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Archive for the 'Teaching Moments' Category


Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

I got my diploma from WashU in the mail a few days ago. I had sort of forgotten that I had actually finished a degree program and now possessed some useless letters that could but probably never will follow my name. It’s a fancier diploma than I expected, all engraving-on-silk-inset-in-leather-folio.

This is all well and good, but the entire diploma is also written in Latin. Every. Last. Bit. Because we are just that special. I am pretty sure that I am a Master of Arts in Art History and Archaeology, but I really can’t be positive, having been marginalized by my own diploma.

I’ve sent it to my youngest brothers — whose classical education Latin may now, at last, prove useful — for translation. But should you, similarly educated reader, choose to translate it for the masses of the internet, that would be cool, too.

Also, I’d prefer not too think too long and hard about the unnerving parellels between my exceptionally non-profit-producing degree and the oft-proclaimed dead language of Latin. Thanks.

An Inscrutable Code of Dress

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

A few days ago, Noel forwarded me an e-mail relaying key information about his upcoming company Christmas party.

The attire for the Holiday party is any of the following… Festive, After-Five, Business Casual, (No Jeans Please)

To me, this this dress code is, indeed, inscrutable. Having chosen the life and career path that leads through the extended labyrinths of academia, where professors dress in anything from turtlenecks with gypsy skirts to full-body ensembles in eggplant. Occasionally, there is a sweater vest involved. Also, mismatched earrings.

Emerging from this context, these random and randomly capitalized words — “Festive,” “After Five,” “Business Casual” — seem obtuse, exclusionary, and even foreboding. Had I not done my research on Google, I may have assumed that “Festive” would be fulfilled by wearing something like:


Turns out, “Festive” is just code for “sparkly.” A shiny blouse, some sort of extravagant bling, a sequin or two. It remains unclear if this reported definition of “Festive” means Noel should wear something like this:


“After Five” is also problematic. To simply declare a particular type of attire “After Five” presumes a hegemonic consensus on what one wears post-five o’clock. What about class? What about race? What about gender? It’s colonial, really. And, should you be wondering, at this time of year, after I finish with school, I am most likely to be wearing this after five:


And, judging from extant literature on the subject (which is how we roll in grad school), the definition of “Business Casual” is still fraught. Even Noel’s company cannot trust its employees to correctly interpret the coded phrase without the helpful parentheses: “(No jeans).” If business folks don’t know what it means then, really, how much hope can I really have?

On the other hand, given the sheer range of formality and, um, tastefulness, of attire at last year’s party, perhaps giving a suggested attire — no matter how inscrutable — is still an improvement.

Now to go buy that elf costume…

PSA: The Names of Old Masters Are Not Interchangeable

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

(Blogging between rounds of grading has proved difficult. My thesis research is consuming, and as I struggle to put thoughts into sentences coherent by academic standards, I have little desire to re-translate into summary or self-critical form for my reading public. But, lucky for you, faithful, returning reader of this blog…the second exam is in hand, providing me with ample fodder for nerdy giggles.)

A public service announcement regarding this painting:

death of the virgin

I freely admit that this is not the most famous of paintings. The colors are dark, the subjects look sad, and the suggested narrative is reasonably obscure. And yet, cultured reader and member of the public, there are a few things I would like you to know.

Contrary to the answers of several of my students, this is not a fine example of the Early Renaissance period. This is not, in fact, painted by Masaccio. A work by Masaccio, Early Renaissance master as he was, looks more like the this:

Further, the painting in question is not, as reported by other students, painted by Peter Paul Rubens. Although you, fine reader, were not in attendance during the class lecture on Rubens — where his penchant for rosy, fleshy, tumbling women was repeated ad nauseum — you may be familiar with the common reference to a “Rubenesque” build. Upon careful examination of first painting, I would argue, quite strongly, that there is nary a peaches and cream confection of a woman in sight. The absence of such plump femininity would, I hope, temper any desire to attribute this work to Rubens. It was not so for my students, but perhaps, now, you will choose more wisely.

the landing of marie de medici

The painting in question is, in fact, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Death of the Virgin, from 1606. It is not, as another student proclaimed, A Suicide, and it is most definitely not The Deposition. The painting is remarkable in several aspects, not least of which is the uncharacteristically somber and realistic treatment of Mary’s death. Instead of a shiny, floating Virgin being ushered into the heavens by putti, Caravaggio paints a pale, slightly green, and decidedly dead woman surrounded by stricken mourners. This unflinchingly naturalistic depiction of death likely contributed to the decision by Caravaggio’s intended patron, Laerzio Cherubini, to reject the painting. Ironically, Peter Paul Rubens — who painted a rather luscious Assumption of the Virgin himself — appreciated Caravaggio’s skill and innovation and convinced the Duke of Mantua to buy the work instead.

This message is sponsored by the Society of Type A Art Historians and Tired TAs with the hope for a brighter future where our young people remember that the names of old masters are not, in fact, interchangeable.