Tomorrow! What is ART?

Classes start tomorrow. I’m ready(ish).

A few years ago a student wrote on a course evaluation something like “I thought we would spend more time considering questions like ‘what is Art?’ That hit home.

So, nowadays I start ARTH 101: Ancient to Medieval (which I tend to think of as Cave Painting to Gothic) by asking the students to answer the question in one sentence. Then we discuss – and I try to get them to see that ideas of the Romantic Artist are not particularly helpful before 18th Century art. It never quite works.

But then their homework assignment for Friday will be to write a longer definition, which we will also discuss. I will hand them back their definitions at the final exam and see what they’ve thought about this semester.

All in all I like it.

So you want to fight with MEDIEVAL swords?

To borrow a famous line, the problem with most people trying to understanding the true nature of historical sword combat is not that they’re ignorant — it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.

It’s amazing, really, how a subject that so permeates our modern pop culture, and is so ubiquitous, is one which virtually no one any longer has any real world experience in, nor pursues for its original function. As a result, most all our conceptions of sword-fighting get it wrong. The reality of it is not what you think it is.

Some readers will really get offended if you dare to suggest that they don’t have an accurate conception of sword-fighting. It’s pretty silly, since no one of them relies on this skill for self-preservation, nor makes it their profession. Plus, nearly everyone gets their information and opinions on it from the same essential sources: TV, movies, fantasy literature, video games, cartoons, comic books, dinner-theaters and renn-fairs fight shows. But where do those sources get their notions?

Almost entirely from experience with sport fencing, Asian martial art styles, and pretentious historical role-playing societies. Yet, all these sources derive their conceptions of it from still earlier ones. And so on and so on. Where then did most of today’s ideas on historical sword-fighting originate? When we trace it all back, we find that romantic beliefs about the nature of swordsmanship among knights and cavaliers almost all started with ignorant Victorian-age prejudices.

So go read how to do better.

Is this an excuse for stealing art?

But your honor, I had a delusion that I was an art thief. Yes, in fact, I took the paintings, but, but . . . .

And the judge bought it.

Michael Gerard Sullivan, 54, has pleaded guilty to stealing two paintings from the Katoomba Fine Art Gallery in December 2008.

At the time the gallery was also a restaurant and CCTV vision clearly shows Mr Sullivan stealing two James Willebrant paintings between courses.

During his court case Mr Sullivan’s lawyers tendered two psychiatric reports which concluded he had dissociative amnesia and his actions were totally out of character.

Wreck of the Steamship Onondaga found!

In 1898 a steamship was scrapped by intentional explosion in the middle of Seneca Lake — that I had read about. But I had never read the Remember the Maine! connection! That is all kinds of coolness. Someone has just found its remains off Kashong Point, not far south of Geneva.

Kennard said the Onondaga was one of the largest steamships operating anywhere in the United States during the Civil War, when it was used to transport Union troops down the lake to Watkins Glen on their way to Elmira and points south.

The ship was taken out of service in 1895, Kennard said, and when it was decided three years later to scrap it, someone had the idea to emulate the destruction of the USS Maine, the battleship that blew up in Havana’s harbor under mysterious circumstances earlier in 1898 and inflamed public sentiment against Spain during the Spanish-American War.