August 2009


A Fair-Minded Review

To the Editors:

First let me thank you for presenting me an Aristos award for my book Architecture of the Absurd: How "Genius" Disfigured a Practical Art. I also want to thank you for your extensive review of my book. I thought your review was eminently fair, although I don't think I was guilty of contradictions by occasionally referring to "art" without the modification of "practical." Art is a genus; practical art and fine art are species within that genus. I don't think it's necessary always to modify art by practical in order to maintain the consistency of my point of view. If I had known about the cost overruns of Calatrava's design I should have objected critically, as you surmised. Aside from that I have no criticism of your review. The points at which you take exception to my analysis seem perfectly reasonable.

Overall I am deeply pleased by what you had to say about my book. Again, my thanks and my compliments on the fairness and insightfulness of your review.

John Silber
President Emeritus
Boston University

P.S. I was also pleased by your review [2007 Aristos Award citation] of Heather Mac Donald's "The Abduction of Opera." The points she made about the Berlin staging of Mozart's opera remind me of a performance of The Magic Flute by the Vienna Volksoper. When Papageno and Papagena were united at the close of the opera, a bed was immediately presented on which they simulated copulation, thus destroying the magical mood of this splendid opera. I hope Ms. Mac Donald gets a wide hearing by people of taste.

Louis Torres replies:

I appreciate Dr. Silber's comments regarding the fairness of my review. A former professor of philosophy (and of law), he rightly points out that art is a genus, while practical art and fine art are species. Any differences of opinion we might have regarding his use of these terms in the few instances I cited is no doubt due to the fact that, confronted daily with avant-garde claims to "art," I tend to fuss more over such details than most people.

Letter from the Trenches

To the Editors:

Over the summer, I have tried to catch up on past issues of Art Education magazine and finally got a chance to read your article "What About the Other Face of Contemporary Art?" I applaud your views, presentation of information, and writing style! I completely agree that the trend in present-day Art Ed and MFA programs is to accept only highly conceptual work as "new and riveting," without regard to the artist's foundation and technique in classical art making.

I sometimes question whether I am right to devote the majority of my classroom instruction to developing technique, but it always becomes obvious that the students who truly grasp the technique and vocabulary of visual art are the ones who are able to give form to their ideas. I have had many students who had great ideas but lacked the confidence to bring them to fruition because they lacked basic drawing technique. They couldn't sketch out a simple idea to share with me or their classmates and would therefore become reluctant even to talk about it. Words cannot always convey ideas. Sometimes you have to be able to see what is in the mind of the artist. Without drawing-from-observation skills, sharing that image can be frustrating for them to the point of surrender.

So thank you for your article. It not only presents a well-justified viewpoint, it is also well-written. Unlike the many disjointed "research" articles I have been reading in Art Education, by writers who use them as a vehicle for touting their vast vocabularies and lofty intelligences, yours was easy to understand. Keep up the good work!

Shelbye J. Reese
Visual Arts Instructor
Hart County High School, Georgia

The editors reply:

We were especially heartened to hear from Ms. Reese, as she represents the sort of independent-minded art teacher we seek to encourage in these pages. Her criticism of the often pretentious and unintelligible scholarly writing in Art Education is entirely justified.