Monday, April 30, 2012

Back from Chicago

IIT campus from provost's office
Yeah, I've been away from blogging for a while. Less than 24 hours after presenting my 20th Century arts lecture, I was in Chicago, helping evaluate the Illinois Institute of Technology Humanities department. I won't get into details here. Suffice it to say that I joined an impressive group of folks flown in from around the country to produce a report within about two days. It was intense, but it was also kinda fun. We had meaningful access to an impressive range of stakeholders, including a trustee member and the provost, we survived the typical birth-pangs of small group formation, and we managed to produce some pretty decent work. Of course, staying at the Chicago Club was a treat - though we were too busy to feel decadent. Now that I'm back home, I'm preparing for another burst of activity: writing my Weimar keynote, drafting some Shanghai 2010 research, prepping a fall lecture on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and anticipating a bustling summer travel schedule. Let the games begin! 

Morning view from Chicago Club

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bloomington Street Art

During my recent solo road trip, I dropped by Bloomington, Illinois in search for some lunch. Along the way I wandered a few alleys in search of street art. Here's what I found.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Google Street Art View

As Woodland Shoppers Paradise fans know, I love searching for examples of street art around the world. So I'm grateful that John Mark Thrasher shared this new resource with me: Google Street Art View.

According to The Pop-Up City, Street Art View "is an online tool that offers a searchable map of street art that was captured by the Google Street View car. The quality of the image is limited, but it displays the location of the street art so you can have a closer look at it in real life."

One other thing: You'd better like Red Bull, because you can't make that danged logo disappear. Even so, this could be a great tool for my future street art excursions.

Check it out

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Modern and Post-Modern Art

I love days like this. I spent about 20 minutes trying to track down a high resolution version of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon - the one that depicts Calvin, to the horror of his mother, walking nakedly downstairs. What could justify such bizarre behavior? "Nude descending a staircase," Calvin naturally explains.

Yep, I'm scheduled to deliver an arts lecture next week for the Humanities Honors program, and I'm wrapping up my preparations to cover a massive array of material. My topic: the 20th Century's transition from modern to postmodern art. Even though I'm on sabbatical, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to play with this topic (as a "guest lecturer," I guess). Here's my summary:
The 20th Century marks the decline of the modern project – an “Age of Confidence” in humankind’s ability (and desire) to produce a rational world through the management of irrational forces. This lecture examines 20 significant examples of visual art, industrial design, and architectural innovation that reveal a spiraling dialectic of order and disorder as technological triumph gives way to existential angst. As a romantic rhetoric of “authentic self” withers from view, first beneath the totalizing power of the state and later amid the corporate pleasures of consumer identity, we read the 20th Century as a period of transformation whose implications have yielded the frustrations, ambiguities, and potentially radical freedoms of our own lives.
Knowing that I'm breezing past many, many memorable artists and schools of thought (Where are Diego Rivera's murals? How could you skip Frida Kahlo? What about the Color Field wing? The list goes on...) I'm limiting myself to the following pieces (in order of presentation):

Pablo Picasso (1907) Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Henri Matisse (1905-6) Le Bonheur de Vivre

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1913) Berlin Street Scene

Wassily Kandinsky (1912) Improvisation 28 (second version)

Marcel Duchamp (1912) Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2

Umberto Boccioni (1913) Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

Marcel Duchamp (1917/1964) Fountain (I'll use my own photo)

Giorgio de Chirico (1914) Mystery and Melancholy of a Street

Frank Lloyd Wright (1935) Fallingwater

Piet Mondrian (1929-30) Fox Trot A: Lozenge Composition with Three Lines

Edward Hopper (1942) Nighthawks

Walter Gropius (1925-26) Bauhaus, Dessau

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1929) Barcelona Chair

Pablo Picasso (1937) Guernica

O. Winston Link (1956) Hotshot Eastbound

Robert V. Derrah (1937) Coca-Cola Bottling Co. building (I'll use my own photo)

Jackson Pollock (1947-1950) Photograph of "action painting" process (Yeah, there's some irony here)

Roy Lichtenstein (1964) Oh Jeff… I Love You, Too… But…

Andy Warhol (1962) Twenty-five Colored Marilyns

Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunić (1992-1996) Nationale-Nederlanden building

Actually I'll delve deeply into only about a dozen of these pieces, using others to connect broad themes. Even so, there's every possibility that my dream of a tight lecture will erupt into a hot mess. Such is life, an irresistible challenge.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bigger Classes, Better Outcomes?

In so many ways, Arizona seems like a test case for a future America governed by corporate values. One example: a proposed 2013 budget continues a trend toward the widgetization of higher education. Anne Ryman writes in the Arizona Republic that, for about $15 billion, Governor Jan Brewer hopes to invest in "technology and capital improvements aimed at improving academic results and decreasing per-student costs for large classes or classes with high failure rates." Cutting costs and reducing failure: Rather than designing better lesson plans, Arizona appears to be designing better factories.

Well, maybe not better factories, but certainly bigger ones. How big? Some of Arizona's "mega classes" enroll 1,200 students. This means more clickers to facilitate anonymous answers, more computers to process learning modules, more projectors to display PowerPoint slides, and more T.A.s to fill the gaps. None of these additions are, themselves, bad things. Indeed, I should emphasize that access to enthusiastic, dedicated teaching associates can be a wonderful part of an undergraduate's education. Yet I'm troubled by a trend that seems to deprofessionalize professors.

Arizona's large-classroom model represents a future in which student learning is facilitated less by individual professors and more through artificial measures and "outcomes." Fewer students will experience the kind of one-on-one consultation, tutelage, and apprenticeship that inspires wisdom and character. This is not to say that every student faces a future of large lecture halls. Indeed, I'm certain that wealthy lawmakers, administrators, and consultants will keep writing paychecks to expensive private schools, ensuring that their children enjoy direct access to professors.

Public colleges and universities, though, risk becoming widget factories, especially as the design and implementation of Next-Big-Thing "learning systems" becomes increasingly big business.

So, should we fight this future? Should we cry out for a nostalgically romantic model of cloistered education in which every classroom resembles a scene out of Dead Poets Society? Oh, God, I hope not. [As one Simpsons episode reminds us, that film "ruined a generation of teachers."] Neither the large lecture class nor the small seminar are ideally suited in every case. Many subjects benefit from hybrid approaches that leverage intelligent-agent software, small group interaction, and a mix of personalized and mediated instruction. Heck, sometimes the large lecture can work pretty well. We may yet learn something from Arizona.

Even so, I fear the future of higher education when professors are transformed into content delivery specialists, when we are so plugged into each new learning management fad dreamed up by multimillion dollar consultants that we become stripped of our intellectual autonomy - and our role as bulwark against administrative arrogance. And no matter how many pupils get crammed into a lecture hall, each student remains a singular self striving to learn. Education, no matter how convoluted an operation we concoct out of this business, is ultimately a personal encounter. Without a professor, that encounter might as well take place at the DMV.

For too long, colleges and universities have been encouraged to learn from corporations, to cut the fat and secure the bottom line. In Arizona that means increasingly large classrooms and ever more pressure to cut the number of tenured faculty. It's a future spreading across the nation. But as we consider the disconnect between corporate and non-corporate America - in terms of outcomes, yes, but also in terms of ethics and values - we must ask ourselves: Is this the future we want?

Learn more: Bigger Arizona college class sizes a growing trend:

Monday, April 16, 2012

John's Modern Cabins

During my recent solo road trip, I spent a quiet afternoon at John's Modern Cabins, a frequently photographed collection of 30s-era shacks along a bypassed stretch of Route 66 in Missouri. Once an infamous juke joint whose patrons could crash in chicken coop shacks, John's is now an overgrown wreck that greets unsuspecting wanderers with broken glass and rusty bed springs. Yet it remains a must-see stop along the Mother Road.

Visiting the cabins can be tricky. Heck, I get lost every time I hunt for these ruins. This past trip I realized that I'd failed to even write down a semblance of directions. So I pulled off-road and did some web-sleuthing. Thank goodness a commentator named "southwig" posted a swell set of directions on the Historic Route 66 Forum. I'm reposting those directions here for archival purposes:

"Westbound: From I-44 exit 176. Turn left at the end of the exit ramp and cross over the interstate. Take a right onto Arlington Road (west bound) perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 mile. You will see a couple of businesses on your right, and will need to cross over what was the old I-44 right of way. The crossovers are gravel and present no problems. You will find John's Modern Cabins just a few yards west of the present businesses."[I'd merely add that the cabins can be seen near Vernelle's Motel.]

Back in '04, I found a set of Burma Shave-type signs standing near the cabins [I'd later learn that Route 66 News editor Ron Warnick had planted them]. The signs read: "Photograph These/While You're Here/The Wrecking Ball/Is Looming Near." During my most recent visit - just a few weeks ago - I could only see one sign standing; another lay on the ground nearby. I remember wanting to take that fallen sign ("Photograph These") for myself, just toss it in the car. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Thanks to Swa Frantzen for producing this Google Map!

[View John's Modern Cabins in a larger map.]

Friday, April 13, 2012

St. Louis Graffiti Wall

During my recent solo road trip, I found myself wandering beneath the fast lane. I'd spotted some neon tags splattered across the skeletal ruin of the Powell Square building and was determined to get a better look. Before long I was bracing myself against a concrete divider, trying to grab shots while cars screamed past. I stayed for a while but eventually began long, lazy circuits among the surface streets. Strolling the roads, sometimes spotting the St. Louis Arch between bombed out houses and bars, I smiled at the sight of horse carriages taking a break from their downtown duties. Veering toward the water, I figured I'd see little more than another swath of post-industrial wreckage. Instead I found a flood wall running alongside the railroad tracks, stretching miles south. Nearly every inch of that wall was covered in street art. I knew I'd have to stick around a while longer. 

South Wharf Street, St. Louis, MO [GMap]

321 Lombard Street, St. Louis, MO [GMap]

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

L.A. Arts District Street Art: Part 3 of 3

Here's the final post of my three-part blog collection of street art found in L.A.'s Arts District.

801 East 4th Place [GMap]
2000 East 7th Street [GMap]
203 South Garey Street [GMap]
560 Traction Avenue [GMap]
Corner of Enterprise Street and Lemon Street [GMap]
1373 Willow Street [GMap]
1373 Willow Street [GMap]
1340 Palmetto Street [GMap]
2423 Hunter Street [GMap]
2423 Hunter Street [GMap]

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

L.A. Arts District Street Art: Part 2 of 3

Following up on yesterday's collection of street art, I'm sharing some more images from L.A.'s Arts District.

209 South Garey Street [GMap]
209 South Garey Street [GMap]
209 South Garey Street [GMap
215 South Garey Street [GMap]
237 South Garey Street [GMap]
209 South Garey Street [GMap]
2423 Enterprise Street [GMap]
2000 East 7th Street [GMap]
2000 East 7th Street [GMap]
2000 East 7th Street [GMap]
2000 East 7th Street [GMap]
820 East 3rd Street [GMap]

[Check back tomorrow for Part 3 of 3]

Monday, April 9, 2012

L.A. Arts District Street Art: Part 1 of 3

During my recent solo road trip, I spent some time cruising L.A.'s Arts District in search of street art. Here's some of what I found...

 713 East 3rd Street [GMap]
261 South Garey Street [GMap]
261 South Garey Street [GMap]
158 South Hewitt Street [GMap]
281 South Garey Street [GMap
256 Rose Street [GMap]