Blake in the Heartland Exhibit

blake wine tastingI’m happy to announce that Associate Professor of Art Lee Fearnside and I are gearing up for the exhibit “Blake in the Heartland” at the Diane Kidd Gallery at Tiffin University. We’ll be hosting events the last week of March and first week of April in support of an exhibit of facsimiles of Blake’s works and Blake-inspired art by local artists. Blake scholar Dr. Michael Phillips will be demonstrating Blake’s printmaking methods and lecturing on the Songs of Innocence and of Experience and his experience curating Blake exhibits at the Tate, the Met, the Petite Palais in Paris, the University of Toronto, and most recently at the Ashmolean at Oxford. If you would like Dr. Phillips to visit your institution while he is stateside, email me at jamesrovira at gmail dot com.

More details will be forthcoming as the date approaches.

About the Background…

2014-06-08 13.15.48

The image I’m using (at present) for the background and header for my site is a detail of ceiling art at the Columbus Museum of Art. They have a children’s section in the basement with big, papery lit-up things that change colors. I caught this one on a bluish-purple phase. I shot the photo with my iPhone 5.

The font for my new logo is Sultan Cafe Decor, downloaded for free from Fontspace.com.

My previous orange, swirly header/background, which you can see below, is a detail of an artwork at a local artists’ space in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I visited in June of 2013 to attend the National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute “Reassessing British Romanticism,” led by Steven Behrendt of University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This was shot with my iPhone 4. What was particularly interesting that day was that the artists’ space was featuring a mural dedicated to Nikolai Tesla (photo below), which gave me my first experience of a Tesla car.

orangeswirl.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nikolai Tesla Mural

A Humanist Apologizes to Numbers – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education

photo_37231_landscape_large

Fun read by a creative writing professor about his relationship to numbers. I think the recent institutional separation of arts and sciences causes us to forget the historical relationship between the two. The original seven liberal arts consisted of three studies of language and ideas, the trivium — grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic — while the other four focused on either theoretical or applied math in the forms of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. It never was about either developing language or math skills. Each one helps you understand the other. Intensive study of grammar and poetics, at some point, makes you feel like you’re studying algebra:

A Humanist Apologizes to Numbers – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

Are Teachers Entertainers?

children-playing-250x249I’ve been following a discussion on LinkedIn in which one instructor has taken the position that teachers are entertainers because learning should be fun, and another is taking issue with him — he maybe agrees that learning should be fun, but he’s doubtful that teachers are entertainers. I think it wouldn’t hurt to consider how we use the words “fun” and “entertainment” when we think about classroom experiences and instructor’s roles.

We tend to say that we’re “entertained” by films, plays, concerts, stand-up comics, etc. Actors, comics, and musicians are entertainers. Being entertainers, they perform while we watch, and we enjoy what we’re watching. The important thing here is that when we’re being entertained, we’re passive. However, we have fun at the beach, the carnival, or when we’re playing games. When we’re having fun, we’re active. So by these definitions, whenever instructors are acting like entertainers, students are passive observers, but when students are having fun, they’re engaged — they’re doing something. So if instructors are entertainers, students aren’t having fun.

But to say that students should have fun in the classroom doesn’t seem quite right either: “fun” seems mindless (though it doesn’t have to be), and mindless isn’t what a college classroom should be. I think we should abandon the notion of fun altogether and adopt the idea of pleasure instead, so that we think about learning as an advanced form of pleasure. I’m drawing here from Book VII of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, in which he distinguishes carefully between the pleasures of the body and the pleasures of the soul:

Neither practical wisdom nor any state of being is impeded by the pleasure arising from it; it is foreign pleasures that impede, for the pleasures arising from thinking and learning will make us think and learn all the more.

There are pleasures that impede growth and pleasures that foster growth, and learning is one of the pleasures that foster growth. Aristotle calls these pleasures “natural.” They’re like eating. We eat so that we can live, and pleasure is a natural by-product of our eating, but not the purpose of eating. Learning is supposed to work the same way. We learn so that we can live and grow, and the natural by-product of learning is pleasure, but pleasure isn’t the purpose of learning. It’s just a by-product. When students truly learn, when a light comes on and they see something — maybe even the whole world — in ways that they haven’t before, those students experience a deep pleasure that makes them want to learn even more. As we learn, our ability to gain pleasure from learning grows with us.

Strategies for increasing the pleasure of learning:

  • “Big picture” teaching — teaching that relates the material to students’ own lived experiences, prior knowledge, and future lives.
  • Minimizing (though perhaps not eliminating) lectures and involving students in more activities: have them do something with the knowledge they acquire.
  • Problem solving activities are perhaps the best. Pose a problem for students to solve with the material at hand.

These strategies work, usually. Are they limited?  Of course — by reasonable class sizes, by the amount of instructor support, and by students’ prior learning experiences, which usually involve having all of the imagination and pleasures of learning beaten out of them by test preparation instruction — and by hours of mindless fun in front of a television set or playing a video game. But I’ve also seen students resistant to learning have their heads turned by these strategies.