Every once in a while your students teach you something new…Part 1

Today, I was reading a paper by one of my students who was discussing a work of art I have never seen before. I am not 100% sure why this image arrested me the way it did and even caused a blog post about it. My first impression when I tried to process it was that it feels like what I have lost and gained about New York City in my life. I loved the gritty old dirty graffiti-filled dangerous city I wanted to run away to since I was a teenager but I love as well how the city is growing and changing; the cost of living not so much. I also feel a loss looking at this image, loss of the old ways in NYC, loss of affordable housing for artists, loss of a certain way of life.

The Death of Graffiti by Lady Pink


8 college tips for handing in a high-quality term paper (Questia)

My term paper sucked! It came back covered in red. What happened?! I thought it was awesome. How can I tell if the term papers I’m handing in are of high enough quality to get me a good grade? Some simple advice, such as using an outline, visiting the student resource center and following term paper format will help you go a long way. By taking time to review some college tips for writing successful term papers, you could achieve a student advantage over others who just put words on paper.

Here’s a checklist of things to do before handing in your term paper:

1) Don’t write a high school paper.

This is college now. The tricks you learned in high school to write a paper won’t cut it in the more academic world of college. “Old formulae, such as the five-paragraph theme, aren’t sophisticated or flexible enough to provide a sound structure for a college paper. And many of the old tricks — such as using elevated language or repeating yourself — will fail you now,” noted Karen Gocsik in “What is an academic paper?” on the Dartmouth Writing Program site at Dartmouth.edu.

2) Make an outline and follow it.

So it doesn’t sound like you’re rambling through 10-15 pages, do some research first, get a good idea of what you want to write about, make an outline and stick to it. This will make your paper sound professional.

3) Ask your teacher.

Pay attention to directions if your teacher or professor tells you exactly what he/she wants: How many pages, on what topic, how many sources needed.

4) Go with your research.

Research today is easier than ever with electronic resources. In addition to Google and Bing (stay away from Wikipedia), there are Worldcat.org, InfoTrac, OneFile, LexisNexis Academic, EBSCOHost and ProQuest. You can also find professional journals and international books and periodicals. Consult your school librarian or city librarian.

5) Evaluate the credibility of scientific information.

If your paper is for a science, medical, health or engineering class, make sure your science and math are correct. No one likes sloppy science. Get your information from a credible source, not from a place that has an agenda or passes off personal experiences or public relations as real science. “Unethical lobbying groups who have particular political or business interests can take advantage of this, and work to perpetuate the disconnect between scientific and public understandings,” reported Kristen St. John in “The Need to Teach about Ethics and Science, and the Credibility of Sources,” in Journal of Geoscience Education, February 2013, found in Questia.com.

6) Don’t plagiarize.

Yes, you’ve heard it before. But it’s really true. Plagiarism gets you nowhere. You need to learn to write your own ideas in a clear and persuasive manner. And, professors are on to you — they know how to scan your paper into plagiarism detection software. Matt Petronzio’s August 29, 2012, article “How to Detect Plagiarism Online” in Mashable.com highlights ten online services that check text for plagiarism, including TurnItIn, Viper and PlagiarismChecker.com, all geared toward college term papers.

7) Check spelling and grammar.

Don’t forget to spell check. But also don’t forget to proofread your paper. Your spell checker doesn’t know the difference between synonyms and homonyms. If your grammar is a bit fuzzy or English is not your first language, ask a friend to read over your paper for good measure. A second set of eyes never hurts.

8) Use term paper format.

In addition to grammar and spelling, presentation is important. For easy reading and so the teacher has room to make comments, format your paper with:

  • an easy-to-read serif font, such as Times New Roman
  • one-inch margins, double-spaced text
  • a header or footer on each page with your name, paper title, page number and course name
  • on plain standard white 8 ½ x 11 paper (no onion skin, pink paper with hearts or resume paper).

Why teachers can’t have ‘normal’ lives (The Washington Post)

February 5 original article here.

Though this article is written with grade school teachers in mind, I find many of these points to be true about college professors and instructors as well.

(By Charles Rex Arbogast/ AP)

These posts are originally from an article by Alice Trosclair and appeared on the appeared on The Educator’s Room website. I am modifying these for college educator.

“Oh you are a teacher? It must be so nice to have two months off. I just have a normal job with only two weeks’ vacation.”

Me: In the case of the professor, we generally teach over the summer to make extra money and the “breaks” we get during Christmas and in between semesters are generally filled with meetings, curriculum revision, paperwork, and let’s not forget research and publication because as we all know, publish or perish for most of us.

Valerie Strauss:

We have all heard it — and to be honest, we are sick of it. Sure, we get summers “off.” I should not need to mention that during that time we attend workshops, plan lessons and rewrite curriculum we rework to meet changing standards, but, apparently, I do. Here are some things people may not realize about the lives of teachers.

Free time.  Our free time is spent grading papers, planning lessons, and researching new ways to teach concepts. The majority of us are more than teachers; we are tutors, coaches, and sponsors. We spend time after school (me: or before and after class as well as during office hours) helping develop talents and skills, for no extra pay. We give up time with our families to help mold your child (me: adult).

Little or no privacy. We cannot go to Walmart in shorts, no make-up, and a pony-tail because we might run into a student and parent … Or a student might see a bottle of wine in our cart and when Monday comes, we hear students saying making jokes, like Ms. So and So is a wino, or Ms. So and So, you didn’t listen to the DARE lady.

Me: I don’t know the last time I left the house in questionable clothing or looking just slightly disheveled even to go to the gym for fear of running into a student. Forget going to bars,clubs, or concerts and not always having in the back of my mind that I have to maintain an image.


Then there is social media, which has become a dangerous land mine. You have a bad day or a bad customer? No problem; many of you can rant online.  If teachers do that, we get pulled into the office for our negativity. We even get chastised if a friend posts an inappropriate post on our page. Even with privacy settings, things get out, so if it is not PG, it doesn’t go on my page. Everyone says we have freedom of speech, but anything can be taken out of context and lead to a dismissal. Oh and did I mention homecoming week? Everyone’s house is victimized. If you are loved by students,  only toilet paper awaits. Hated? Get ready…


Forget even having a social media account that isn’t dedicated 100% to my professional life. I gave up on social media the moment I realized I can easily be found by anyone at any time. I am terrified of social media and my friends, who may possible curse in a post on my page. This could result in a student or administrator seeing it and be pulled into an office for a discussion on image. God forbid a student for one reason or another decides to have it out for me (maybe for an F they rightfully earned), social media becomes the perfect easy access target for ammunition. As far as my students are concerned, I do not exist outside of the school and my interests are nil other than art history and teaching.


Sickness. We can’t get sick and stay home — at least not without guilt.  When many people miss work, a desk is empty or a register stays closed. We have 30  or so souls who need to learn. Somebody has to do a sick teacher’s job, and that somebody is either a sub or a teacher who gives up preparation time to cover the class.


In 9 years of college teaching, I have not used one sick day. I have come in with broke legs, on crutches, blinding migraines, 24-hours after I was released from the hospital, you name it. As long as I am not carrying a contagious disease, I am there at the start of class of before, without fail.


We save the world. It is not all bad. We save and guide our students’ lives. Teachers help choose majors, guide interests, and build confidence. We inspire and redirect. We don’t have superpowers, but we do have impact. And when things go well, we are thanked, years later. Our students remember us when they get older. They are at class reunions and say, ‘Remember when Ms. So and So said that? She changed my life.’

That is why we cannot live a “normal” life. We are not “normal” people.


There is always that one student who begins the semester and is only taking my class “to fulfill a credit requirement” but somewhere in the middle of the semester, I start to see the spark. They get the art bug. Next they are sending me articles and checking out galleries, none of which was required for class. Sometimes, I even get emails that students have changed their major or decided to apply to a graduate art history program. That’s when it’s really worth it.

Oh, neither Valerie in her article nor I mentioned the crap pay, but its there. No Bugattis or mansions for me!




Florida Isn’t Passing Out Satanic Coloring Books—Yet (artnet news)

Sarah Cascone, Tuesday, October 7, 2014 original article here.

The Satanic Children's Big Book of Activities, now available in public schools in Orange County, Florida. Photo: the Satanic Temple.

The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities Photo: the Satanic Temple

Although reports that Florida’s Orange County school district has granted Satanists permission to distribute coloring books (see “Satanic Coloring Books Distributed at Florida Public Schools“) have triggered online protests, the reports are in fact premature. So far, the Satanic Temple has not approached the school for permission to pass out The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

Nevertheless, the story has gained traction in the Catholic community. Robert Ritchie, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based America Needs Fatima—a Catholic organization dedicated to the “Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property,”—has responded with a furious email campaign, posting on his blog that “we must not turn away and surrender our school children to the Satanists!”

School board chairman Bill Sublette and vice chair Kat Gordon have received 8,150 email messages from Ritchie and his followers urging them to save the children and cease the distribution of said coloring books—which, as it turns out, haven’t even been printed, let alone handed out.

This seems similar to the furor over the Satanic Temple’s planned Oklahoma Statehouse Baphomet statue (see “Satanic Temple Monument Almost Ready for Oklahoma Statehouse“), which only exists in maquette form, and has not been acknowledged by the state government. (Oklahoma is not allowing any new statues to be installed until the controversy over a Ten Commandments monument has been resolved.)

According to district counsel Woody Rodriguez, the Satanic Temple has not yet made a formal request regarding the coloring book, and any materials would have to be reviewed and approved by the district before being given to the children. Sublette, for his part, is in favor of risking future law suits by banning the distribution of all religious materials from outside groups at Orange County schools (the current controversy was triggered after another group was allowed to give Bibles out at local high schools).


5 Great Teachers On What Makes A Great Teacher (NPR Ed)

By Anya Kamenetz November 08, 2014 original article here.

When we began our 50 Great Teachers series, we set out to find great teachers and tell their stories. But we’ll also be exploring over the coming year questions about what it means for a teacher to be great, and how he or she gets that way. To get us started, we gathered an expert round table of educators who’ve also done a lot of thinking about teaching. Combined, these teachers are drawing on over 150 years of classroom experience:

Ken Bain

Ken Bain is president of the Best Teachers Institute and author of What the Best College Teachers Do. He taught U.S. history on the college level for nearly 50 years — at the University of Texas, Vanderbilt University, Northwestern University, New York University and elsewhere.





Troy Cockrum

Troy Cockrum is director of innovative teaching for a K-8 school in Indianapolis. He hosts a podcast on the flipped classroom, and is the winner of a 2013-2014 Jacobs Educator Award for using technology to support innovative learning.






Eleanor Duckworth is a research professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a former elementary school teacher with an approach to teaching and research grounded in her study with psychologist Jean Piaget.





Renee Moore

Renee Moore is a high school and community college English teacher, a National Board Certified teacher, a member of the board of directors of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and co-chair of its certification council. She also blogs for the Center for Teaching Quality.





Jose Vilson

Jose Vilson is a math educator for a middle school in New York City. He’s a blogger and the author of This Is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education.






What qualities make a great teacher?

Renee Moore: The Hebrew word for teach has, among its meanings: to aim or shoot like an arrow, to point like a finger, to flow like water. The word reminds me of what parents do when we teach our child to ride a bike. The first time, we may ride with her or turn the pedals. Next time, we steer while she pedals. Finally, the moment comes when we balance her, aim her down the sidewalk, push her off and let go. Great teachers do that: They start or move the minds of their students along a path, prepare them for the journey and propel them into the future. And they do it consistently and passionately.

Ken Bain: … I think we have to avoid the temptation to define everything in terms of what the teacher does to the student. Sometimes, as the title of a wonderful book put it, we teach best with our mouth shut.

I think about the way my youngest grandson is learning to ride a bicycle. It actually isn’t the way Renee describes. Rather, his parents bought him a balance bike when he was barely 3 years old, and simply gave it to him. He then figured out how to balance himself on it entirely on his own. … Sometimes, great teaching happens when we simply provide the resources and challenges and get out of the way.

Eleanor Duckworth: Getting people to think about what they think, and asking them questions about it, is the best way I know how to teach.

How do you know that you’re having an impact?

Jose Vilson: The kids tell me, whether I want to hear it at the time or not.

Moore: I’ve taught my entire career in the rural Mississippi Delta, in small schools in small towns. As we used to say at Bread Loaf [the writing school of Middlebury College in Vermont, where Moore earned a master’s degree in literature], I “inhabit the consequences” of my work. After 25 years, I’m surrounded by my former students, their families, and I’m now working with some of their children. I’ve had so many come or write back to tell me the impact I had on their lives. Among my most precious things are letters, handmade plaques and signs, and other gifts from grateful students. One wrote me from jail just to say, “Mrs. Moore, it’s not your fault … ”

What kind of training and experience makes a great teacher?

Bain: I know I’m going to get pushback on this, but I think one of the major problems we face in cultivating great teachers is that we don’t pay enough attention, especially in K-12, to the learning of the teacher. We should help them develop the dynamic powers of their minds and should continue to do so throughout their lives.

Second, we should help them develop an understanding of some of the major ideas coming out of the research and theoretical literature on what it means to learn, how the human mind works, and all of the personal and social forces that can influence learning. This is a dynamic field with lots of important research and ideas emerging almost constantly, and the training and experience of a great teacher has to include the opportunity to explore, understand and apply the ideas and information that is emerging.

Finally, great teaching includes the ability to give good feedback and to make assessments.

Vilson: It really depends on the environment around the teacher. … With more experienced staff, it’s important to get beyond the humdrum PDs [professional development opportunities] and get into something truly transformative, which is hard to find. That’s why so many of us have to seek out PD opportunities both on and offline on our own time, past the meetings and opportunities provided by our school.

Moore: There is so much in teaching that would be best learned through apprenticeship, rather than the current system of leaving most new teachers to trial-and-error their way through. The teachers who become great or master teachers seek out the help and PD they need, as Jose mentions, but I agree with the work of Deborah Ball and others that we know enough about teaching that we can, and should, be much more systematic in sharing that collective wisdom with our newest members.

Also, Ken is correct about the importance of being able to assess student learning and give timely, appropriate feedback. The current overemphasis on test preparation and other misuses of standardized testing have taken much of this critical professional skill out of the classroom and away from teachers.

How has the definition of great teaching changed over time? How do you expect it to change in the future?

Vilson: The definition hasn’t changed much over time, but the stereotype of it certainly has. The idea of raising test scores, being young and bringing a new set of ideas is different from the elder statesmen and women that comprised most of my ideas of great teaching growing up. Great teaching seems to reflect whatever the mode of education reform we’re in at the time.

Bain: I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree here. I think there has been an enormous change in the way we define great teaching. In the old days, we often defined it in terms of performance on the part of the teacher. I’m afraid those old definitions still persist in the minds of some people. We had certain notions about great performances in the classroom, and we looked for those performances. In the emerging definition of great teaching that I’ve been suggesting here, some of us are now thinking of it in terms of learning and the facilitation of learning.

Moore: And I disagree with Ken. Great teachers (and the students and parents they serve) have always defined great teaching in terms of the long-term effects on their students. … Your response suggests that the impetus for deeper learning on the part of teachers has come from the top (e.g., higher ed researchers) down to classroom teachers, when in fact, the greatest movement has been among teachers ourselves.

Bain: I’m really not suggesting a top-down model at all. I’m just recognizing that the research on human learning over the last half-century in particular has had an enormous influence on how we define teaching and how we understand what it takes to cultivate someone else’s learning. Some important aspects of that research have been done by classroom teachers on all levels, so I’m not seeing much room for a “Us” and “Them” or top-to-bottom way of understanding this.

Who should not be a teacher?

Moore: Anyone who cannot listen or learn from others, including his or her students.

Vilson: Anyone who can’t take critique and isn’t willing to center their visions on the students.

Troy Cockrum: Someone who is not passionate for why they are in education. Students are not widgets. You can go to a job every day producing or designing widgets and do a good job at it even if you aren’t passionate for what you do. Students deserve more. Students should be treated and respected as individuals, and only a passionate educator can do that.

Who, in your life, has embodied great teaching?

Duckworth: I danced ballet for six years, but I quit when I was 15 because I thought it wasn’t a serious way to spend one’s life. I was a very serious young woman. When I was 58, I finally got the courage to try again. Margie Gillis [a modern dancer and choreographer] was a great teacher of mine.

My first workshop with her was a weeklong class that had people ranging in age from 16 to 72 and in experience from total beginner to New York professionals. There were 35 people in the class, and it was a peak experience for everybody. She gave us exercises — such as, cross the floor as delicately as you possibly can — which we all did at whatever level we could, and we did them side by side. It was really extraordinary teaching.

Moore: I’ve been blessed to have had several great teachers in my life, starting with my father, who first taught me to love learning itself. Among my schoolteachers, the great ones included: Mrs. Bailey, a tall, elegant black woman who was the principal of our elementary school. She was one of the first educators I encountered who genuinely believed every child could learn, and would inspire us to attempt things we thought impossible. Another was Dixie Goswami, the director of the writing program at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English, where I earned my M.A. Dixie not only taught us how to write, but also the tremendous transformative power of literacy for us and our students. Well into her 80s and still teaching, Dixie continues to inspire me (and push me) to make a difference, not just a living.

Vilson: If we just focus on my time as a teacher, the best ones I know include Mrs. Ruff, a sixth-grade teacher whose classroom management was based on civil rights and empowerment. [Vilson also named Moore and suggested her for this round table].

How important is it to share some of the background and experience of your students?

Moore: Having some common experiences or understanding of my students’ backgrounds was always helpful to me in my work with high school students because I taught in 100 percent African-American schools. The black students needed to see that it is possible to master the use of standard English without turning into a white person. But when I began teaching at the college level, I realized it was also important for the white students to have a highly accomplished African-American English teacher, because so many of them needed that model to counteract what they had been taught and told all their segregated lives.

What in your personal experience or biography helped make you a better teacher?

Cockrum: I come from a media production background. While that express experience may not have made me a better teacher, the need in the field to be innovative, creative and technologically advanced has given me the needed skills to bring those to education.

Vilson: Everything, but especially growing up in a poor neighborhood and gaining access to private education, because I brought some of the ethos and expectation from my upbringing to my classroom.

Moore: I agree with the others on this, and have often said that teaching is the consummate profession. A highly accomplished teacher draws on everything s/he knows and has ever done to do the creative, dynamic work that is teaching. Among the experiences that helped me most were my background as a freelance journalist, and as a parent (I’ve raised 11 children — was a 30-year-old mother of four when I started teaching).

Duckworth: I was Piaget’s student in Geneva. From Piaget I got the theoretical view that no one can know exactly what meaning somebody else has made. Words can express it to some extent, but you can’t assume anybody is making the same meaning as you are, and everybody has their own path.

The other thing I got from them was the way of talking to kids. I learned from [Piaget’s research partner Barbel] Inhelder about getting kids interested in what you want to talk about, and not giving them any hints.

How do you improve on the job?

Cockrum: I attend four or five conferences a year, sometimes more. Presenting at conferences also provides me the opportunity to reflect on my own practice. I’m connected online through Twitter and other social media, to keep myself connected to my PLN [personal learning network]. I make sure to balance my face-to-face professional development with my online professional development. I model for my students the act of being a constant learner.

What’s the most important lesson you learned when you were just starting out?

Vilson: Stop taking things so personally, Jose. And if you break down emotionally one day, rest up the rest of the afternoon, go to sleep early, and get into school early the next day. Don’t take the day off unless you’re absolutely sick or something important is happening.

Cockrum: I had a student come to me during her break period very upset. She vented about a problem she was having and really struggling with. I kept trying to interject advice to help her solve the problem. Finally, she said, “Mr. Cockrum, I don’t want advice, I just want someone to listen.” I regularly remind myself: Students just need someone to listen. While advice can be helpful, the most beneficial thing I can provide in most situations is just to listen.

Bain: I’d just say that we have to learn constantly, about our students, their learning, our subjects, their society and lives, and so forth, and we just have to take advantage of all the opportunities we have to learn. All of the things that my colleagues have mentioned are important, but I’d emphasize three: Read, listen and talk. Read everything you can about learning and about your subject. Engage in conversations with other people who are also exploring the questions, ideas and information.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you would share with an aspiring teacher?

Duckworth: One of the important qualities is to be able to listen well. And a teacher needs to believe in their students.

Moore: Network, network, network. Connect yourself to great teachers, and stay connected. I’ve been a networked teacher from the start of my career. In recent years there has been an exponential growth in the number and quality of teacher networks. Most of these are grass-roots, vibrant and vital. Some great examples include: Center for Teaching Quality’s Collaboratory, English Companion Ning, Classroom 2.0, K12Online Conference, and hundreds of teacher-initiated and -maintained Twitter chats (#engchat, #sschat, [social studies], #scichat, #tlpchat [teach like a pirate] …). Find the regularly updated list HERE.

Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers (The Atlantic)

Once, when I told a guy on a plane that I taught philosophy at a community college, he responded, “So you teach Plato to plumbers?” Yes, indeed. But I also teach Plato to nurses’ aides, soldiers, ex-cons, preschool music teachers, janitors, Sudanese refugees, prospective wind-turbine technicians, and any number of other students who feel like they need a diploma as an entry ticket to our economic carnival. As a result of my work, I’m in a unique position to reflect on the current discussion about the value of the humanities, one that seems to me to have lost its way.
As usual, there’s plenty to be worried about: the steady evaporation of full-time teaching positions, the overuse and abuse of adjunct professors, the slashing of public funding, the shrinkage of course offerings and majors in humanities disciplines, the increase of student debt, the peddling of technologies as magic bullets, the ubiquitous description of students as consumers. Moreover, I fear in my bones that the supremacy of a certain kind of economic-bureaucratic logic—one of “outcomes,” “assessment,” and “the bottom-line”—is eroding the values that undergird not just our society’s commitment to the humanities, but to democracy itself.
The problem facing the humanities, in my view, isn’t just about the humanities. It’s about the liberal arts generally, including math, science, and economics. These form half of the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects, but if the goal of an education is simply economic advancement and technological power, those disciplines, just like the humanities, will be—and to some degree already are—subordinated to future employment and technological progress. Why shouldn’t educational institutions predominately offer classes like Business Calculus and Algebra for Nurses? Why should anyone but hobbyists and the occasional specialist take courses in astronomy, human evolution, or economic history? So, what good, if any, is the study of the liberal arts, particularly subjects like philosophy?  Why, in short, should plumbers study Plato?My answer is that we should strive to be a society of free people, not simply one of well-compensated managers and employees. Henry David Thoreau is as relevant as ever when he writes, “We seem to have forgotten that the expression ‘a liberal education’ originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely, was considered worthy of slaves only.”

Traditionally, the liberal arts have been the privilege of an upper class. There are three big reasons for this. First, it befits the leisure time of an upper class to explore the higher goods of human life: to play Beethoven, to study botany, to read Aristotle, to go on an imagination-expanding tour of Italy. Second, because their birthright is to occupy leadership positions in politics and the marketplace, members of the aristocratic class require the skills to think for themselves. Whereas those in the lower classes are assessed exclusively on how well they meet various prescribed outcomes, those in the upper class must know how to evaluate outcomes and consider them against a horizon of values. Finally (and this reason generally goes unspoken), the goods of the liberal arts get coded as markers of privilege and prestige, so that the upper class can demarcate themselves clearly from those who must work in order to make their leisure and wealth possible.

We don’t intellectually embrace a society where the privileged few get to enjoy the advantages of leisure and wealth while the masses toil on their behalf. Yet that’s what a sell-out of the liberal arts entails. For the most part, the wealthy in this country continue to pay increasingly exorbitant tuition to private prep schools, good liberal arts colleges, and elite universities, where their children get strong opportunities to develop their minds, dress themselves in cultural capital, and learn the skills necessary to become influential members of society. Meanwhile, the elite speak of an education’s value for the less privileged in terms of preparation for the global economy. Worse yet, they often support learning systems designed to produce “good employees”—i.e., compliant laborers.  Then, money for public education is slashed, and tuition soars. Those in the middle class, let alone the poor, have to fight an ever-steepening uphill battle to spend their time and money on the arts appropriate to free people.

As a professor with lots of experience giving Ds and Fs, I know full well that the value of the liberal arts will always be lost on some people, at least at certain points in their lives.  (Whenever I return from a conference, I worry that many on whom the value of philosophy is lost have found jobs teaching philosophy!) But I don’t think that this group of people is limited to any economic background or form of employment. My experience of having taught at relatively elite schools, like Emory University and Oglethorpe University, as well as at schools like Kennesaw State University and Kirkwood Community College, is that there are among future plumbers as many devotees of Plato as among the future wizards of Silicon Valley, and that there are among nurses’ aides and soldiers as many important voices for our democracy as among doctors and business moguls.I recently got a letter from a former student, a factory worker, thanking me for introducing him to Schopenhauer. I was surprised, because I hadn’t assigned the German pessimist. The letter explained that I’d quoted some lines from Schopenhauer in class, and they’d sparked my student’s imagination. When he didn’t find what I’d quoted after reading all of volumes one and two of The World as Will and Representation, he started in on Parerga and Paralipomena, where he was eventually successful. Enclosing a short story that he’d recently written on a Schopenhauerian theme, he wrote me a long letter of thanks for inadvertently turning him on to a kindred mind.

Once, during a lecture I gave about the Stoics, who argue that with the proper spiritual discipline one can be truly free and happy even while being tortured, I looked up to see one of the students in tears. I recalled that her sister in Sudan had been recently imprisoned for challenging the local authorities. Through her tears my student was processing that her sister was likely seeking out a hard Stoic freedom as I was lecturing.

I once had a janitor compare his mystical experiences with those of the medieval Sufi al-Ghazali’s. I once had a student of redneck parents—his way of describing them—who read both parts of Don Quixote because I used the word “quixotic.” A mother who’d authorized for her crippled son a risky surgery that led to his death once asked me with tears in her eyes, “Is Kant right that the consequences of an action play no role in its moral worth?” A wayward veteran I once had in Basic Reasoning fell in love with formal logic and is now finishing law school at Berkeley.

The fire will always be sparked. Are we going to fan it, or try to extinguish it?

Every Painter Paints Himself (www.everypainterpaintshimself.com)

I just came across this website through a friend of mine where many great works of art are explained. Please check out this website www.everypainterpaintshimself.com

Every Painter Paints Himself reveals the secrets behind true art in ways that, until now, only artists could. With short entries, encouraging you to spend more time studying images than reading our text, we demonstrate the basic themes around which poetic painters and sculptors create their works.* Once you become familiar with these little-­‐known ideas, most never before publicly revealed, you will gain the confidence to interpret art on your own and, through that essential process, experience the thrill of true aesthetic satisfaction. Understanding art, an activity once reserved for experts, becomes a revelatory experience.” – from EPPH website


Basic Principles of Every Painter Paints Himself

1. Art takes time. You cannot enter an exhibition unprepared, stare at a landscape and be moved, at least in the manner that artists intend. To appreciate art, you must become familiar like the artists themselves with the themes that unite art and without which craft cannot become art. It used to take years of study. Today the methods revealed here speed the process, allowing you to see almost immediately what once was hidden. Still, the truth remains: the longer you study an image, the more you will see.

2. Art is intended for artists. T.S. Eliot or another great poet once said that great poetry is not written for lovers of poetry ensconced in an armchair, nor professors of Literature at prestigious universities, nor even for literary critics or eager students. Great poetry is only written for other great poets. So it is with great art too. Nevertheless, with the now-ready availability of images, it is easier for anyone with an independent mind to understand art like a great artist does than it ever was. This site makes it easier still.

3. Art is not photography. Ever since artists re-introduced illusionism around 1500, experts have viewed art like illustration, as though “through a window”. Patrons and ordinary viewers did too. Today, even though the methodologies of scholarship regularly change, the perception through which experts view art never does. They think of art in photographic terms even if, as in many masterpieces, numerous non-realistic features defeat their illusion. Their paradigm does not allow them to think otherwise. True art, though, always depicts the inner world of the artist by its very nature. It is the unseen difference between art and craft. Once you grasp that, all changes.

4. Art is veiled. Illusionistic art is what it says: an illusion. It may look real (meaning a view of the outer world) but it never is. A battle scene, for example, is never a battle. All those weapons are paintbrushes, palette knives or, perhaps, the hammers of a sculptor and all those soldiers represent the artist and his assistants in the studio as they “battle” in the artist’s mind to create the painting. Just as we think in metaphors and then translate the same ideas into words, as linguists tell us, so art depicting thought is metaphorical too.1 Don’t take the images literally; they are visual metaphors.

5. Sight is deceptive. For people in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, reality was an illusion because the only true reality was divine. They were partly right, as scientists now know. Sight is inaccurate because, contrary to common sense, you only see what you already know. For instance, art historians, convinced that portraits portray a real sitter, never recognized that many of them resemble the artist’s own self‐portrait. [See Portraiture] They never saw these obvious resemblances because, convinced that art is “photographic”, they never imagined them. Thus, contrary to what we think about sight, we paint our own reality. Art helps us to understand that.

6. Art is esoteric. A large proportion of artists, regardless of culture, followed one of the many forms of the Inner Tradition. These include Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Spiritual Alchemy, Theosophy and the Kaballah. In all these traditions, self-knowledge is the only true knowledge which is why every painter paints himself. Most artists, though, probably followed mystical strains of Christianity, some of which were banned by the Church, others accepted within it. All claim that reality is an illusion and that the goal of life is to “purify” the mind. The most important idea from our point-of-view is that the Bible should be read allegorically as a guide for the individual soul and that, since Man was created in the image of God, each of us can become Christ.

See the theme of The Inner Tradition for further explanation.

7. Art contains knowledge. It is little understood by conventional art historians that much of what an artist needs to know about philosophy, religion and art is contained in art itself. A Renaissance artist’s lack of formal education was thus no hindrance to his or her understanding. Indeed the knowledge and wisdom of a Renaissance craftsman was far more highly admired than scholars have even imagined.2 Fortunately, with help from this site, you too can learn to read art like an artist. Once you do, art becomes your own gateway to self-knowledge which is the only form of wisdom that has lasting value. All other knowledge is a product of your own time, perceived according to the prevailing paradigm. That will change but the knowledge conveyed in art will remain, as it does in great literature too.

8. Art makes sense. Art historians often note “errors”, “ambiguities” and “inconsistencies” in the apparent scene that do not make sense. These, they then argue, are typical of a great masterpiece because art does not need to make sense. If that were true, there would be no wisdom in the image and it would not be art. The truth is that many of the “illogical” features in a work of art are problems of the viewer’s own perception. Once the underlying scene is recognized, they make sense after all.

1. For how we think in metaphors, see Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (University of Chicago Press) 1980, esp. pp. 3-6

2. Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (University of Chicago Press) 2004