Welcome, Members of Parliament

Welcome, Members of Parliament. This blog is designed to act as a student forum for anyone enrolled in my classes at a Dallas-area proprietary college, former students, and/or others who find our conversations interesting. The Parliament will be moderated to ensure civility and relevance. The directions we take, the paths we follow, and the concerns we address are all up to you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

More Nincompoopery about Nekkid Bodies

Oh, puh-leese! Not again.

Last week the Daily Poop (aka the Dallas Morning News) ran a story about parents' objections to a textbook used in Plano's high school humanities class for gifted and talented students. The book in question is Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities. The reason? According to the article's author, the parents who protested the book's use claimed that "the college-level textbook reveals the darkest of artistic expressions" and objected to their daughter's being forced to look at the naughty images--of Michelangelo's David, the Hermes of Praxiteles, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and Goya's Third of May 1808.

Now, I would agree that the Goya depicts one of the darker moments of human history, but am pretty sure that fourteen-year-olds have seen much worse on the news. If, of course, they watch the news--and if their mommies let them.

But we've heard this song before. In 2006, a Frisco teacher was fired for taking her charges to the Dallas Museum of Art, where one of them apparently caught a glimpse of some naughty bits down the hall and blabbed to mommy. These were fifth-graders, all of whom had obtained permission slips from their parents.

To Plano ISD's credit, they've rescinded their withdrawal of the book, although the parents are pursuing a review through the State Board of Education. Given that board's history, who knows what'll happen (for my take on the Board, see these posts on The Owl of Athena: Back to the Future and Educational Secession). I cannot help, however, but to see the whole episode as yet one more example of how education in Texas is being compromised by short-sightedness and ignorance.

There's apparently a Facebook page on this issue (authored by Ashley Meyers, who graduated from a Plano high school and now attends Northwestern University). Since I'm not a participant in this particular social network, you might want to look up the page and let us know what the 500 followers are saying.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Future as Past

A slide show in the New York Times this weekend, The Visual Design of 'Megamind,' made me think first of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and then about Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Alex Proyas's Dark City. The Art Deco influences are obvious to anyone who's ever made it through History of Art & Design II, but the others might be a bit more obscure. What made me think of Brazil is the slide of Megamind's Lair; Dominique Lewis's view of Metro City made me think of the last scene in Dark City. The Hugh Ferris-inspired shot of Metro City looked like something straight out of Lang's 1927 classic--which was also a classic application of Art Deco.

Artists get ideas from everywhere, as Terry Barrett reminds us ("All art is, in part, about other art"). In fact, it's very difficult for us human beings, metaphor-makers that we are, to come up with anything truly original, even when we're imagining the future. It's enormously difficult for even the best science fiction minds to imagine visually a place we've never experienced, much less beings we've never met (hence the present-day default setting: aliens as marine creature-like embodiments of our worst nightmares). So Art Deco, which seemed futuristic at the time (the 1920s and '30s), was really grounded in a romanticized version of the machine aesthetic from the late nineteenth century, with a bit of Bauhaus and Art Nouveau thrown in.

To complicate matters, we're now seeing a combination of Industrial Revolution-era technologies with another adaptation of Art Deco into an alternative view: the past-as-future aesthetic of Steampunk. I don't mean this as negative criticism, because it seems a perfect compromise to an old geezer like me. But to give you an idea of how out of it I really am, I looked for a good link for "steam punk" and was quickly corrected by Google.

As an alternative to the now old-fangled "Where's Waldo," may I offer a new game for art and design history students: locate the art-history influences in your favorite new film.

Report back when you find interesting connections.

Image credit: the original 1927 poster for Fritz Lang's film, Metropolis. Via Wikipedia.