Artemisia

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Conventional histories of art mention few female painters. As Germaine Greer famously pointed out in her 1979 book The Obstacle Race, this is more related to their lack of opportunity in a patriarchal and misogynistic society than to any lack of talent (see also Nochlin, 1971; 1988). Greer pointed to a “magnificent exception” to the rule that female painters do not become renowned: Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656), a baroque painter, whose images continue to fascinate us with their conception and shock us with their power.   

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Knowledge of Good and Evil

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According to the book of Genesis, Yahweh created Adam and Eve to live in the Garden of Eden. He commanded them on pain of death not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. However, Eve was convinced by the Serpent to eat of the tree, and she in turn convinced Adam to do the same. For their disobedience, Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden. The interpretation of this myth has led to the Christian idea that humanity is forever tainted by “Original Sin,” and that our only hope for immortality is through the sacrifice of Christ which offers redemption from sin and entry into eternity to those who believe in him. The concept of Original Sin has become dangerously ingrained in Christian thinking, and needs reworking,   

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Du Fu: Poet, Sage, Historian

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Du Fu: Poet, Sage, Historian

Du Fu (712-770 CE) was a poet during a time of great political upheaval in China. He was born near Luoyang and spent much of his young adulthood in the Yanzhou region, finally settling down to a minor official position in Chang’an, the imperial capital. In 755 CE, An Lushan, a disgruntled general, led a rebellion against the Tang dynasty. The emperor was forced to flee Chang’an (modern Xian), and chaos reigned for the next eight years. For more than a year Du Fu was held captive in Chang’an by the rebels. After escaping, he made his way south, living for a time in a thatched cottage in Chengdu, and later at various places along the Yangtze River. His poetry is characterized by an intense love of nature, by elements of Chan Buddhism, and by a deep compassion for all those caught up in the turmoil of history. This is a longer post than usual. I have become fascinated by Du Fu.

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Tessellations

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Tessellation is “a collection of shapes [tiles] that fit together without gaps or overlap to cover the infinite mathematical plane” (Fathauer, 2021). Most tilings are “periodic,” in the sense that the pattern repeats itself when “translated” (shifted without rotation). In the 1970s Roger Penrose described several sets of tiles that could cover the plane aperiodically. The search then began for the “einstein” (one stone) – a single tile that could cover the plane aperiodically. In March of 2023, Smith, Myers, Kaplan & Goodman-Strauss described a tile, commonly known as the “hat” that covered the plane aperiodically. However, to do so, this tile had to be occasionally turned over (to make its mirror image). Subsequently in May of 2023, the same authors reported another tile that could cover the plane aperiodically without any need for mirror images. This tile was called the “spectre.” This posting briefly reviews these recent developments in a style more visual than verbal.

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History, Myth and Fiction

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This post describes some of the events that occurred in Ronda, a town in southern Spain, during the summer of 1936. After the Spanish Civil War broke out, Anarchists quickly took control of the town, and murdered many supporters of the Nationalist cause. Two months later, advancing Nationalist forces captured Ronda, and drove most of its people from their homes. Those that refused to leave suffered bloody reprisals. These events quickly became mythic rather than historic. In one story, the Anarchists had murdered the town’s Falangists by having them beaten to death in the town’s plaza and then thrown into the canyon that cuts through the center of the town. Ernest Hemingway recounted this version in his 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. However, most historians now agree that this never happened.  

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Madness and Poetry

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Robert Lowell (1917-1977) was one of the most important American poets of the mid-20th-Century. He was famous both for his contribution to poetry and for his recurrent attacks of mania. This post reviews his life, comments on some of his poems, and considers the relations between creativity and mood disorders. Madness sometimes goes hand-in-hand with poetry:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact
(Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V, 1, 5-9)

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Basho’s Journey to the North

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Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), one of the most famous poets of Japan, was a master of the haiku, a poetic form in which an abundance of meaning is concentrated into a paucity of syllables. Basho travelled widely in Japan, writing about t his experiences in a fascinating mixture of prose and poetry. In 1689 he undertook his longest journey: from Edo into the far north of Japan, a region known as Oku. His record of that journey is known as Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the North).

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Zeno of Elea

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Zeno of Elea

Zeno of Elea was a Greek philosopher who lived in the 5th Century BCE. He described a set of paradoxes to prove that space and time are continuous and cannot be divided into discrete parts. The most famous of these are the Paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, which purportedly shows that Achilles could never catch up with the much slower Tortoise, and the Paradox of the Arrow, which shows that an arrow in flight is always stationary.   

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Gauguin

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Gauguin

In 1891, Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) left his wife and five children and sailed for Tahiti, where he hoped

to immerse myself in virgin nature, to see no one but savages, live their life, with no other thought in mind but to render, the way a child would, the concepts formed in my brain and to do this with the aid of nothing but the primitive means of art, the only means that are good and true (letter quoted in Eisenman, 1997, p 77).

His decision to desert his family and follow his art has been considered by philosophers as a case study in ethics. Was his hope of artistic success adequate justification for his behavior? As luck would have it, Gauguin did become a famous artist, albeit posthumously. Can this retrospectively vindicate his flight to Tahiti? These issues are complex – both in the abstract and in terms of Gauguin’s actual life.

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Mary Cassatt: the Color Prints

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In 1891 Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) exhibited a set of ten color prints at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in Paris. These prints had been made using new aquatint procedures that allowed the artist to print solid blocks of color. The colors and patterns owed much to the Japanese woodblock prints which had recently been exhibited at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Another source of the imagery was the work of Edgar Degas (1834-1917), with whom Cassatt had previously worked on black and white etchings and aquatints. Though printed in a small edition size of 25, Cassatt’s 1891 prints did not sell well, perhaps because they were too innovative for the market. Now they are appreciated as key contributions to the art of the modern print.  

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