I Heart Huckabees

For your interest – Here’s a trailer from the film I mentioned in class. It deals with existentialism, but is still quirky/funny – not as gloomy as you might expect from someone like Camus! Worth checking out, if it suits your fancy.


Finals Prep – Seniors

Click below for a copy of the list I’ll give you in class for finals prep – be sure to look it over and see if there’s anything you want us to go over in class, anything you need a copy of, etc.

Juniors: This list still applies to you – but there will be some additions by the time you take your final, so be on the lookout for another post with that information!


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Food for Thought

Adrienne Rich, a widely respected writer and feminist, died a few weeks ago at the age of 82. As we consider the question of the “purpose” of art, these comments of Rich’s might inspire you:

“[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”

Rich said this when she declined to accept a National Medal for the Arts in 1997. She did so as a protest against Congress’s vote to end the National Endowment for the Arts, which has funded and encouraged art and literature in the United States since the 1960s. (Ultimately, Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time, failed to in his attempts to eliminate NEA funding in 1997.)

EDIT: Another example to stimulate discussion about the relationship between art and power

In 2009, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami was awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Prize. Many pressured Murakami to decline to accept the award in response to Israel’s bombing of Gaza at the time. He chose to accept the prize, but used his acceptance speech to call attention to the issue and criticize Israeli policy. He stated:

“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others – coldly, efficiently, systematically.

Full text of his speech is available here :http://www.haaretz.com/culture/arts-leisure/always-on-the-side-of-the-egg-1.270371

Artists’ Statements

In class discussion, I’ve read aloud and/or shared with you direct quotations from the artists, about their work. I anticipate you’ll need these for your future papers or studying, so here’s a few of them in text:

Gustave Courbet, 1861: “The art of painting can consist only in the representation of objects visible and tangible to the painter…An abstract object, invisible or nonexistent, does not belong in the domain of painting…Show me an angel, and I’ll paint one.”

1863 art critic’s response to Olympia: “a courtesan with dirty hands and feet…her body has the livid tint of a cadaver displayed in the morgue; her outlines are drawn in charcoal and her greenish, bloodshot eyes appear to be provoking the public, protected all the while by a hideous Negress.”

Vincent Van Gogh: “Instead of trying to produce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily so as to express myself forcibly…[color is] not locally true from the point of the delusive realist, but color suggesting some emotion of an ardent temperament”

Van Gogh on The Night Café: “a place where one can ruin oneself, go made, or commit a crime”

Paul Cezanne: wanted to “make Impressionism something solid and durable like the art of the museums”

Kazimir Malevich: “Under Suprematism I understand the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist, the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the wnvironment in which it is called forth…The suprematist does not observe and does not touch – he feels.”

Clement Greenberg on postwar modernism: “A modernist work of art must try, in principle, to avoid communication with any order of experience not inherent in the most literally and essentially construed nature of its medium. Among other means, this means renouncing illusion and explicit subject matter. The arts are to achieve concreteness, ‘purity,’ by dealing solely with their respective selves – that is, by becoming ‘abstract’ or nonfigurative.”

Artist Mark Rothko on Abstract Expressionism: “We assert man’s absolute emotions. We don’t need props or legends. We create images whose realities are self-evident. Free ourselves from from memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth. Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man or life, we make it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings. The image we produce is understood by anyone who looks at it without nostalgic glasses of history.”

I will not promise that this is the last one

My favorite high school English teacher once told us that to be truly educated was to have the ability to “get the jokes” – whether you’re laughing at Shakespeare’s double entendres or nerdy comics like this one. (Also, to be the one who says “double entendre” instead of “dirty joke” in the first place). Sure, I’d argue that being educated provides many more valuable services than that – but then again, comedy is one of the joys of life.