Monthly Archives: October 2016

by Richard Nilsen
When I was young, I don’t know how many times I visited the Hayden Planetarium in New York. As a boy and as a teenager, the planetarium and its adjacent American Museum of Natural History were anchors to my sense of the world. It wasn’t just the science I learned there (I quickly figured out that science required more math than I was willing to chew on); in fact, it was really the esthetics. I thought the photographs I saw of the stars and galaxies at the planetarium (and the bones and dioramas I saw at the museum) were the most beautiful things I knew. They gave me a nascent awareness of the sublime — a sense of the vastness and intensity of the universe and the tiny corner I inhabited. An affirmation that the sum of creation was not limited to the suburban banality I knew in northern New Jersey. That came as such a relief.
Those astrophotographs were the birth of an esthetic sense that has never left me.
Long before the technicolor glories from the Hubble telescope, it was the now-primitive black-and-white photos from the Mount Wilson and Lick observatories that moved me. At the planetarium, they were glass transparencies lit from behind in a darkened corridor and it was the visual contrast between the texture of bright specks against an unfathomable black background that excited me. I have searched long for a book that would have those photographs in it, printed with a velvety black ink, to reignite that sense of wonder, but I’m afraid that like much in the childhood of any of us, such pleasures are unrecoverable.
Yet, I found something like that sense again in Phoenix, when, as the art critic for The Arizona Republic I followed the career of Mayme Kratz. One of the very first shows I reviewed for the paper, in 1987, was Kratz’s ”Vertigo Series” show at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, which was mostly paintings of falling or floating women. Between then and now, Kratz has grown considerably. Her art currently has more dimensions and, what is more, is better crafted.
One of the things I railed against on my journalistic soapbox was the proliferation of academic and didactic artists flailing away with titrations of French philosophy and installations espousing ideological points better made in political cartoons — such art giving us recipes instead of food, menus instead of meals. I longed for art that spoke to us about the experience of being alive, art that awoke me to the pleasures and pains of the existence I knew. Art not about art, but about life.
Yet, to be successful as art, it needed to be more than pictures of pretty things, it needed to be abstracted to some degree, to be made metaphorical rather than literal, to have resonance, like the plummy sounds of a chorus of French horns. It couldn’t hit me over the head with a message, but rather elicit from my inner core something buried there — something I recognized when seeing the art. That harmonization of the inner as a mirror of the outer brings the viewer pleasure — even pleasure in the recognition of sorrow and loss, the pleasure in recognition of something shared, something profoundly human. This is what gives me so much utter pleasure in the works of Kratz.
The analogy with the photographs of spiral galaxies is hardly arbitrary. What attracted me to the photographs was the contrast between texture and flatness — stars in the blackness. Both necessary. In the large Kratz wallhangings, there is the same: some textured bit of nature embedded in industrially smooth colored translucent resin. You can see in many of them, the buried seeds or shells have been sanded smooth to the surface of the resin and often as a result slicing the seed or shell in half, opening their innards to view, and thereby giving them a rough and spiny texture that contrasts with the polish of the resin.
There is also the organic nature of the embedded morsels versus the manufactured sheen of the framing acrylic. This balance of oppositions gives them an ambiguous subtlety. One feels the sensuous darts of the natural bits and the bland soothingness of the color that engulfs them.
I have enjoyed the art of Mayme Kratz for decades now, and it is one of my regrets that, having moved away from Arizona, I no longer see her shows in person. Seeing them digitally online cannot suffice — the computer screen (or printed page) cannot convey the deep color, the physicality of the texture, or the scale — and it is their palpable presence that carries the resonance (I almost wrote “resin-ance.”) But I carry with me the remembrance of them, just as I do the glowing pictures of distant galaxies. They illuminate my life.
I have written about her work many times over the years, but I wanted to include the close of a review I wrote in 1998 for a show the artist had at the Lisa Sette Gallery, when it was still in Scottsdale:
“For most of these pieces are constructed out of the findings Kratz accumulates while walking. There are butterfly wings, moths, sunflowers, a wizened lizard and bee wings, in addition to an entire dead bird, the capstone to her 5-foot-tall mini-obelisk calledThis Bird. The piece captures the light and glows with life. The bird itself, half obscured in the foggy thickness of an amberlike resin, is spread-winged in imitation of flight, yet obviously no longer alive. The ambiguity is central to Kratz’s art.
“The work is always ravishingly gorgeous, but it is never about that. If anything, it is about death and loss, the passing of seasons and years, the process of living and dying. It all seems as fragile as the nests, as stinging as the thorns on the ocotillo.
“The dead bird is only one example. Other titles tell the tale: Late Summer, Winter of Listening, Lost and Found, Ending August,What Remains. There is a deep nostalgia in the work that is not cheap sentiment, but profound emotion.
“In Out of Silence, the glistening cicada wings, like veins of silver, float in the darkness of the resin, and are seen, dimly, inside the work and not on its surface. You are forced to consider what is not obvious.
“Always, there is the sense of looking through the work, rather than at it, like kelp seen floating under the sea surface.
“ ‘What I deal with is a battle between dark and light, between what’s seen and what’s unseen,’ she once told me.
“It is work that is ambiguous without being obscure, subtle without being feeble, raw without being unfinished, emotional without being overwrought.
“And, most of all, it is beautiful without being pretty.”

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 and his wife 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 Pearce Paul Creasman, University of Arizona

A short-lived king of ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, Tutankhamun (transl. “the living image of Amun”; but born Tutankhaten, “the living image of the Aten”) is the most widely known pharaoh today.  Tutankhamun’s notoriety in the present is primarily due to the discovery of his largely intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings (Luxor, Egypt). In 1922, the English archaeologist Howard Carter’s team discovered the tomb, now known by its location and sequential find number: “KV62.”1 Lavishly appointed, the tomb contained extravagant trappings of the sorts that were likely buried with most kings of Egypt’s New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1080 BC; including the ruling families who composed the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties).2 Since virtually all other tombs in the Valley of the Kings had been serially robbed from antiquity to the present,3 that this tomb escaped most such activity makes it remarkable (it was slightly plundered in two brief events in the few years after the king was interred, but then rested safely until its discovery in 1922). Prior to the tomb’s discovery, Tutankhamun was a minor figure in the history of Egypt and even less important to the history of Egyptology.

Tutankhamun was the son (perhaps by a minor wife) of a prior pharaoh: Akhenaten. Akhenaten is best known for his erstwhile attempt to convert the integrated religious-social-political system of Egypt to a single deity (the Aten) above and in place of the traditional pantheon.4 Akhenaten ruled for nearly two decades from a new city (Akhetaten, a site called Amarna today, from which this period takes is name: the Amarna Period) and imposed his preferred system on the populace, but after his death the old ways returned.5 After exceedingly brief reigns of one or two other kings, one of whom perhaps began reformation of Akhenaten’s ways,6 Tutankhamun was placed on the throne of Egypt at about the age of nine. He ruled for some nine years, aided in the work by advisors and relatives. This time continued the transition back to the polytheistic ways and re-advancing the previously favored gods (i.e., Amun). While many works in this vein were conducted in Tutankhamun’s name, it is likely that the king himself played a minor role in the effort.

Even though his mummy is available for study, Tutankhamun’s death, around the age of 18 or 19, is shrouded in mystery. Numerous theories have been offered and rebuffed,7 but whatever the cause, his death seems to have come somewhat suddenly, to gauge from the hurried appearance of preparations of his interment.8 However sudden, Tutankhamun was rewarded for his participation in the rejuvenation of Egypt after its Amarna interlude with a proper kingly burial. It was the duty of the new king to ensure that his predecessor received such treatment, as death awaits all kings. Tutankhamun waited in the darkness of his tomb, unassumingly and overlooked historically, only to be brought to light by Howard Carter. The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and its treasures captivated the world and have continued to do so for nearly a century.

Of late, Tutankhamun and his tomb have returned to prominence. In a July 2015 publication, Nicholas Reeves (a renowned expert on the Amarna Period, and Tutankhamun specifically) proposed that more remains to be discovered in KV62. Based on numerous lines of evidence, Reeves posited that at least two additional chambers (or portions thereof) may remain undiscovered in this tomb in the Valley of the Kings.9 While the data employed and the theory that something else is to be discovered in KV62 are scientifically sound and well justified, Reeves advanced the case to suggest that that “something” would be, specifically, the burial of Nefertiti. Nefertiti was Akhenaten’s favored wife and step-mother to Tutankhamun. Furthermore, it now seems likely that Nefertiti ruled briefly as pharaoh herself, albeit under a different name.10 Nefertiti’s burial place has never been found but has long been hunted. However, the case for Nefertiti co-occupying a tomb in a hidden chamber(s) with Tutankhamun, while certainly possible, remains supported by largely circumstantial evidence rather than the scientific data that indicate the existence of something beyond the walls. Any number of other royals from the period are viable candidates for co-occupancy, and it is just as likely, based on the data in hand, that the something comprises one or more empty or incomplete chambers (which are common among the other tombs the Valley of the Kings).

The head of archaeology in Egypt at the time, Minister of Antiquities and Heritage Dr. Mamdouh El Damaty (accompanied by a special Investigation Committee to evaluate the theory), invited Reeves visit KV62 in September 2015 for an up-close empirical investigation and initial vetting of the theory. With the support of the Minister, in November 2015, an international team conducted a non-invasive and non-destructive remote sensing examination from the interior of KV62 to evidence if, indeed, additional chambers are present.  The results suggested that Reeves’ theory was correct.11 Two subsequent studies by other international teams came back divided on the result.12 At present, the work stands here. Announcements have been made that a special committee is evaluating all of the data collected and will advise the archaeological authorities in Egypt on any future work.13 Presently, the most likely course of future action appears to be additional scans from inside the tomb with different technologies. Ground-penetrating radar scans from outside the tomb (from the surface level) have not yet been conducted and would provide perhaps the most definitive statement on the theory short of accessing the spaces by drilling a hole and inserting an endoscopic camera or similar device. So Tutankhamun’s tomb may yet hold more wonders.  Only time—and technology—will tell.

References & Further Reading

Mark Howard Carter, The Tomb of Tut.ankh.Amen: Discovered by the Late Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter, 3 volumes (London: Cassell, 1923–1933).

2 Nicholas Reeves, The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure (London: Thames & Hudson, 1995).

3  C. N. Reeves, Valley of the Kings: The Decline of a Royal Necropolis (London: Kegan Paul International, 1990).

4 Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001).

5 Barry Kemp, The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti: Amarna and Its People (Thames & Hudson, 2014).

6 James P. Allen, 1994. “Nefertiti and Smenkh-ka-re,” Göttinger Miszellen 141 (1994): 7–17; Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001).

7 For example: (multiple causes) Zahi Hawass et al., “Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family,” Journal of the American Medical Association 303.7 (17 February 2010): 638–647; (kick by a horse or donkey) W. Benson Harer, Jr., 2006. “An Explanation of King Tutankhamen’s Death,” Bulletin of the Egyptian Museum 3 (2006): 83–88.

8 See Reeves 1995.

9 Nicholas Reeves, The Burial of Nefertiti? (Tucson: Amarna Royal Tombs Project, 2015).

10 James P. Allen, 1994. “Nefertiti and Smenkh-ka-re,” Göttinger Miszellen 141 (1994): 7–17; Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001).

11 Mark Strauss, “Infrared Scans Show Possible Hidden Chamber in King Tut’s Tomb,” National Geographic Online (6 November 2015), .

Mark2 Peter Hessler, “In Egypt, Debate Rages over Scans of King Tut’s Tomb,” National Geographic Online (9 May 2016), .

Mark3 Publically stated by government authorities at the “Second Annual Tutankhamun Grand Egyptian Museum Conference in Cairo” on 8 May 2016, for which the author was in attendance; see also Hessler 2016.


by Richard Nilsen
The editor who hired me at The Arizona Republic, now almost 30 years ago, wore sandals to work at a time reporters were required to wear neckties — at least, the men were. He took a chance on me, though I had no genuine journalistic experience. He either saw something in me that even I didn’t see, or he was doing his best to subvert the cause of newspapers. Which way it turned out, I am not qualified to say, but I was the last street-hire in the history of the paper. Apres moi, le J-school degree.
Why I bring it up is that he looked at talent and intelligence according to a kind of ordinate-abscissa he concocted, in which the x-axis was a measure of intellectual depth, and the y-axis was width.
“Everyone tends to be either one or the other,” he said. “It is rare to be both wide and deep.” He paused a moment and decided that perhaps Pope John-Paul II might count as both, a playwright and a theologian; he spoke 12 languages.
In centuries past, it was no party trick to be both wide and deep. In a world pre-specialization, a botanist could count as a philosopher and might write poetry on the side. Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote novels, poetry and was an experimental physicist. We remember Henry David Thoreau as a writer, but he made real scientific discoveries about plant succession. Even novelist Vladimir Nabokov discovered several new species of lepidoptera.
In the past, it was expected that an educated man would have a wide erudition, that he would know Latin and Greek, play a musical instrument, could draw with a clean line and perhaps discover the existence of oxygen, or the nature of lightning. Such expansive learning is nearly impossible now. There is too much to know about any field before you can make a significant contribution. Specialties require too much time, too many degrees.
In our own time, E.O. Wilson knows more about ants than any living human being, but he also knows a good deal about other aspects of science, and is a fluent and graceful writer of English prose.
But Wilson stands out for his polymath catholicism. In this day and age, to earn a Ph.D. is largely to find some subject so small, so narrow and restricted, that you can become the world’s leading authority on it. “The use of macron and breve in 11th-century Bergundian prosody,” or “The internal coherence of a 12th dimension in 11-dimensional quantum string theory.”
I don’t want to make this too exclusive. I hardly know a scientist who has no interests at all outside his field. He or she might play the bagpipe on the side, or collect postage stamps from Eastern Europe. Physicians  traditionally play classical music. But such hobbies are relief from a life buried in vocational minutiae. The fact remains, it is nearly impossible to make a significant contribution to human understanding without diving so deep into a specialty that you suffer the bends if you attempt to resurface.
What is the benefit of all this submergence? For whom does the specialist toil? Certainly for career advancement, but that is little boon for the rest of us. The fact is, all this tunnel vision, by an army of specialists, works to better the lot of humankind, whether through vaccines, or finding ways of purifying water in subsaharan Africa or even faster, more efficient travel from one side of the continent to the other. Even the scholar who collates Medieval texts gives us a general advance in human knowledge. Someone has to give us the best version of Hamlet to perform.
Rather like the ants in one of E.O. Wilson’s colonies, the individual working so diligently at such a tiny corner of existence turns out to be a grain of sand in a great strand of accumulated beach. Does it benefit the specialist? Perhaps it makes his or her life richer, but perhaps, too, it can bore to death a pile of grandchildren whose interests lie elsewhere. The ultimate benefit is in the accumulation of all the tiny bits from all the specialists everywhere.
That’s where width really enters the equation.
Someone has to put all the puzzle pieces together. And to do so requires the crossover strength of someone who may not grasp the finer details of molecular biology or the ballistic calculations behind a space probe, or the grammatical convolutions of rank and deference displayed in the Japanese language, but has just enough of the many parts to make wider sense of it all.
Width takes it all in from horizon to horizon. It may see only the surface, but it can make a useful map of those surfaces, find where they interrelate, how one advance can be applied to some unrelated field, suggest a possible consequence previously unintended, can discover that grand unified field vision that identifies an era as the “Age of Reason,” or the “Romantic Age,” or Victorian.
In some sense, I think of it as the eternal struggle in biological taxonomy between the so-called “lumpers,” and “splitters.” Lumpers find the similitudes, splitters the distinctions. So that, once a lion was classified as Felis leo — that is, a cat of the leonine kind. But splitters decided that there were two different kinds of cats, Felis and Panthera. The primary difference was that felid cats could purr and panthers could not, which means that cougars, although they are large, are considered “small cats” and were dubbed Felis concolor, and that lions were clearly in the latter group, and so the poor beast was renamed as Panthera leo. Not leaving well enough alone, the splitters then decided that perhaps the king of the beasts should have his very own genus, and renamed him Leo leo. (The rare or extinct Barbary lion subspecies was hence christened Leo leo leo, which sounds more like someone calling home a pet for dinner). Not everyone agreed; you still find cases of each being used, although most zoologists have backed off Leo leo and settled on Panthera leo. So much for Linnean naming conventions clearing up the ambiguities of popular names. The rest of us can just say, “lion.”
The point being that in the perpetual friction between depth and width, there is the same back-and-forth. At times it is the aggregators who are in the ascendency, at other times, it is the specialists. In reality, you cannot do without both. The specialist makes the bricks that the generalist can use to build his edifice.
At this point in time, it is the specialists who hold sway, and they have a tendency to regard their opposites as mere amateurs, which, of course, they are. It is hard to be an amateur, as Benjamin Franklin was, and make a difference in genetics or astrophysics. But a brilliant amateur can often spot the analogies, find the hidden concurrences and make the synaptic zap between some advance in neuro-biology and another in political theory and synthesize something new. It is the generalists who ultimately validate the specialists.
(I might make a plug here and point out that The Spirit of the Senses encourages such cross-discipline thinking and provides its members with access to some of the bricks being made by some state-of-the-art specialists.)
One might make the argument that it is in the arts that such cross-fertilization finds its best expression, that the subconscious of our cultural rationality is summed up and presented in the visual, verbal or kinetic arts. It is hard now not to find the reflection of Einstein’s relativity in James’ Joyce’s Ulysses or Picasso’s Cubism or Schoenberg’s serialism.
So, in this era of gene splicing and cyber programming, I would make a case for the liberal arts, for the generalist, the amateur, the synthesizer, the pattern finder, the wool-gatherer.
In other words, I would make the case for width in an age of narrow depth.

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 and his wife 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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