-effect relationship among the facts. A biography should not be merely a presentation of facts, but an accounting of those facts, that is, an explanation of their relationship.

In conclusion, if an objective biographer, writing with a particular purpose and for a particular audience, has conveyed the essence of the subject's life and the consequences that follow from that essence, the biography is a "good" one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Do Your Thing. And Do It Now.

Here's some more "red bull for your soul"--this time with the recommendation to just do whatever it is that you love. And to do it now.

Do other people think you can't dance? Do your thing! As this video shows, they'll come around. Writing a story that nobody seems to care about, or filming a movie with characters that nobody talks like, or creating a product that nobody believes in? Do your thing! And do it now.

When somebody does a thing that they love. When they put their heart into it. When they persist doing that thing when others laugh--so that one day they own that tiny world. When they do all that, chances are they'll get some kind of external reward. But they'll be having fun, creating something of value to themselves, if not.

What is it that you love doing? Whatever that thing is, you should be clear about it, set aside time for it, plan all you can about it. And you should be doing it. Now.

(Hat tip: Seth Godin.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Potentially Alive, 4

This is the fourth post (out of six) in a short story about how the world ends, or begins. Click on the appropriate link for the first, second, or third post in the series.


The girl in the blue convertible frowned. All the garages in her parent’s house were full of cars. She would have to park on the street instead.

“There’s a whole crowd of intelligent, politically important people here tonight,” said a middle-aged woman upon seeing her daughter enter the foyer, “You’ll enjoy it.”

The girl winced. Her mother knew she wouldn't enjoy the party. They both knew it. The barely concealed command didn't take her feelings into consideration whatsoever but it was nothing new, thought the girl.

She sighed, said "whatever" to nobody in particular, and wandered off into the other room.

A couple of steps into the mix she overheard people talking about the invention. Useless chatter, she thought.

"But it's not useless at all," said a soft voice--evidently spoken by a man on her right. The shock of having spoken out loud what she was thinking quickly faded at the sight of him.

He had a non-existent jaw, not quite concealed by a patchy, white beard. His thin lips were peeled back, revealing slightly clenched teeth. And he had combed his hair over a large bald spot on the top of his head.

"History will change tonight. If we are to concede to the religionists that the actually living should be sacrificed for the potentially so, why should they not grant us the truth that all men are equal--and equally deserving of the life which is in our power to give them?"

As he talked, she stared at his teeth, thinking of one of those old traps made by digging a hole in the ground, placing sharp objects at the bottom, then covering up the opening with leaves and twigs. Then there was another voice.

"The thing is, it's not in your power to give or to take--and, while it may be selfish, people still have a right to their own life. Forcing them to sacrifice for the living is one thing...but for the dead?"

This last comment was interesting, thought the girl, and directly at odds with the principle that the old man's comments seemed to presuppose.

"Not the dead," corrected the old man, "the potentially alive."

The girl saw a little bit of truth in what both had said and set to work the problem out. Her brain moved slowly, the process comparable to pushing a heavy cart, with rusty wheels, uphill. It was not easy, she thought, and probably didn't matter anyway.

She sighed, said "whatever" to nobody in particular, and wandered off into the other room.

Noting her departure, the old man told his critic to have another drink, then added what the girl had thought but didn't say: the matter actually was decided already.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Must See JW Waterhouse Exhibition

An exhibition featuring J.W. Waterhouse's paintings will be hosted by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from October 1, 2009, to February 7, 2010.

This is, in my mind, one of those must see exhibitions for any fan of late 19th century art. Art Daily had this to say about the news:

"J. W. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite is the first large-scale monographic exhibition on Waterhouse’s work since 1978 and the first to feature his entire artistic career."

"This retrospective features some eighty paintings that are among the finest and most spectacular of the artist’s production, on loan from public and private collections in Australia, England, Ireland, Taiwan, the United States and Canada.".

"It will also present many of the artist’s attractive studies in oil, chalk and pencil. Several of these works have not been exhibited since Waterhouse’s lifetime."

Waterhouse painted in the tradition of Frederick Leighton and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. While all three focused on classical themes and painted beautiful, thought-provoking scenes, one thing I enjoy in particular about Waterhouse's work is his ability to portray "romantic longing" in his characters.

In the above picture, titled Hylas and the Nymphas, look at the girl drawing Hylas into the water. This is a depiction of true love--and it was mutual. As the story goes, Hylas--son of Hercules--left the Argo behind in order to live forever with the nymphas.

The picture to the left, titled La Belle Dam Sans Mercie (or: The Beautiful Woman Without Mercy), shows that same romantic longing in the character of another.

Again, I think he is particularly adept at painting this state of mind (see Lamia for additional proof), but his work is not limited to this.

There are plenty of reasons to enjoy Waterhouse's paintings--and I hope some of you get the chance to discover them for yourself!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

3 Ways to Teach Kids to Lie

Teaching kids to lie is somewhat simple and chances are, if you have kids, you're doing it already. Here are the three top ways you were taught to lie, or possibly are unknowingly teaching your kids to:

1. Ever heard your mother say "don't make that face" when you react honestly to food that you find (or found) disgusting? Ever said it to your kid? Don't.

2. How about telling your kid to be sure and fake a smile when they meet a relative that even you don't like? For god's sake let the kid frown. You can always blame their honest expression on the fact that they're still young.

3. Ever told your kid to tell someone else that you weren't at home? Like the above, this one sounds harmless (to many) if given little to no thought. But it's not.

And there you have it the three top ways people teach their kids to lie. So, for all the parents searching for the reason their kids lie, here's a possible answer: you taught them to.