Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Didactic -- why artists are so savvy and at the core of things

If you believe that an article, a letter, a motivational speaker, a talk show, or a self-help book, or even just a Google search for medical or diet information, can impart wisdom, advice, knowledge, or truth, then you are a practitioner of what the Greeks called the didactic.

This pretty much describes everyone.  And it also describes the heart and roots of education.  If you think that a textbook, lecture, study guide, or online course can transmit effective information, then you are practicing the didactic. Reading this blog is didactic.

Theologians describe some of the New Testament epistles, such as the Epistle of James, as didactic.

The didactic was a delivery method -- excuse me, is a delivery method.

The Greeks believed that beliefs could be transmitted verbally, visually, materially to others.  Hence, architecture could communicate order and harmony by embodying the "perfect" repeated geometry of The Golden Ratio.  This was important to them because the Greeks, like Buddhists, believed that the only good existence was one harmonious with nature.

The Greek temples were a delivery system -- Greeks believed that knowledge could be shared through speech, letters, plays, works of art, sculptures, and architecture.  History as well as religion could be preserved that way, hence the Greek orders that captured their roots as Dorians and their debt to the influences of Ionia and the Orient.

The didactic method informed Early Christian and Medieval art.  Complex theology, such as a theophany and "original sin",  could be transmitted via imagery.  Bible stories could be conveyed and called to remembrance through art.

Images became iconography, symbols that could directly represent meaning, as expressed via that Greek didactic word "ikon".  And, in so doing also reflect the meanings inherent in icons as well as the express statements that they represent.

Artists have therefore been informed theologians and philosophers throughout history. There are practical implications as well.  Without thorough knowledge of physics your sculpture may not last, and without a keen awareness of chemistry you just might poison yourself.  Without some political savvy you might be poisoning yourself as well -- or setting yourself up to be poisoned.

Know and respect your patrons.

The didactic is not only the bedrock of liberal arts, all teaching and textbooks operate via didactic methods, irregardless of discipline. 

So, should art be part of the core of educational requirements?  Well, art is a delivery system.  It has always been and will always be.  We all make choices.  You can choose to be affiliated, such as iconography, or disaffiliated, such as graffiti, but you can't remove the human from humanity.

So, will we manage, own and learn through the delivery system? Or do we do something else?

All alphabetic letters began as pictures.  Even if you take illustrations away, the words that you read began as pictures. Writing is actually drawing. Is art really necessary?  Well, is the didactic necessary?

You decide.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Sacrecrow That Works...

For three years we have been attacked by cardinals -- the car in the drive, its side view mirrors scratched, paint scratched, they even pulled the rubber stripping off the door -- the garage windows and back windows regularly smacked, coated in slime and peck marks -- and they did the same to my neighbor, even breaking one of his windows.  It got to be so constant, and the striking of the house so annoying that I took to harassing them with pellet guns.  That reduced some of it but it made other attacks more annoying.  I tried pictures of owls, stickers on windows, and was told that an owl statue fails.

But, at PetsMart I saw this, a plushy furry owl in The Martha Stewart Gentle Play collection in the dog toy aisle.  I put two in the trees out front... and the cardinals stopped.  Stopped.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Most Powerful Question

In an episode of the Sixties television series The Prisoner titled "The General", Patrick McGoohan's character, the nameless number 6, destroys the dangerous computer with the unanswerable question, "Why?"

I asked Siri, "Why?", and she said, "Good question.  Anything else I can do for you?"

When I asked Siri again, she said, "Frankly, I've wondered that myself".

Obviously programmers are more savvy about the question "why?" and I suspect that artificial intelligence when it arrives will be more capable and elusive than the primitive computers of Sixties television series.

But, to people in power, to ones who want unquestioning obedience, it is the scariest and most frightening question in the world.  Faced with a world dominating computer, the question may ultimately fail, but faced with mortal humanity it is something you should singularly never let go of and never be talked out of asking.

It's the classic question that annoys parents.  It deserves a laugh and some entertaining enjoyment when spoken by children.  It can be delightful itching powder when deftly employed by an adult bent on using their skills at How To Annoy People.

It is a question you should never let anyone take from you.

An oft-cited and often quoted story from Primo Levi is of the icicle at Auschwitz when he was thirsty.  A guard destroyed the icicle, and Levi asked, "Why?"  The guard's soul crushing response was, "There is no 'why' here."

Let me say that characterization again:  The statement, "There is no 'why' here" is soul crushing.

And you should resist it.  You should defy it.  You should ask why.

The whole planet should be posted at frequent intervals with signs that say, "Ask Why" and "There is always Why here."

It is the single question power hates.

Behind that question come truths and answers and criticisms and analysis and repentance and confessions.

The guard at Auschwitz knew it.  He broke the question in an effort to break the will just the same way that he broke the icicle.

Why did people paint pictures in the dark in caves?

Why is the Fibonacci Sequence everywhere?

Why can't I fly when I want to?

Why did you remove my name and make me anonymous?

Why have you relocated my family?

Why aren't there enough inspectors?

Why are people dying from poisonings?

Why are taxes going up but bridges are falling down?

Defy anyone who tries to stop you from asking why.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


The cherry tree blooms in the first week of April every year.

Spring is here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Everything's Marvy

Le Pen from Marvy... now Marvy Uchida... and Recollections from Michael's... same pen?  Same manufacturer?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mystery Ink

Why have these green Flair and Pentel pens lasted Eight Years (8) ??  While all other felt tip pens and colors dry up in a week????

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Princess of India -- a Wedding in India

Our daughter, Anna Lara, with such a Scottish name, was married in India last week.

This required a trip of 8,000 miles just to get there.  That's two 10-hour plane flights.

Then we had to travel from Delhi to the hometown.

Once there we began three days of ceremonies and celebrations.

The first day, Mehandi, involved henna. (photo Sarah Lambert Cook Bender)

Then a social gathering and party.

The next day was Bhaat, the gathering, arrival, invitation, and receiving of the groom's mother's brothers, known as "mamas".  Believe me, the words can be very challenging for Americans, especially when a man introduces himself as a mama.
This took a lot of time and was like an occasion of state.  The residence was lavishly decorated and there was abundant food.

That night, as part of Bhaat, there was Godh Bharai, the filling of the lap of the bride with gifts and blessings, including dolls to represent children.
                                               (photo Sarah Lambert Cook Bender)
That was followed by Sangeet which is a dance show that one might compare to Bollywood or American Idol or solos at Talent Night.  Great production!  And what a lot of talent!  Followed by a dance party until 2:00 a.m.
                                                (photo Sarah Lambert Cook Bender)

The third day was the wedding.  The bride prepares while the groom's family begins Baraat.  The groom is seen off on his horseback journey of victory.  When he reaches the wedding venue his friends dance and make a commotion to keep him from the bride.  That can take HOURS.  When he finally reaches the gate (in this case, the tent, and it was a HUGE red tent) the bride's mother greets him and measures him then lets him pass.
                                                   (photo Sarah Lambert Cook Bender)
Then everyone proceeds to the Mandapa where the father of the bride gives her away.  Then the bride and groom take vows, Kandayaan is followed by Mangal Phere, and Sindoor.

After that we ate and danced and visited until about 3:00 a.m. when I pushed them and their car out of the tent.  We reckoned that Anna Lara was carrying 40 pounds of fabric and jewelry.

And, of course, we had to drive back to Delhi at 6:30 a.m. to get through the dense fog and catch our flight, the first of two to take us 8,000 miles home over two days.

And the bride and groom?  Welcomed by their parents into their home.

(photo Vivek Garg)

One Hour in Paradise

That's me at Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi.  The locals pronounce it hah-my-ans and they just say "Delhi".  It was constructed in 1570 by the Mughal emperor and is a grand example of Persian influence, the Persian extension into India, Islamic style and values, and the Mughal Empire period in India.

It is also a wonderful example of the design of the walled garden, or "paradise".  That's the meaning of that word.

 At the points of the compass there are gates.  Each one is different and they represent different purposes and people.  This gate was for the women of the family and honors them.

 There are also ceremonial temples and shrines in other portions.  Water runs along the paths to fountains and reflecting pools in clean mathematical symmetry.

 This gate is for the pumping station and is at the wall that was once bordered by the river.  Another gate acted like a cabana or bath house for ritual cleansing as well as the welcoming gate for guests entering from the river.

 It's a pleasant and meditative place, ideal for strolling and talking, and visitors have plenty of freedom to look around.  We saw eagles, peacocks and other birds.

Be sure to notice the other gates and enclosures as well as the museum which has a model diorama and explains the layout and significance of the garden.

Monday, January 5, 2015

My journals on my daughter's web site...

My daughter, the artist Sarah-Lambert Cook Bender, has a post about my journals.

Take a look.