Friday, January 11, 2013

January 11, 2013


     Before I got the idea of opening a scholarly bookshop, founding a Free University, and fulfilling my teaching ambitions that way, I began teaching at UNC-G and taking courses in their graduate school to qualify for more teaching. (I had a vague goal of getting enough of what these academics call "ed cred" to qualify as a instructor in Women & Gender Studies at G.T.C.C., the local community college. I have always desired a serious study of Art History, so for two semesters I took art history courses with my oldest friend, Carl, whom I've known since he was a freshman in Brooklyn College. Carl is now a very serious professional indeed, has released three important books with Cambridge University Press, has served as Head of the Art Department and is, I would say, the most important elder of the local university's world of art. He is at least 75, but remains a vigorous intellect and hard worker and professor. I learned a lot in my two classes with him and enjoyed them immensely, partly because my fellow students were so bright and creative–Garima from New Dehli, for example–but mainly because of Carl's erudition and sense of humor. He's Brooklyn-born, and I miss the Yiddische Kopf here in Southern Baptist Land.
     I think of all this because of an essay I just read in the current issue of Arion. Arion is one of those precious university "Humanities" mags, this time from Boston University; it's been around for decades and is usually pretty dull, as you can imagine. But there was an inoffensive little thing on Vasari, and it reminded me of a funny incident in my recent academic immersion with my friend, Carl. Because a large part of Carl's course in Art History began of course with the very founder of Art History, the Florentine genius, Vasari.*
     Professor Barolsky didn't take Vasari as seriously as my friend, Carl, and in fact tweeked him on his piacivoli inganni, Vasari's "pleasurable deceptions," claiming, unlike Professor Carl, that Vasari was quite aware that the little anecdotes and stories he told were embellished for the amusement of his readers.
     Carl, on the other hand, had us take Vasari very seriously indeed. He concluded his lecture on Vasari by having us notice that in the 450 years since Vasari very little has been found to contradict or refute any of Vasari's many insights into Renaissance Art (Carl's specialty by the way).
     I raised my hand and said I agreed with Carl except for one thing. Vasari does not mention a single woman artist of the Renaissance.
     Students like me are at a rhetorical disadvantage in such exchanges with Herr Professor. Carl stood at the head of the class, in front of the blackboard, behind a little podium. I was in row two, seat four of some thirty narrow, uncomfortable stackable chairs in the room, all facing front.
     Carl thought a minute, and then he said, "But there were no women artists of the Renaissance." And he said it with quite a bite of finality.
     Perhaps it was that little "bite" that caused me to mutter, "But in my bookshop I have a recent volume of over 1,000 pages with the title, "Women Artists of the Renaissance."

* Paul Barolsky, "Burlington Magazine and the Death of Vasari's Lives of the Artists," Arion 20:2
(Fall, 2012), pages 63–80

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