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by Richard Nilsen
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Many years ago, when I was still teaching photography in Virginia, I visited an art exhibition that bothered me. In the show were a series of large black-and-white seascape photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto. Each was about 3-feet square and each was divided exactly in half by the horizon line.
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Sugimoto, who is exactly my age, is a Japanese architect and artist who created a project of making pictures of various seas, oceans and great lakes, at different times of year and different times of day and different weathers. But every one was the same size and with the top and bottom divided in half, sky and water.
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What bothered me, initially, was the featurelessness of the images. The seas were generally calm and the skies usually cloudless.
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In my class, I was trying to get ordinary students to make better pictures. Most of the students had no ambition to show in galleries, but rather had wanted to be able to make better family snapshots, or to improve as hobbyists and learn darkroom techniques. And so, I taught such normal things as making sure their images had a center of interest — a person or a dog, placed foreground against a background. If they wanted to make a landscape, to include some center of attention and not just make a dull grab-all of the scene.
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And I taught the ubiquitous “rule of thirds,” in which you help the design of a photograph by placing things a third of the way from the bottom or top, or a third of the way in from the sides of the picture. Or, also, to place your horizon line a third of the way from the bottom or two-thirds up from the bottom. And never, ever, put your horizon through the center of the image. The center is the most boring and static place in the frame.
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(Of course, no accomplished photographer pays any attention to these notions, but I was helping beginners up their games and making their pictures marginally more interesting.)
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But here were Sugimoto’s seascapes, centered and otherwise featureless. It bothered me for a long time — enough so that some 40 years later, I can remember that show, burned in my memory, when so many others that I went to in so many galleries, have faded into time and oblivion.
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I was aware that if the images stuck in my craw and couldn’t be dislodged, there must have been something to what Sugimoto was doing. I have thought long and hard on the subject. And I came to the conclusion that their very inexplicability, tied with the elemental themes of nature and the vast oceans, gave them their power. That, in fact, they were a projection of the sublime.
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The sublime is a subset of esthetics, a particular experience of the beautiful, set in distinction to what is attractive and pleasing, by showing what is immense, often frightening, and which gives the viewer a palpable sense of his own unimportance in a vast and radiant universe.
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British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes the sublime in his 1818 lecture on “European Literature” by recalling: “My whole being expands into the infinite; earth and air, nature and art, all swell up into eternity, and the only sensible expression left is, ‘that I am nothing!’ which concludes that his ultimate realization of the sublime was of his own human insignificance.”
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Giving in to the infinite — or the emotional experience of it — can hit you whenever you are open to it. Not necessarily seeking it, but nevertheless open to it. Most often, we spend our lives closed, trying to make sense of the everyday things that take up most of our time. But there are moments when it all breaks in. These moments tend to stick in our psyches, to be brought back in memory to refresh our lives.
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It was a popular theme in the 19th century and the Romantic Age, when painters, poets, and even composers, attempted to catch the sense of that immensity in their art. You have Jacob Mallord William Turner painting disasters at sea, John Martin showing the apocalypse in giant canvases, Gustave Dore engraving images of Dante’s hell and Satan’s flight through chaos. Turner:
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You have poets describing limitless scenes of the Alps or the Arctic. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein ends in such a scene, with a ship stranded in the Arctic ice and the monster choosing white oblivion over life. The ship’s captain writes in his log: “We are still surrounded by mountains of ice, still in imminent danger of being crushed in their conflict. The cold is excessive, and many of my unfortunate comrades have already found a grave amidst this scene of desolation.”
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And the final words of the novel, when the monster chooses death: “He sprang from the cabin-window … upon the ice raft which lay close to the vessel. He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.”
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In Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:
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In music, the sublime is found in Haydn’s depiction of Chaos at the beginning of his oratorio, The Creation. Or in the ecstatic chorus of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the trumpets of apocalypse in Berlioz’s Requiem or the vastness of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand.
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The problem with the Romantic vision of the sublime is that it can too easily devolve into kitsch. The sense of cosmic overload shrinks into a kind of religious sentimentality and you wind up with Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille, or Victor Mature as Samson. Where you draw the line, personally, depends very much on your willingness to accept the underlying metaphor of the vastness and impenetrability of the universe.
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Any theme, including the sublime, can peter out in too-familiar tropes and cliches. And so, in the 20th century, artists and poets have needed to find new ways to explore the idea, without the hurling boulders and cataclysmic storms of the 19th century. The old ideas still persist, of course, in such things as the photographs of Ansel Adams.
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But, for the most part, the sublime has quieted down for the past hundred years or so, with priority given to the social and political, from Brecht to Basquiat. We have a suspicion of grandiosity.
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Nevertheless, that cosmic power is still out there, seducing and threatening us. The night sky, the city-flattening hurricane, the ever-retreating horizon, the glimpse over the edge of the Grand Canyon precipice. And, always, our awareness of the inevitable extinction of our personal consciousness.
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And some artists attempted to address this, but without the baggage of 19th century Romanticism. People like Barnett Newman with his huge blank colors, Jackson Pollock with his impenetrable scribbles, and Mark Rothko with his inscrutable floating squares.
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In fact, it was Rothko that first unlocked the Sugimoto seascapes for me.
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Rothko was another artist whose work initially I didn’t understand. Having only seen reproductions in books, I thought of his paintings as simply boxes of pleasing colors splashed on the canvas. All that changed when I got to see the actual work, hanging on museum walls, and I realized those colors actually floated — visually — above the canvas. The colors of ink in a book illustration couldn’t do that the way actual pigment on canvas did. The difference between seeing a picture of an airplane and the actual flying at 30,000 feet.
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And so, it hit me, Rothko’s quiet illuminations were the 20th century version of the sublime. I couldn’t explain the emotions they roused in me, but they were the sense of seeing the primordial meanings of life, something no words could convey.
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It was this same thing that nagged at me in Sugimoto’s photographs. The sky and sea were yin and yang, something primeval and immutable.
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“When you look up at outer space there’s the Moon and the Stars,” Sugimoto said. “But on the surface of the Earth, the farthest place people can see is a sea horizon.”
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Sugimoto also said that seascapes are pivotal in that they are a  scenery that we, in our modern world, still share with the ancients. Cities all look modern; even rural landscapes are crossed by interstates and power lines. But the ocean looks today the same as it did for Homer.
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When I lived in Virginia, all those decades ago, it was on the ocean and I would almost daily have the opportunity to look out over the waves and into the horizon. I saw the seascape in sun and under the wind-blown scud of a nor’easter. It changed every day, even hourly. There were times when the sky color and sea color were so matched that the actual horizon line vanished and what I saw was a great blankness. A void. An infinity of sameness without edge.
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Usually what I saw was just “the beach,” with its swimsuits and sunscreen. The everyday tends to crowd out — needs to crowd out — the eternal. After all, we have lives to live, jobs to get to, families to care for, and we cannot function if our adrenaline is always at the boil. But there were also times that I could look out at the water and air and realize that I was seeing the fundamental sense of existence. The quotidian keeps us functioning in society, but the sublime absorbs us into the universe.
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And without consciously realizing it, those Sugimoto photos had buried their way into my psyche, and I had begun making my own photographs of that phantom horizon. I did so all around the world, like this one of the Indian Ocean from South Africa:
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Or this these from Alaska:
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Or this coup de soleil on Puget Sound:
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I was not aware, when making these images, that Sugimoto was buried in them. But I was aware that they were informed by the sublime, and specifically, from a 20th- and now 21st-century version of the concept.
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Finally, if I needed any confirmation that Sugimoto was striving for the sublime, I found it in a photo of the artist, posed to mimic the painter who was perhaps the poster-boy for 19th-century Romantic sublime, Caspar David Friedrich.
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Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.

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by Richard Nilsen

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From 2005 to 2010, the U.S. produced 4485 films. How many did you see? But that is dwarfed by India, where, in the same years 7108 films were made. During that same span, China, Japan, France, Spain, South Korea, Italy, Germany, the U.K, the Russian Federation, all made at least 100 films per year. And that’s just a five-year span.
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All these numbers are suspect; nobody really knows. Many are made but never find distribution; nowadays, many go straight to streaming services. Do they count as movies or TV? Should one make a distinction? And with digital production driving down the cost of making films, many are made on a shoestring by aspiring Spielbergs who never get anywhere.
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That’s all beside the point, which is that the number of movies any individual can see is a tiny fraction of the movies that are made. Even movie critics are not likely to watch more than 10 in a week and most don’t get anywhere near that. (My son, who is a programmer for the Austin Film Society in Texas visits some of the major film festivals each year and can watch up to five a day during the events and even he admits that is exhausting).
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Now, let’s consider the concert stage, where we are likely to hear Beethoven, Brahms and Rachmaninoff. History has winnowed the repertoire down to a few thousand concert pieces by a few score composers. Yet, in Beethoven’s time, there were dozens of hard-working scribblers pumping out symphonies, operas, piano sonatas and string quartets. How many times have you heard the works of Ferdinand Ries, Matthew Camidge, Joseph Mayseder, Karol Kurpinski or Federico Moretti? They were all popular in 1812, the year when Beethoven published his symphonies No. 7 and No. 8, which we hear over and over.
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Pick any year from, say AD1500 to yesterday and you could say something similar. Perhaps 95 percent of all the music ever written is now forgotten, or at least never played, except on recordings by dedicated small labels. And even that is still a tiny percentage. How much of any of it have you heard?
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How many of the operas that have been written has any one person been able to hear. How many ballets? Zarzuelas? Oratorios?
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The same could be said for popular music and Tin Pan Alley, or today with rap music — how much of it is produced and how much has any one person been able to hear?
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Shakespeare wrote 39 plays; Moliere wrote 31; Harold Pinter wrote 29; August Wilson wrote 18. Eugene O’Neill wrote 31 full length plays and another 20 or so one-acters. Tennessee Williams wrote 38 (counting “apprentice plays”). Lope de Vega wrote 500. That’s a mere tip of the total. A modern historian estimates that, between about 1560 and 1640, some 3000 new plays were written and performed in London alone. Before Covid, an average of about 40 plays opened each year on Broadway. How many of all this has anyone seen?
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According to the Association of American Publishers, 2,632 books were published in the US in 2021. Worldwide, the number of books put out by established publishers is closer to 300,000, according to UNESCO. If we count self-published books and privately printed ones, the number can climb to something like 2 million books per year.
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In 1981, a year in which I was gainfully unemployed, I spent about three months reading a book a day — it was a kind of contest to see how long I could keep it up. It was exhausting, and by the end, they were all kind of smudging into each other.
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I thought admiringly of poet John Milton, who, after graduating from Cambridge University in 1635, spent the next six years secluded in the country, where he read basically everything that had ever been written, at least in English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch — and Old English — all of which he taught himself to read in the original languages. Basically, everything that had ever been written that he could have known about. Such a feat now would be impossible, of course. Not even close. Not really even imaginable.
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Consider, too, how many of the famous paintings you have ever been able to see. Even if you go through all the published catalogues raisonee and see only reproductions, you cannot get close. I have been through the Louvre at least four times and I have to admit to seeing only a fraction of its galleries.
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So, how many poets have written? How many painters have painted; composers have composed; plays have been produced; buildings have been architected; sculptures have been carved or cast? And how many of all this has any of us become familiar with? Can any of us assume ourselves to be truly cultured?
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We like to think that the best has survived and the chaff winnowed out. But two problems with that. First, we keep rediscovering great works that had been previously ignored. How many Mahlers were first thought trivial and only later found to be masterpieces? Whole rafts of authors from the 18th century are now being rediscovered and enjoyed. The “Western Canon” is a moving target. And conversely, a good deal of what was once lauded has now been tossed in the bin. Think of all that Victorian poetry that was once so loved and now thought hopelessly mawkish. Perhaps it will all be one day rediscovered and re-admitted into the pantheon.
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Secondly, even if we posit a useful fiction, which we might call the canonic art and literature, none of us has read, seen or heard any but a tiny splinter of it all. It is simply too overwhelming.
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I am a reasonably well-read and well-informed individual, and yet, I can make a list of things I shamefully have never yet gotten to experience, and now, at my age, can reasonably predict that I never will. I will never see all of Satyajit Ray’s movies; I will never get around to Anna Karenina or finish À la recherche du temps perdu (though I might try); I keep butting up against Wordsworth’s Prelude; I have little chance of ever visiting Italy to see the Sistine ceiling; at least a third of Shakespeare’s plays I have never seen; I doubt very much I will ever witness a live performance of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand. And there is a further list of undeterminable, nearly infinite length wherein I could name all the worthy things I have not and will not encounter.
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It is the same for all of us, whether we’ve read a single book or a library. There is just so much.
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But this really misses the point about culture and our exposure to it. Human culture, even the small wedge of it we call Western Culture is a vast ocean. You swim in the ocean; you don’t try to drink it dry.
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And the more of it you engage with, the deeper and wider your ocean becomes. You don’t have to swallow western culture as a whole, but to be cultured, or well-read, or well-educated is to become familiar with its tenor. Knowledge of a part becomes key to open the rest.
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There is a resonance that one becomes aware of, the deeper you dive. Read Milton, and Vergil and Homer lurk behind him. Ovid turns up in Titian; the Psalms are text for Palestrina; the columns of a Southern mansion buzz with memory of the Parthenon.
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Read a travel book and it vibrates with the memory of Herodotus, Pliny, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, William Bartram, Charles Darwin and hundreds of others, from the Odyssey up to and including the works of Jan Morris and the TV series of Michael Palin: Each speaks to the others in one grand conversation, and if you didn’t hear what Ibn Battuta said, you caught the echo of it in Bill Bryson. Travels with Charley and Voyage of the Beagle speak back and forth.
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So, you can’t know it all, but rather, think of it as a yogurt culture: A dollop is enough to start the process.
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Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.

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by Richard Nilsen
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I had a roommate in college named David Wren. Before I knew him, he had taken a year off between high school and college and studied classical guitar. After school, he spent several years in the Peace Corps in Korea, where he learned to speak Korean, but also, on the side, picked up Japanese and Chinese. In grad school, he studied Spanish linguistics and also learned German, Italian and French. He went on to teach Spanish at Indiana University, where he published a Spanish grammar cheat-sheet that has become the standard version for schools everywhere (and available on Amazon). 
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Somewhere along the line, he became addicted to string quartets and began collecting performances of all the most arcane versions — not just the Beethovens and the Haydns, but also those by Robert Simpson, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Laszlo Lajtha, Robert Volkmann and a dozen other obscure composers.  
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It seems like a life well spent, and much of it in service to others. But when I asked him, many years ago, if he felt a responsibility to make the world a better place by joining the Peace Corps, or to improve himself by learning all those languages, he said, no, he felt that his job in life “was to keep myself entertained.” 
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It wasn’t all so serious. He also had memorized a prodigious quantity of Maine jokes. You know: A stranger pulls up in his car beside a farmer. “How do you get to Millinocket?” “You go up the road a mile or so and turn right where the old church used to be.” That kind of thing. He had a million of them. 
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“I do all this to amuse myself,” he said. Life had no bigger purpose, he believed. It was life’s job to fend off boredom and keep his mind occupied. 
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For most of us, “entertainment” means an escape from the complexities of life — a chance to sit in front of the TV and absorb time-passing nothingness, to give us a moment’s escape from the difficult struggles of life. A good tune with a strong beat; a beach-read novel; endless repeats of Will and Grace; maybe a crossword puzzle or a session with Tetris. Put the brain in neutral and sleepwalk through time. 
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And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. We all do it. But entertainment doesn’t have to be mental oblivion. It is also possible to engage your mind — indeed, nothing can occupy your attention more fully — and close out the busy tedium of quotidian life —  than to become immersed in a great book, or a social problem, or in learning something new. 
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As culture has become more homogenized and the old distinctions of “highbrow” and “lowbrow” have fallen into disrepute, the more complex occupations of the mind have often been suspect. Why should Mozart be considered “better” than Justin Bieber? 
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Mozart was considered highbrow, because the people who paid for tickets to The Marriage of Figaro could afford them, and so highbrow became a class signifier. This is glibness. Mozart, himself, felt more comfortable with the working classes who flocked to the popular theater to see The Magic Flute
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It is true that it is primarily the wealthy who support symphonies and go to the ballet. But a love for such entertainment has nothing to do with money. I grew up as solidly middle class as it is possible to be, and spent my economic life sliding downhill, and at times living a life that was barely above homelessness. Yet even then, I read poetry and listened to Mozart on the radio. I found free concerts, or discovered other ways to get into the symphony. 
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Conversely, too many of those wealthy patrons of the opera are there for social reasons — to be seen — and couldn’t really tell the difference between Rossini and Puccini. It is too easy to dismiss highbrow entertainment as merely a class thing. (It is a 20th Century provincialism to equate “class” with wealth, and perhaps we can blame Karl Marx, who, along with current Republicans, seem to believe that life is primarily an economic enterprise.) 
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The classical music writer David Hurwitz has insisted, many times, that classical music is just entertainment. Classical fans tend to think of their music as “better” or more elevated than mere pop music, but to Hurwitz, it is all the same. “German Lied,” he says, “is after all just songs.” “Lieder” is just the German word for “songs.” Usually very good songs, he points out, but songs nevertheless, 32 bars at a clip. 
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If that is so, then why does Hurwitz spend his time with Messiaen and Poulenc instead of Taylor Swift? Why does David Wren spend his hours with Elliott Carter and the Spanish subjunctive mood? And why do I find reading and re-reading Ovid so much more engaging than watching X-Men movies? 
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There is something else that draws us to such things. I count two factors as primary among them. 
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First is complexity: Simple things just cannot keep our attention for long. We wear them out too soon. Our brains and our emotions require more density — something to chew on. 
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There is nothing wrong with simple things. One can enjoy a Taylor Swift song or an Iron Man movie. But you would to nuts if that is all you could ever hear or watch. Repetition would leave you twiddling your lips. On the other hand, I can reread Homer’s Iliad every year, watch Tarkovsky’s Stalker over and over, listen to a Beethoven quartet a hundred times and each time find more in it that I did the previous hearing. (I can attest to that last, for having listened to the late quartets well more than a hundred times over the past 50 years). 
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(It isn’t a matter of claiming that more complex art is “better” than more popular stuff. I can’t think of much music better written than a three-and-a-half minute number by Duke Ellington or a tune by the Beatles. But the longer and more complex, the greater the lasting power. I love Big Band music and reading P.G. Wodehouse. They are well worth the time. There is quality at every “brow” level.) 
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But what satisfies over the long haul are those things with deep wells you can keep returning to and draw ever new sustenance.
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The second issue is that popular entertainment is about escaping life’s troubles and difficulties, while what we call art is about engaging with them. Our hungry brains want to grab onto something worthy of its efforts. We want to engage. To immerse ourselves in what makes us alive, makes us human. 
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A more complex art trains both brains and emotions to better engage, to find a wider range of things interesting, to exercise and build up the muscles of empathy, to refine our grasp of emotional distinctions. When we tear up over the Mahler Adagietto, we are finding depths in ourselves we didn’t know were there. We expand and enlarge ourselves. 
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It connects us not only with the life we lead, but with the roots of that life, going back through centuries of art and literature, and creates a pool of common humanity, the sharing of which also expands and enlarges us.
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It is why we still put on performances of Shakespeare, play Beethoven symphonies, stage Balanchine ballets, and why Dickens, Hemingway and Margaret Atwood still sell books. The all still satisfy a hunger that we cannot fill any other way.
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“It is difficult to get the news from poems,” wrote William Carlos Williams, “yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
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Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.

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by Richard Nilsen
Like most of us, when I was 17 or 18, I knew everything. Since then, it has all been downhill. Now, 56 years later, I don’t know anything at all. For instance, “What is art?” The question came up recently. 
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This is something I know less and less about. I mean, I was a professional art critic for 25 years, and before that, I taught art, both at a private academy and at a two-year college. You would think that would give me some insight. But those days have passed.
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Now that I am an official member of the Senior Citizen Altersverein, complete with a handicapped license plate, which allows me to park close to the Walmart (not that I would ever go to Walmart), things that once seemed clear now seem impossibly uncertain and murky.
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As for “What is Art?” I no longer have an answer for that. I dunno. I used to think I knew, but now I know I never did know. In fact, I now believe art doesn’t exist. That is, I’m pretty sure it is a word that falsely creates a category of thought that describes a loose conglomeration of things that often have nothing to do with each other.
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Our language has many such words. “Love,” for instance. Is there such a thing? Does the fervid wish to possess our teenage heartthrob with the zeal of the loins have anything to do with the unpossessive care, tenderness and hope we feel for our grandchildren? Or the love we have for country, or the music of Mozart? These seem like completely different states of being. The love I had for my wife when we were young and couldn’t keep our hands off each other seems like something completely different from the complete loss of ego that accompanied the daily caring for her as she lay dying, four decades later. The one is about what the self wants; the other is about what the self gives. The one grew into the other, but they seem as different as watermelons and thumbtacks. 
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These are “umbrella words,” and function as a sort of shorthand, a way of dealing with subjects too multifarious and complex to be spoken of more accurately. I hate getting up too early, when the warm bed on a winter morning feels so cozy. But does that compare with the hate I see in the terrorists’ eyes? We may take it as a difference in degree, but I believe it is really a difference in kind. The word covers many sins. 
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Think of how many people argue over “beauty.” We call a woman beautiful and mean something very different from what we mean in contemplation of a Mark Rothko painting, or what Richard Feynman meant when he called a particular sequence of mathematical symbols, “beautiful.” There is pretty, there is beautiful, and there is the experience of the sublime. 
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What is pretty often goads us to want to possess it, whether it is a person we desire or a postcard photo of a sunset that makes us wish to be there in its presence. Esthetic pleasure, on the other hand, does not prompt desire, but a kind of impersonal admiration, a cool reflection. So, how can we use the word “beauty” without qualification and expect to be understood? The word almost has no meaning — at least by itself. 
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And so it is with art. 
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Over my many years in the biz, I offered many categorical dicta concerning art, including this definition: “Art is the discovery or creation of meaning and order from the chaos of perception and experience.”
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But then, I held art as something purer and more elevated than mere entertainment. “Entertainment diverts us from the cares of life; art makes us feel alive,” I once wrote. “The two things are opposites. Art makes you aware that you are alive. That is not always very pleasant.”
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But if a sitcom isn’t some form of art, what is it? Surely even an emoji is some minor for of art. Or the stick figures on public restroom doors. What do all these have in common with Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling? Is there a definition that can subsume them all? 
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We used to make a distinction between high art and low art. Duke Ellington famously said “There are only two kinds of music: Good music and bad music.” 
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That opposes the opinion of my great friend, the late Dimitri Drobatschewsky (“It’s spelled just like it sounds.”) who once said, “There is no such thing as bad art. If it’s bad, it’s not art.” 
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James Joyce, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has his hero define art as “the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end.” That’s fine, until you are asked to define “intelligible matter” and “esthetic ends.” I imagine an Irish pub and a fistfight breaks out. 
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When I discussed all this with my friend, the artist Joel Collins, he said he had wrestled with the question of art for his whole career and finally decided on a simple and plain definition: “Art is an artifact created by a human for esthetic or emotional purposes.”
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(I’ve always been a little suspicious of the “art-equals-emotion” formula. Smith and Wesson makes pistols, which are artifacts, and used in a hold-up they can produce very strong emotions, but I’ve never heard the argument that muggings are an artform.)
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Leo Tolstoy penned an entire essay to define art. He wrote: “Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the esthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of human emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among people, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”
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Well, maybe — pace Leo — it is all of those things. At different times. 
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There was a time when I was convinced that art was primarily a way of making sense of the world, and that art should have such a high purpose. Anything less would count as entertainment, not art. But I had to face up to a Mozart wind divertimento. Here was music that was certainly art of the highest degree, and yet seemed to have no other purpose but to divert with pleasant tunes. Could art subsume both Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and a Mozart wind serenade? I would have to recalibrate my own definition.
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Then, there was the problem of where to draw the line on plastic arts. Michelangelo made divine sculpture, but what about the wolf-head carving at the top of my grandfather’s walking stick? Wasn’t that art, also? 
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And then, what about the handle on my kitchen knife? It was designed; it didn’t just happen by accident. And it was clear that some knife handles were more graceful, more pleasing — and more efficient — than others. Surely some thought went into their devising. 
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The knife handle had to satisfy two very different requirements: to function well as a knife handle; and to be pleasing to eye and touch. (There are certainly knives with fancy handles that pinch the hands as you use them; both requirements must be met.) 
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I had also to consider the problem that the very idea of art is largely a Western idea (shared with the Far East — China and Japan also have discrete categories for art) and that many cultures have no word or category for what we call art. Yet they manufacture items that we in the West show off in museums as art. Such tribal art are fashioned for ritual or religious reasons and their esthetic attractiveness is entirely beside the point. Yet, such things as African masks or Navajo sand paintings can be truly beautiful. 
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Then, there is art that is meant as propaganda or advertising. A Soviet poster may be laughable now, but it is still a form of art. (I remember a Chinese Communist poster depicting — and I quote — “Chinese peasants gleeful over the success of the dialectic.” It showed farmers with a brand new tractor and their smiles could have graced a Doublemint gum ad. 
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And there are political cartoons, not meant to be appreciated primarily for esthetic or emotional reasons, but to make political points. 
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So, Joel’s definition needed to be expanded to include artifacts created by humans for esthetic, emotional, political, commercial, religious, or ritual purposes. The definition is becoming more and more diffuse. 
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It can become so diffuse as to be summed up as “Art is art when an artist says it is.” Consider the R. Mutt urinal displayed by Marcel Duchamp. The original porcelain was designed and has a form meant to be both useful and pleasing, but Duchamp wants us to accept it as in the same class as the Mona Lisa. 
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Dance, sculpture, poetry, architecture, the Great American Novel, haute couture, movies, shadow puppets, Navajo sand painting — if we imagine each of these as a circle in a Venn diagram, some of them overlap certainly, but some of these circles hardly touch. 
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We can see the sand painting and the Russian ikon as sharing a kind of religious purpose. 
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Or the ikon and the New Guinea tribal dance mask.
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But what does Soviet era brutalist architecture have to do with the ballet? 
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So, how can we find a single definition of art to encompass it all? 
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We must accept a fuzzy-edged idea of it all. Give it the Stewart Potter treatment: I know it when I see it. 
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Of course, most words — most language — ultimately is fuzzy edged. It has to be to make communication possible. If every word were infinitely precise, there would be no common reference. We could not talk of dogs, but only of my spaniel Spot or your poodle Fifi and no recognition of a shared category. The more precise a word is, the less it describes. 
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We seem to be stuck with “art” and no way to shave its edges down to fit the square hole. And so, I shake my head vigorously, like trying to wake from a dream, and give up. I don’t know what art is. 
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Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.

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by Richard Nilsen

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There are a few targets of jokes left to fair-minded people. None but the most crass would make disparaging jokes about blondes or Polish people anymore, but you can still lambast lawyers and politicians. And you are allowed, even encouraged, to despise critics. Art critics, food critics, movie critics, theater critics — a whole host of snooty snobs.
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So, in Henry VI Part 2, Shakespeare has Dick the Butcher say, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
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Someone (not Mark Twain) said, “Diapers and politicians should be changed regularly; for the same reason.”
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And about critics, playwright David Mamet said, “My idea of perfect happiness is a healthy family, peace between nations, and all the critics die.”
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He wasn’t alone in that sentiment. Painter Jim Dine complained, “I’ve never had an easy relationship with critics. I hold a lot of homicide in my heart. If this was another time, I’d be packing a piece.”
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Or as Gene Simmons of the rock band Kiss put it: “Everybody hates critics.”
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For 25 years — at the moment of my retirement in 2012, a full one-quarter of the time Arizona was a state — I was art critic for The Arizona Republic in Phoenix. And so, I have, at times, felt the ire aimed my way. I was once hanged in effigy in a cartoon in Western Horseman magazine, in response to a review I penned about the Cowboy Artists of America. I once actually had a death threat on the phone.
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People don’t like it if you disparage something they love.
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But they don’t really understand what a critic is. They think of it as thumbs held upward or down, as a judgment being made as to the worth of something. But judgment is one of the least — and least interesting — parts of a critic’s purpose.
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I think of criticism as being a continuum running from the job of “reviewer,” through what I consider to be actual criticism, and on to the more serious business of scholarship. Most of us doing the job find ourselves running up and down that spectrum.
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Certainly I did more than my share of simple reviewing for the newspaper. A reviewer’s job is to give readers some idea whether a movie or book or art show is worth spending time on. A consumer guide. And for that, we give out stars. (At one point in my career, we reviewers and the editorial staff had long heated discussions over giving four stars or five as the top of the heap, and whether it is ever OK to award zero stars for something. Believe me, there are things not worth even a half-star.)
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Reviews are largely based on personal taste. If a reviewer enjoyed the film or art, then it got a good review. If not, not. When a movie reviewer likes Michael Bay films, they get raves; if the reviewer loves Jean-Luc Godard, then the Transformer film wallows down there with the half-star films.
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As art critic for the newspaper, my job was largely to give some sense of what an art show was like, what to expect, and whether I felt, as a reviewer, that the artist, or the curator, had made a case for the art. For any major show, my job came in two parts: Before a show opened, I wrote a preview, with background information and historical context; the following week, after I had actually seen the show, I wrote about how well it all came off.
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(When I became music critic also, the purpose changed. Sometimes editors would wonder aloud whether symphony reviews made any sense, if the event was already over. I asked back whether it made sense, then, to write about Phoenix Suns games, when the reader could not then go and see that game. I learned very quickly the loud sound of deaf ears. Case in point: The Republic no longer employs either art or classical music critics. Nor do most papers in the country.)
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But, as I said, this is the lowest purpose of criticism. At the next level up, the critic is an educator. Writing about a show at the art museum, the critic tries to provide context, historical or esthetic, maybe some biography and an anecdote or two. This can be a tricky position to maintain: You don’t want to bore the readers what they already know, but you don’t want to be too arcane and scholarly and leave them behind. And, as a newspaper writer, you don’t want to be burdening the reader with specialized vocabulary. You can’t talk down to people; they don’t like that, either.
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I was once on a panel discussion, many years ago, with a university professor who also wrote criticism. She looked down her nose at people like me, saying what I did was “reviewing,” she said, “You can’t really write criticism in under 40 pages.” She had written the definitive work on German artist Otto Dix and had little time for the likes of a mere journalist.
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(She is really a very nice person and very smart. I later came to know her better, but at that moment, I felt like I could have strangled her — not for insulting me but for her infuriating superciliousness. After all, Byron had once written that you could write meaningful criticism in a single sentence.)
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And so, academic criticism measures out the far end of the critical spectrum, written for specialists and often written in a vocabulary accessible only to other Ph.D.s. (Most academic disciplines have specialized vocabulary dense enough to stun a moose.)
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That a critic be entertaining may seem like a side issue, but it is not. Good criticism is good writing and should be fun to read. Too many critics seem to feel their most important function is passing judgment, but really, their first job is to keep the reader reading. To keep the mind engaged. And bad critical writing will make the reader turn the page to something else.
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There was a time when The New Yorker had two film critics: David Denby and Anthony Lane (Denby has now left the magazine). The first was a thoughtful, reasoned critic and I knew when reading him that I would most likely enjoy the films he recommended and dislike those he hated. He hate near perfect taste. But Lane was always more fun to read. He still is. There is a liveliness to his turn of phrase.
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(The champ, though, must have been Pauline Kael, their predecessor, who could be so maddeningly wrong-headed about things, but who wrote so well that her books of reviews of movies, many long since forgotten, are still in print. If the criticism is better than what is criticized, you’ve hit the critical home run.)
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In art criticism, there are few who can break through the cobwebs of jargon and tired locutions and give us something memorable. The late Robert Hughes was one of the few. (Hughes always looked as if he were in a bar looking for a fight). But he could cut through a cliche like a bwana with a machete: “On the whole, money does artists much more good than harm. The idea that one benefits from cold water, crusts and debt collectors is now almost extinct, like belief in the reformatory power of flogging.
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Very few art critics hit the sweet spot. I can read very little art criticism. Most is turgid and more interested in displaying what the critic knows rather than in what the critic has learned.
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For me, anyway, what I write in my better work is the result of spending time with the art do find out what it can tell me. You have to be open, and for almost any member of the human species, that is a very hard task; we are comfortable with what we already know.
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I spent close to seven hours with the Joseph Stella Flowers at the Phoenix Art Museum before writing about it. The time was well spent and I came to know that painting intimately and while I had once disliked it intensely, it is now one of my favorites. Another time, I spent from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. in James Turrell’s Knight Rise skyspace at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, so I could experience the changes in sky and light over that time. Art, unlike a New Yorker cartoon, gives up its riches slowly; it isn’t just seeing it and “getting” it.
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Museum-goers can wander from painting to painting, look at the name tags next to the frames and enjoy the work. As critic, I had to spend serious time and attention if I wanted to be able to write anything meaningful about what I was seeing. And when I discovered something, I was eager to pass that on to my readers.
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Historically, critics have been immensely important in coming to understand art and art movements. When a radically new art is born, most of us — including most critics — cannot see it as new, but only as failed: It doesn’t do what we have come to expect the art to do. And so, a conscientious critic tries not to condemn it, but understand it. It was that way for Beethoven, whom most critics hated at first, and only later deified. It was that way for Liszt, Wagner, Debussy, Schoenberg, Bartok — the list is really endless. It was that way for Manet, for Matisse, for Picasso. For James Joyce, for Virginia Woolf, for T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens.
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Finally, a critic is what I call a “first reader,” “first viewer,” or “first listener” — the one who experiences the art before the mass of public, and attempts to understand what he or she has found in the art. A critical consensus is built up over time, and the critic — especially the journalist critic working for a newspaper or magazine — is the first stab at it. It is often said that journalism is the first draft of history; criticism is art history’s first draft. Sometimes — maybe often — we get it wrong but often even that wrongheadedness proves important in the long run. Baudelaire was an art critic besides being a poet, and he frequently got things wrong, yet his thoughts and insights are always interesting and can lead his readers to new ways of understanding.
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As Oscar Wilde once said “The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.”

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Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.

 

 
by Richard Nilsen
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1 tres-riches-heures-seasons
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We mark time with clocks and calendars, but each of those is, in some way, arbitrary. We could divide the day into 10 hours if we had wished, or an hour into 100 minutes, back when they first devised such things. There is likewise no particular reason for 12 months, or seven day weeks. In fact, in other times and places, weeks were 10 days or 15 days. We take a length and make inches or we make centimeters. Doesn’t really matter, as long as everyone else is using the same numbers.
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2 clock-and-watch-duo
But seasons are different. They are real. We impose our numbers on much, but the seasons reverse it all and impose themselves on us. We must adapt ourselves to seasons, by wearing shorts or parkas, by firing up the furnace or the AC, by shoveling snow or raking leaves — or, in Arizona, our unfortunate inability to shovel sunlight.
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Now, that doesn’t mean the seasons are the same everywhere. The traditional four seasons of Vivaldi concertos is really only applicable to the temperate climates. In many places in the world, there are only two: wet and dry. I used to think of Arizona climate as having four seasons, but they were different: They were the cool dry season at the beginning of the year; the hot dry season that follows; the monsoon season, hot and humid, with “he rains” coming down in thunderous torrents two blocks away but leaving our back yards dry; and finally, the “she rains” of late fall, when the sheets of gray skies pour out steady gentle rains — that is, it happens when the skies are feeling generous.
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Or maybe, as others have it, there are only two Arizona seasons (in the desert anyway) — Inferno and momentary relief from inferno.
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3 The Seasons trees
 For most of history, at least European and North American history, lives were organized around the seasons. Planting, cultivating, harvesting and shivering. For many in the more rural sections of the world, this remains the norm. Scattered in those seasons come various celebrations and feast days, or moments of self-denial, such as Lent. For those of in the cities, a good deal of this annual cycle is lost, or at least denatured.
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4 Winter NYC 1
Yet anyone who lives in New York can testify to the misery of sleet and slush in the winter, with steam rising from the Con Ed street grates, and to the alternate misery of the soggy, hot, drippy summertime when the air is dense and resistant and your shirt goes wet under the arms the moment you leave your apartment building.
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We try very hard to counter the world’s reality with air conditioning, heating systems, humidifiers and de-humidifiers, with driving to work in air-conditioned or heated cars, with snow plows or piles of burning fall leaves. But all of this is a denial of our physical lives in a physical world.
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Even something so simple as an umbrella can shield us from the fact. I remember a visit to Washington D.C., back when I lived in Phoenix. It was  July and we had gone something like four months with no rain — just clear blue skies every day monotonously. And while coming out of my hotel in D.C., it began to rain. A real downpour, with thunder and the whole works. And the doorman offered me an umbrella to get me to the cab, and I told him no. I stood in the rain with my arms out and my mouth turned up to the sky and opened. He looked at me like I was crazy. “No,” I said. “I’m not crazy, I’m from Arizona.”
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The rain was falling grace. I wanted as much as the heavens would give me.
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Reconnecting with the earth and its ways is good for the soul.
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Art can help us find our way back. It can remind us of what we have denied.
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5 Four Seasons panel 1
The Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi wrote perhaps the most popular classical music ever with his “Four Seasons,” describing the progression of the year in his home country. A popular website lists over 200 recordings.
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(They fall into four large categories. There are the old-fashioned versions, with symphony orchestras; there are the pared-down versions with small chamber groups; there are the superstar versions, often made and remade several times over a virtuoso’s career; and finally, there are the “original instrument” or “historically informed performance practice” versions, taut, fast and heavily rhythmic. There are plenty of each of these types, from Leopold Stokowski on one end and Nikolaus Harnoncourt on the other, with I Musici and Itzhak Perlman in the middle.)
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But Vivaldi is hardly alone. Everyone and everywhere seems to have its own “Seasons.”
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7 18th C Panel
The 17th century gave us Lully’s Les Saisons; the 18th century had John Christopher Smith’s The Seasons (1740); Gregor Joseph Werner’s Die Jahreszeiten (1748); and Joseph Haydn’s great oratorio, The Seasons, (sneaking in over the wire, just, in 1801).
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8 19th C panel
The 19th century fairly bursts with music about the seasons, about weather, storms, clouds, wind and rain — to say nothing of moonlight. Tchaikovsky wrote 12 piano miniatures — one for each month — and called the whole The Seasons (1886). It can also be heard in an orchestrated version. Glazunov wrote a ballet called The Seasons (1899), which is tuneful and delightful. Charles-Valentin Alkan wrote Les Mois (“The Months”), 12 virtuosic piano pieces (1840)
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9 20th C panel 1
Even the unsentimental 20th century has been tempted by the changing seasons. Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote a Folk Songs of the Four Seasons, based on English tunes, as a cantata in 1949; Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla has his tango-inflected Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (1970); Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu has his own Seasons, subtitled “Red and blue graphic score for live improvised percussion with tape” (1970);
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10 20th C panel 2
Avant-gardist John Cage wrote his ballet, The Seasons (1948); and when Philip Glass wrote his second violin concerto, he called it his “American Four Seasons” (2009). Mark O’Connor wrote his Country-, Folk-, and Jazz-inflected American Seasons in response to Vivaldi in 2001. I’m sure I’ve left out a bunch.
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Yet, the best and most effective tone painting remains Vivaldi’s four concertos, first published in 1725 as part of the composer’s “Contest between Harmony and Invention,” 12 violin concertos that also include evocations of a storm at sea, a hunt, and even one celebrating simple pleasure. Yet, the first four concertos of the group, popularly called “The Four Seasons” stand out for their descriptiveness.
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You can hear how icy and slippery it is – arpeggiated runs make you feel like you’ve lost your step and are slipping on ice. The short trills in the bass create the constant “brrr” or shivering feel.
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Vivaldi printed four sonnets, one with each season, in the score to the music, describing the scenes he painted in sound.
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11 Seasons Spring
“Festive spring has arrived; the birds salute it with their happy song,” and the violin makes their chirps and tunes. Then, there are the barking dogs, imitated by the violas in the slow movement of the “Spring” concerto.
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12 Seasons Summer 2
The “Summer” sonnet begins, “Beneath the blazing sun’s relentless heat, men and flocks are sweltering, pines are scorched. We hear the cuckoo’s voice; then the sweet songs of the turtle dove. … soft breezes stir the air.”
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13 Seasons Fall
In fall, “The mild air gives pleasure,/ And the season invites many/ To enjoy a sweet slumber.” The peasants dance and the hunters hunt.
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14 Seasons Winter
“Shivering, frozen in the frosty snow and biting, stinging winds,” starts the one about winter. “Running back and forth to stamp your icy feet, with your teeth chattering in the bitter chill.” It’s hard not to picture it, hearing the shivering repeated chords at the concerto’s opening, edged with the dissonance of serial suspensions – notes held from one harmony into another.
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You can hear it all in the music: There are dancing peasants, a hail storm, the pizzicato raindrops of a cold winter rain, the swarms of gnats in the hot summer sun – Vivaldi’s pictures are as vivid as music gets.
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But of all the music about weather and seasons, spring predominates. There are 10 pieces of music about spring for every one about summer, fall or winter. Yet, for many, winter music holds the biggest emotional punch.
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15 By seasons
Death finds its metaphor in winter. For some, the ultimate winter music is Schubert’s song cycle, Winterreise (“Winter Journey”) about a young man, jilted in love, who slowly loses his mind, ending in the 19th century version of homelessness.
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The music is so profound that baritone Dietrich Fischer Dieskau (or “Fish Disk,” as we like to call him) recorded it 11 times, with nine different pianists, beginning in 1948, when he was 23, and recording it for the last time in 1990, when the singer was 65.
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16 Fish Disk Schubert panel
The German song repertoire provides an abundance of songs on the seasons, on stormy and calm weather, outside and inside our hearts.
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There are paintings, too, that capture seasons. The Brueghel family — and there are a lot of them — all seem to have painted “Four Seasons” series.
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Pieter Brueghel the Elder did it.
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Picture 148

Picture 148

Pieter Brueghel the Younger did it.
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18 Brueghel the younger four seasons
So did Jan Brueghel and Jan Brueghel the Younger. And, for example, Christian Hilfgott Brand (1695-1756) did his series.
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19 Christian Hilfgott Brand
And even when not done in series, European landscapes are always about the integration of the human into the larger landscape, both in place and time.
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For, in the end, all of the music, poetry, painting about the seasons winds up for being a metaphor for the outside and inside of our being, and for the passage of that single, directional progress of our lives from birth to death, with the eternal hope that the cycle will repeat itself, and that winter is never really an end.
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Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.

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1 Well
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by Richard Nilsen
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After three-quarters of a century bothering people and generally being alive, I’ve come to understand that there are three or four things that sustain me, that provide the stuffings for an inner life. These are the things that provide a framework for understanding the world and a vocabulary for interacting with it. They are the well I draw from.
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Most people have something like these, although I have met one or two so empty inside as to frighten me. You rap them on the noggin and you hear back that hollow sound of an empty oil drum being kicked.
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(I remember my wife, the art teacher, describing a session with a parent of one of her students, where she was attempting to explain imagination to the uncomprehending woman. “What do you see when you close your eyes,” she asked. “Black,” said the mother. For some, there is little or nothing you can do.)
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2 Black box
For me, these three things that have fed my inner life have been with me since childhood, or at least since my own awareness of the rest of the world. They begin with travel.
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My parents instilled in me a love of travel. For their summer vacations, they always made sure that me and my brothers got to visit places we’d never been. One summer, we traveled through Quebec and Ontario; another, we circled through Pennsylvania; once, it was a trip to Washington, D.C. When I was 16, they sent me, with my grandmother, back to her birthplace in Norway. We traveled from Oslo to Kristiansand and her little village of Mosby. I also took a trip, by myself, through Germany, France and the Netherlands.
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Such travel gave me a sense, not only of how large the globe might be, but how different peoples live and think (I remember crossing the border from Germany to France and on one side of the gate, all the houses lined up and all the yards were neat and squared off, but entering France, immediately, everything was whompy-jawed, off kilter, gone to seed and relaxed. I immediately knew I loved France.)
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3 Village 2
Later in life, with each of my wives, official and unofficial, we traveled, mostly in the U.S., but also to Mexico and Canada, and with my dear Carole, many trips back to France, which we took in from the Vosges Mountains to the Camargue.
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Beginning in 1982, when we were both teachers and had the summers off, we drove around the country. On that first trip, beginning where we lived in Virginia Beach, Va., we put 10,000 miles on the car in a single trip. Every year after, we went somewhere, and eventually visited 49 of the 50 states (missed Hawaii) and every Canadian province save only Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland (we even hit the Yukon).
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4 pacific coast highway
For the newspaper I worked for, I wrote a weekly travel column for years, and every vacation ended with a story or series of stories for our travel section. They also paid me to travel the length of the Mississippi River from its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Another trip took me from Tijuana to Vancouver up the Pacific Coast Highway. I traveled across the U.S. multiple times and every time, I wrote stories for the paper.
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5 Rondavel 1
All this travel has made me — as travel does for anyone awake on the trip — understand the diversity of the world, its peoples and cultures. On a trip to South Africa for the newspaper, I slept in a straw-thatched rondavel, drank spit-fermented beer and ate grilled mopane worms. The trip, in 1988,  was near the end of apartheid, but that was still the law, and I came across brown-shirt Afrikaaners bullying patrons in a bar, with fascist armbands and billy clubs. When in Johannesburg, I noticed there were no mailboxes and my taxi driver explained they were all removed for fear of bombs. It was very different from my upbringing in suburban New Jersey. Newspapers were filled with predictions of a coming “race war.”
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I learned on that trip that we in the U.S. have very limited understanding of most of the rest of the world. When we in the U.S. heard news of South Africa, most of us immediately translated it into our own understanding of race and ethnicity — which bore almost no resemblance to things on the ground.
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I think of this every time I read news from Afghanistan or Abu Dhabi or Bhutan. Even just traveling through France, which is, by world standards, so close to our own culture, I came across Occitan separatism, the “Brooklynese” accent of Marseille, the sauerkraut haven of Colmar, the stone menhirs of Brittany, the cave paintings and ducks of the Dordogne. Travel makes us aware of the variety and diversity that characterizes everywhere. Mark Twain is often quoted on this, but he was absolutely right: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
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6 Books
The second sustaining theme in my life is books. Lots of them. I grew up in a house with very few books, but I had access to the town library and read everything I could find. The older I got, the more catholic became my tastes. In high school, I was reading all the contemporary fiction I could find — Saul Bellow, John Updike, Thomas Pynchon, Norman Mailer — and I couldn’t wait to get to college, where I believed the “real” stuff would be.
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It wasn’t. But I supplemented (or rather supplanted) my official studies with reading everything under the sun that wasn’t part of the curriculum. I first fell in love with the Greek and Latin classics at school. I still re-read the Iliad about once a year (usually a different translation each time).
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7 Homer panel 2
Like travel, reading takes me away from my provincial self and opens the whole world up, other ways of thinking, other ways of feeling, of acting, of seeing self and non-self, of regarding time and history. I have amassed, over time and sequentially, several large libraries. Too often, I have divested myself of the majority of the books as I’ve moved from place to place. But I’ve always started over again, collecting more volumes — often re-buying favorite books I’d gotten rid of and missed owning.
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We came across a good word for this obsession with books: “bibliopath.” I confess, I may be a bibliopath. When Carole and I moved from Arizona to the Blue Ridge, I wound up selling or donating most of my library, including a research-library-worth of books on American Indians and Native American culture. We both regretted that almost immediately. But we had to shrink our belongings down to something that would fit into a moving van.
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But since arriving in Asheville, I’ve spent so much money with Amazon or with Barnes and Noble — but mostly with local used-book stores — that now there are bookshelves in every room in the house, including the kitchen and bathroom.
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Which brings me to sustaining theme Number Three: art.
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8 Paintings panel 2
I grew up exactly 11 miles from the George Washington Bridge, and therefore, a short Public Service bus ride into Manhattan. I went into the city as often as I could and spent hours, days, at the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan, the Frick, the Whitney and what was then the Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art on Columbus Circle. To say nothing of the commercial galleries.
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It was MoMA, more than all the others, that spoke to me in my teenage years. I knew intimately Picasso’s Guernica, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, a raft of Jackson Pollocks and Matisse’s Red Studio. It was a raft of “greatest hits:” Rousseau’s Dream; Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie; Dali’s Persistence of Memory; de Kooning’s Woman I. Of Picasso alone, there was the Demoiselles d’Avignon, the Girl and the Mirror, and the Three Musicians. What a trove for an eye-hungry young man. Remember, this was in the early and mid-Sixties when the general population still considered Modern art somewhat suspicious and Jackson Pollock rather outré. “My kid could do that” springs to mind.
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9 Picasso picks
But I was hooked. I knew that art and literature was the open gate to everything civilized and, more importantly to me at the time, everything that my suburban New Jersey upbringing was not.
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Through my college years, I went back to New York, but also spend many hours of happy time at the National Gallery in Washington. Soaking up masterpieces that most of us only get to see in reproduction in art books or perhaps in an art history class. Over the years, I’ve added LACMA; the Art Institute in Chicago; the Museum of Fine Art, Boston;  Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Getty; SFMoMA; and many lesser known but significant museums in Atlanta, Denver, St. Louis, Virginia, Minneapolis, North Carolina, and Seattle. All to see original art so as not to rely merely on reproductions.
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10 Three Graces front and back
And then, there’s the Louvre. You spend days in the Louvre and only visit a tenth of it. It is vast, and on every wall you spot works you have seen in books your whole life. It’s hard not to walk through the galleries with your mouth not gaping open and your tongue hanging out.
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It all added up to my becoming an art critic for 25 years with The Arizona Republic. I ate, drank and digested painting, sculpture, installations, videos, prints, photographs and the occasional Chinese ritual bronze.
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But I’ve privileged painting and sculpture here. I don’t mean to forget music, theater, and film. When I say “art” I mean all of it. And so, I eventually became the classical music critic for the paper, also. Oh, the concerts I have attended. And the CDs I have collected. I had to divest at least three-quarters of them when we moved to North Carolina, but I have since been adding them back in and now have thousands of CDs, mostly of classical music, but also jazz, folk, early Country music, blues, world music, and the whole of the Alan Lomax collection.
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11 Ballet 2
And finally, the art form I came to love most of all: dance. I have now seen many of the world-class dance companies (of which Ballet Arizona is no slouch) and, to make it clear, when Carole and I went to Alaska, and we returned home, she asked if I might want to live in Alaska. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Nah. Not enough dance.”
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There is a fourth sustaining force in my life, and that is, of course, the people in it. All my life, I have been gifted with people who have helped and guided me, gave me models to follow, forced me to be my better self. Prime among these was my late wife, Carole — the smartest person I ever knew. Love and empathy deepens us and makes it impossible to remain the center of our world: The psyche expands like the universe, and we are enlarged with it (or as The Simpsons has it, “embiggens.”)
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But I suspect that last one is true for most of us. I have my travel, my art, my books, but others may have their faith or their politics, or perhaps an undying dedication to cuisine. We’re all different. But most would also have to include the people closest and most meaningful to them.
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An inner life is necessary for the full development of a human being. It is the well out of which one draws, and it must constantly be recharged. It can be fed many ways, for me it was travel, books and art. For others it might be furniture making or sewing. But something must engage us not only in a physical way, but speak to who we are.
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Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.

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1 Fuzzy 3
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by Richard Nilsen
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The world is fuzzy. I am constantly reminded of the fact that when looked at with any concentration, what might have seemed sharply focused, is, in fact, quite blurred.
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We keep trying to clarify our thought, to make it more precise, to nail down just exactly what we mean, but that whittled edge always seems to elude us and we are left with “sort of” and “it’s like …”
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What I’ve come to understand is that it has to be that way, and that meaning and communication can only happen in that aura of mist and glimpse.
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I was re-reading my Lucretius, an epic poem about science written in Latin in the First Century B.C. De Rerum Naturae  (“On the Nature of Things”) is some 7,000 verses long, divided into six books and explains the universe in surprisingly modern detail. Lucretius was an Epicurean, and spends a portion of his book explaining atomic theory. If you allow for the use of metaphorical thinking instead of mathematics, and allow for guesswork to replace the subsequent 2,000 years of scientific advance, the poem can often stun you with its prescience.
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2 De Rerum Natura title page
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Yet, is De Rerum science? Or is it poetry? Like a good epic poem, it begins with an invocation to a goddess. But like science, it spends its time discussing being and nothingness, matter and space, the atoms and their movement, the infinity of the universe, time and space. But then again, it’s in verse.
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So, was Lucretius a poet? A scientist? A philosopher? I need an optometrist: It’s all gone fuzzy.
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3 Wave or particle 1
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This uncertainty is constant in our intellectual lives. Is light a wave or a particle? Is Beethoven a Classical composer, like Mozart, or a Romantic, like Wagner? A case can be made either way. When did the Renaissance begin? Was Camus an Existentialist or an Absurdist? When and where, exactly did Latin turn into French, Spanish and Romanian? We tend to think of all these categories as discrete, yet, when looked at, they blur out. Can a Londoner really understand a Yorkshireman? They both speak what is called English, but evidence says Londoners are as confused by northern language as Americans are. We all need subtitles.
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The Golden retriever and the kitten
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Language divides things up so we may talk about them. Cats are one one side, dogs on the other. Mammals on one side, reptiles, birds, and fish on the other. Animals are on one side, vegetables and minerals sit on the other side of the room. Divide, divide. Name, name.
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But anyone who has ever tried to re-organize their homes or office has run into the problem: Here are letters; divide them into piles. Business letters, personal letters, old letters, current letters, personal letters discussing business, business letters with a personal P.S. added. Letters to you, letters to your wife, letters addressed to both. How many piles do you make? The biggest file by far can only be those uncertain of classification — and maybe next time you go through them, you can decide. In other words, the biggest pile is “miscellaneous.”
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5 Miscellaneous pile 1
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As the obscure philosopher Anne Burnette said, “The world has miscellaneous built into it.”
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The same if you organize books. Fiction, non-fiction. But where on its best-seller list should The New York Times have put Edmund Morris’ Dutch, a semi-fictionalized biography of Ronald Reagan? Is poetry fiction or non-fiction? Is Lucretius science or literature? In the end, you wind up subdividing your categories so finely, that perhaps each volume gets its own subcategory. How is that different from chaos?
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The New York Times now prints 11 weekly lists of best-sellers, all subdivided: Combined Print & E-Book Fiction; Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction; Hardcover Fiction; Hardcover Nonfiction; Paperback Trade Fiction; Paperback Nonfiction; Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous; Children’s Middle-Grade Hardcover; Children’s Picture Books; Children’s Series, Young Adult Hardcover. And that’s not counting the monthly lists: Audio Fiction; Audio Nonfiction; Business Graphic Books; Mass Market; Middle Grade Paperback; and Young Adult Paperback.
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6 Books filed by color
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Burnette says, organize your books by color. It’s as good as anything else. Even the Dewey Decimal System has “miscellaneous” built into it and the Library of Congress organization actually begins with it, called “General Works.”
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Just talking with each other and trying to communicate requires fuzziness and imprecision. Trying to be too precise only invites misunderstanding. Total order and total chaos are, after all, identical.
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I remember thinking about scientific nomenclature. Once we separate animals out from everything else, we then divide them up into phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. A dog, for instance is phylum chordate; class mammal; order, carnivore; family, canid; genus, Canis; species, familiaris. We usually only use the last two for identification: Canis familiaris.
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7 Dog breeds 2
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But even the category “dog” can be subdivided into breed: schnauzer; doberman; chihuahua. Breeds get broken down, too: water spaniel; springer spaniel; cocker spaniel Indeed, the nomenclature is constantly being subdivided into sub-phylum, sub-order, etc. Taxonomists are fervid with smaller and smaller divisions. Family is subdivided into sub-family, tribe and sub-tribe; there are subgenera and subspecies.
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And they can’t be satisfied with one rank, but often try to find distinctions within genera so they may create new ones. In times past, for instance, a lion was classified as “Felis leo,” that is a cat of the lion species; But no, that wasn’t enough. It was noticed that cats come in two varieties: Small and large — i.e., those that can purr and those that can’t. And so, Felis was divided into Felis and Panthera and lions became Panthera leo.
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8 MGM Leo 1
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But even that wasn’t enough for some taxonomists, who found enough difference between tigers, leopards, on one hand — and lions on the other, to create yet a new genus: Leo, held solely for our leonine brethren, and so, it became Leo leo. But there were African lions — Leo leo leo — and the subspecies of Asiatic lions — Leo leo persica. Enough already. Indeed some taxonomists have gone back to using Panthera. And the Indian lions have been relumped back into Panthera leo. Not all zoologists agree, and if you visit different zoos, you will find different labels attached to cages, depending on who is choosing the name (and also how often zoo officials update their signage).
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To take the whole enterprise to absurdity, that dog we were discussing can be so roundly classified as to prove the meaninglessness of the attempt to do so. We classify in an attempt to make order of chaos. But the more we subdivide, the more chaotic we make things. Your dog is not only separated out as a chordate mammal carnivore canid of the familiaris species, but also of the breed spaniel, the kind water spaniel, and the individual name, Buster. Every dog can be thus subdivided down to its individual name, meaning that in the end, there are as many categories as there are things in the cosmos — in other words, chaos.
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9 Chaos 5
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In other words, the more precise a word is, the less it describes, and perfectly precise language is functionally meaningless. Meaning depends on fuzziness. “Dog” is ambiguous, but we all know what is meant, more or less. “Buster” has only meaning to those who know that particular dog.
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Fuzzy is good. Like an Impressionist painting, which can actually look more real than the finely detailed and finicky painting of the Renaissance and Baroque. The fuzzier river reflections in the Impressionist painting are almost photographic compared with the sharply detailed but unrealistic reflections in the older painting.
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10 Impressionist vs Renaissance ptg
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(And where exactly does the Baroque shade into the Rococo? Or the Romantic Age become the Victorian? Where did Modernity begin? With Picasso or Einstein? With the Crimean War? With Napoleon? With the Enlightenment? With the Renaissance? With Rome? With Egypt? With agriculture? History is always fuzzier than our outlining of it.)
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Where do you, as a person, begin and end? It would seem that one’s skin is the border between self and not-self. But proprioception can create a different self: Amputees can “feel” their selves extend into phantom limbs. And for most, if you are driving a car, say, your sense of selfness can extend to the limits of the car — you become one thing operating on the streets. You can back into a parking space because you have a proprioceptive sense of how far you and your automobile extend into space.
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11 Personal space - 4
And you can feel uncomfortable if someone invades your personal space. So, where does the self end?
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National borders and identities have the same issues. When Winston Churchill wrote his books, he title them History of the English Speaking Peoples, because he couldn’t draw a line around England without extending it to Scotland and Wales, and then the United States and Canada, and then, what about Australia and New Zealand?
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12 Poland 20th C
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National borders keep shifting. Poland has appeared and disappeared many times over history. In the 20th Century alone, it disappeared and reappeared twice, and after World War II, the entire country picked up its skirts and skidded west by roughly 200 miles, ceding part of its former self to the U.S.S.R. and taking in turn a chunk of what was used to be eastern Germany.
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We are watching borders shift constantly. Where will Ukraine be two years from now?
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We think of the world in nouns, as if it were static, but truly it is all verb, and the constant motion blurs every outline.
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Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.

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Cezanne 2.

by Richard Nilsen

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Some questions don’t have a right answer, or a single right answer.
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I was an art critic for my entire career, and so, the question of beauty was central. I’ve thought about it for at least 50 years. And the answers I’ve found have changed over that time. As you would expect as one gets older and has more experience under the belt.
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There are as many theories of beauty as there are writers about the subject. Estheticians abound, and argue over rarified bits of arcana, often in such impenetrable jargon as to make their thoughts meaningless. If you’ve been mystified reading Hegel in English, try reading him in German. It can be word salad, without the blue cheese dressing.
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Love and Death
(In Woody Allen’s Love and Death, he catches the tone perfectly when Sonja (Diane Keaton) says, “But judgment of any system or a priori relation of phenomena exists in any rational or metaphysical or at least epistemological contradiction to an abstracted empirical concept such as being or to be or to occur in the thing itself or of the thing itself.”  To which Woody replies, “Yeah, I’ve said that many times.”)
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But to talk of beauty in plain language can get bogged down in the fact that the word covers many very different things. Certainly, all those opinion-givers have varying definitions for the word. And “beauty” is one of those problematic words that is used for very different things, hardly related at all.
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English is full of such words. When you hear someone pedantically correct a speaker, saying, “A tomato is not a vegetable, it is a fruit,” you must know that “vegetable” has different usages, and one of them has nothing to do with a plant’s reproductive system — which makes a tomato count as a fruit — but how it is perceived as a food, which is savory and therefore thought of as a vegetable. Fruits are eaten as sweet. Is one wrong and the other right? No. The word has multiple meanings. In the broadest sense, we make a distinction between “animal, mineral, or vegetable.” In that sense, even an oak tree is a vegetable, but I wouldn’t serve one up with a hollandaise sauce.
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Beauty contest 5
And so, we use “beauty” rather sloppily to cover a multitude of very different things. First, when we talk about beauty in a person, as when we talk about a beautiful woman. Rather different than if we say a Cezanne painting is beautiful. Standards of female beauty change over time, and people find different qualities attractive. By today’s standards, even Marilyn Monroe seems a tad chubby. By Victorian standards, she would have seemed anorexic. And then, there’s Rubens.
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It was the ancient Greeks who first talked of beauty in the human form, but for them, the subject was almost always the male body. They idealized the perfect athletic body of a male roughly between the ages of 18 and 30 and their statuary celebrates this. It should be pointed out that this love of the male form was not necessarily homoerotic (although there are overtones, especially considering the Classical predilections, which are way too complicated to get into here but have very little to do with modern ideas of LGBTQ.)
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Greek ideal
To the Greek of the 5th Century BCE, man was the measure of all things (and they meant “men”) and so perfection of the male body was the ideal of beauty — perfect proportion, line, form, tone, color. Now, when we talk about the beauty of the human body, we more often think of attractive women, and we’re not talking about perfection of form so much as sexual desire.
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Sometimes we discuss a beautiful person and what we mean is neither form nor sex, but rather our appreciation of the humanness of a person, the sense that in the person we see a life lived and a liveliness in feature. I’ve seen this often when a woman will say to a man about an old woman, white-haired and wizened, “Isn’t she beautiful?” and typically the man will be puzzled, because to him, a beautiful woman is a nubile woman. But there is beauty in all human faces.
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Old woman 3
Then, there is conventional beauty, which is what we collectively, as a society, consider “pretty,” such as a sunset, or bed of peonies. This can easily devolve into “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.” Such things may, in fact, be beautiful, but more directly, they are simply accepted as such because we have all agreed to it. The “pretty” is conventional; it is bland. It requires no thought or consideration: It just lies there, accepted with lip service paid, but with little active engagement. It is a postcard sunset, a Montovani recording, a symmetrical-faced actress indistinguishable from other symmetrical-faced actresses. There is little less inspiring than tacitly accepted beauty.

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Then, there are all those esthetic theories by all those dreary old philosophers, beginning with Plato and Aristotle. You can read your Hegel, or your Kant, or your Theodore Adorno or Susanne Langer, and you will get a lot of words. Middens of words, piles of words, forests of trees turned into paper and splashed with oceans of ink. And each of these theories, while they may have something meaningful to impart (they were all very smart people who wrote them), still tend to be part of larger philosophical ideas and used to bolster the larger ideas. They aren’t there solely to discuss art or beauty, but as evidence for the bigger case of idealism or pragmatism or poststructural deconstructionism.
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(As for the last, pace Derrida, Foucault and Lacan, but why should you pay attention to anyone whose writing, by their own theories, has no meaning?)
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For me, the problem is that we tend to see “beauty” as a noun, a thing. After thinking about it for more than half a century, I’ve come to realize that beauty is a process, a verb rather than a noun. Or rather that it is an event, not a thing. It is an occurrence, a transaction. And it requires work on the part of the perceiver.
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I don’t mean simply that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but that beauty is your active participation in the things of the world. In my understanding, beauty is awareness. If you are awake and paying attention, you will be dumbstruck by beauty.
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Plastic Bag
In the film, American Beauty, the teenage character Ricky Fitts, obsessively videotapes his world. In one central scene, he is viewing his recording of a discarded plastic bag blowing in the wind against a brick wall. It is, he says, the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, and that capturing the moment was when he realized that there was “an entire life behind things.”
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Or, as William Blake put it, “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.”
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Beauty is the recognition of this. It is epiphany. It isn’t merely out there in the world, waiting to be named, nor is it just “in the mind of the beholder.” You have the two blades of a scissors. The scissors itself is neither the one blade nor the other, but the two working together: Beauty is your active participation in the perception of the things of the world.
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The world is capable of being seen as beautiful — that’s the objective part — and we’re capable of perceiving that beauty — that’s the subjective. And where the two things come together, that is beauty. That would make beauty an active thing, not a passive observation. You have to pay attention.

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Postcard sunset 2
You must see or hear or feel more intensely than you do in the ordinary world of watching TV or polishing the silver. And that is why the passive beauty, like a photo of a sunset, is a cliche. The photo becomes a shorthand for doing the actual work. It becomes a “word” or symbol for the beauty, rather than the event of the beauty itself. It is reading about love rather than feeling it.
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Beauty, in this definition, is the result of engagement. It is an awareness between you and the cosmos, each of the other. It is the recognition, sometimes startling in its suddenness, of the wholeness of it all, of its permanence and its evanescence.
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The world is many things, and it offers a share of misery, pain and loss, there is war and death, but it also affords moments of epiphany, the breakthrough of beauty, like the red glow in the black ashy cracks of a dying fire. Beauty is the the world looking at itself through our eyes and recognizing itself.

 

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Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.

.Scholar 1 Rembrandt

 

by Richard Nilsen

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Many years ago, when I was a teacher, I told my students on the first day of class that I considered it my goal to make them unemployable. I was quite serious about it. I wasn’t trying to ruin their lives; I was trying to enrich them.

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There is an almost universal canard these days that education is supposed to prepare you for a job. That a university education should, in effect, be vocational training. This is an idea which horrifies me. 

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Nobody should ever be condemned to a job. A career? Yes. A vocation? Yes. A calling? Especially yes. But a job? Never. 

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If there is a “job” we are put on the earth for, it is to become as fully human as possible, to learn all we are capable of, to discover our full selves. A process that Carl Jung would have called “individuation.” Certainly, we need to put food on the table and we need to face the quotidian demands on our time. But underneath all that, there is a self that needs to grow and develop, if for no other reason than to better fulfill the demands made on us by other people — both those with power over us and those we love. 

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An education is one of the ways we do this. And no better education serves this function than what has been called a “liberal education.” It was the purpose of Aristotle’s peripatetic lectures, the purpose of the trivium and quadrivium, the purpose of a college core curriculum. One should be exposed to a wide variety of thought and disciplines. Avoiding ignorance and self-satisfaction and instead questioning everything. 

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I remember a conversation with an editor looking to hire another reporter for the paper. “I don’t want a J-school grad,” he said. J-school is journalism school, where you learn all the ins and outs of interviewing, Associated Press style, and work flow. “I don’t want a J-school grad,” he said. “I want someone with wide experience and a general education. We can teach him (or her) everything else needed in a couple of weeks on the job.” To be trained to any single discipline is to be too easily left ignorant of everything else. 

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It is much more important to have some sense of the world and how the news you are reporting fits into the bigger picture. What journalists call “context.” 

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Our primary job in life is to become ourselves. This is a life-long process; we are always “becoming.” A formal education should put us on a path in which we become competent to build our selves. If all it does is train us to be a cog in a business, it has stifled us and preempted the growth process. 

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A large portion of the political thought on education these days centers on jobs and job training. “Jobs” is a buzzword, meant to influence elections. Especially among Republicans, life is seen to be economic life. Oddly, this is something they share with Communists — the Marxian view of life is one of workers and production. There is little concern for family, love, empathy, spiritual concerns, hobbies, altruism or simply wondering at the night sky. 

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But what turns out to be important — and this becomes clearer and clearer the older one gets, and the closer to the final curtain — are these very issues. No one, as they say, faces death wishing they had spent more time at the office. More often, they will have wished to have told more people that they loved them and told them more often. 

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And so, my lessons in class were meant to tempt my students to think differently, to see what had been invisible to them before, to recognize the infinite complexity of their lives and the universe they inhabit. 

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I taught photography and taught it as an art. That is, to use the camera as a method of self discovery. One regular assignment was to photograph something so that I could not tell what it was. I did not mean to make a badly focused photo, or a bad print, but to see something in a way it had not usually been seen. Often that meant extreme close-ups and lack of context, to bring out patterns rather than nameable objects. That way, you could actually see the details — the patterns — an not just a subject you could name (a “house,” or a “car”).

.Growing trees

Another assignment, even harder, was when I asked them to make a bad photograph. Again, I did not mean one badly processed, out of focus or chemically incompetent (this was in the days before digital), but one that was poorly designed or composed, or poorly thought through. You know, as when someone photographs a child with a tree growing out of their head, because the did not notice the tree in the viewfinder. 

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The problem was that if the student was trying to make something poorly thought through, they had to think carefully about it. And so, if they were intelligent or talented, the mere fact of paying attention to what they were doing made it nearly impossible to make their photograph bad. You could break all the so-called “rules” of art and design, but if you did it on purpose, it would work. 

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For them, I defined design itself as “your awareness of what is in the frame.” Awareness is what counts. If you are aware of what you are doing, there are no false steps. 

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If I had been teaching them to become professional photographers, I would have given them the “rule of thirds,” or the use of long-focus lenses for portraits. But I was not doing that; I was trying to make them deeper, more aware human beings. And hence, “unemployable.” 

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They would be more interesting people, more aware of others and the variety of ideas, beliefs and customs. More comfortable in the world, less likely to judge immediately and indiscriminately. 

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This is what my college education provided for me. Certainly I came into it with a raging curiosity, but taking a full range of courses, both scientific and humanistic — history, literature, philosophy — cracked me open. For that I am forever grateful. I did not learn any job skills, but I did discover a great deal about myself. I found both that the world was much bigger and more varied than I had known, and that I was, too.

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Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.

 
 
 

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