Sunday, November 25, 2018

Living Artfully - finding Thoreau in art and the art of living

" .... because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."  -- Henry David Thoreau

In the past couple years, I have begun to discover art and the art of living in ways that I'd long imagined, but have never really visualized. And, as I've been working through a unit of Romanticism and Transcendentalism with my classes, I have pondered and discussed the Thoreauvian approach to our dailiness. What HDT described as living deliberately, I've tried to re-imagine as living artfully. Though I never took an art class, and I certainly don't consider myself an artist or even artistic, I am trying to experience more art in my life, and subsequently experience life as art.

Art and the art of living pops up all over the place if we take the time to notice and appreciate it. This morning in the Wall Street Journal weekend edition I was reminded in a column by Frank Wilczek about the brilliance found in the art and research our earliest neuro-scientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal. Before visiting MIT this summer with my family, I don't know that I'd ever heard of RyC, but I was captivated when I discovered the exhibit of his drawings at the MIT Museum. To learn that he was accurately drawing his ideas of what neurons looked like decades before we had the MRI technology to know for sure was practically magical to me. If you've never see Ramon y Cajal's work (and don't have plans to visit MIT soon), it's worth taking a look at his vision of The Beautiful Brain.

I thought again of art's importance while reading Lance Esplund's Masterpiece reflection about his first "life changing encounter with art." For a future art critic like Esplund, it was odd but familiar and gratifying to hear him reveal how his first experience with arts masters left him empty and not connected. Truly we know that Rembrandt and Da Vinci are great - we may just not be moved by them. Then along comes something sublime in a different way - for Esplund that work was Paul Klee's "Howling Dog."  Something in the colors or the style grabbed him emotionally and let him directly experience the art in the way that Klee intended. And that is the sort of living artfully that I seek more of in my life. Not all of us go on to become erudite art critics, but we can all appreciate looking at the world more artfully.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Free Solo - "Alex Honnold and the Pursuit of Perfect"

See. This. Movie.

Knowing of Alex Honnold from previous stories on his free solo climbing accomplishments, I was intrigued and excited to learn not only that he had free soloed El Capitan, the "center of the rock climbing universe" and the most incredible rock wall on earth, but also that a film crew had been there to capture it all. And now that I've seen it, I am all the more amazed. The climb was a monumental task that is a remarkable human achievement and may be the greatest athletic feat of all time. The film does it all justice. Free Solo from filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi is, in a single word, breathtaking.

Learning intimately the story of Alex Honnold and the El Cap climb was a fascinating, inspiring, and, for me actually, emotionally draining experience, for it was joining a truly unique human being as he sought the edge of human achievement and pushed that edge to an area many never thought it could go. Man has always been fascinated by dominant physical achievement and the pursuit of excellence. It was integral to the culture of the Greeks, and it was a primary element of the Heroic Ideal found in the stories of early epic heroes such as Beowulf. We love excellence. We are fascinated by it, and in many ways, we revere it. As we should. For by pushing the boundaries of physical achievement, we develop tangible evidence of just what is possible. Experiencing the arduous process of imagining, envisioning, planning, practicing, and finally achieving a free solo climb of El Capitan is a truly gratifying experience. Interestingly, the movie feels like a thriller at times, which is pretty cool considering we know how the movie ends. But, during the actual climb I must say that my palms were literally sweaty. It was a captivating bit of film to say the least.

In some ways, this is a movie about an athlete. But in other ways this is a significant, meaningful, and important film about a legendary moment in time.

It is in Alex's own words "delightful."

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Roger Scruton explains Conservatism

I refrain from using the terms conservative and liberal to describe or refer to people (and even ideas and issues) anymore because I don't feel like people authentically use and align with those terms, or they will mis-apply them to pieces of legislation and the way they vote. No, these days the only valid terms are Republican and Democrat. Americans identify themselves by whom they voted for in the last election. And, that is not the essence of ideas and ideologies like conservatism and liberalism to me.

Roger Scruton, a writer and public intellectual, may be able to help.

The most important piece of insight and distinction is that conservatism is actually classical liberalism. And, the basic premise to keep in mind is that classical liberalism in terms of the Enlightenment (18th century, neo-Classical Age) is committed to the concept of individual and natural rights. At the core of that, of course, is freedom; and the idea of freedom is where the Republicans and the Democrats get into all sorts of trouble leading to confusing disagreements. (By the way, a great source of intellectual debate about this can be found in Patrick Deneen's wonderful book Why Liberalism Failed ). In its soul, the idea of conservatism is about opposition to radical change, and it's about a commitment to norms and traditions of culture. That perspective leads us to a neat little book by Scruton on the essence and history of conservatism - Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition. 

One of the most important pieces of insight in the book comes in the last chapter, where Scruton succinctly summarizes the primary canons of conservatism according to the esteemed Russell Kirk. I appreciate Scruton's work for the honesty and integrity with which he explores a line of thought outside of the somewhat obscene partisan politicizing of ideas going on in both the United States and Great Britain these days. Clearly, the election of Donald Trump is both a cause and effect of the mess that has been made of conservatism as a label and the GOP as a brand. For me, the sense of decorum and character which have always been a commitment of conservatives has been so egregiously tainted that it's absolutely necessary to identify the culprits as Republicans, not as conservatives. And, it's subsequently important to look outside the parties to explore and discover the philosophy. Perhaps someday, we can return to the purity of classical liberal thought, and we might even reach a day where people once again can choose between two human beings in an election, and not two entrenched political parties.

From Scruton (p. 144):

Kirk's philosophy is founded in the following canons or states of mind:
  1. A belief in a transcendent order, which Kirk described variously as based in tradition, divine revelation, or natural law;
  2. An affection for the 'variety and mystery' of human existence;
  3. A conviction that society requires orders and classes that emphasize 'natural' distinctions;
  4. A belief that property and freedom are closely linked;
  5. A faith in custom, convention, and prescription, and a recognition that innovation must be tied to existing traditions and customs, which entails a respect for the political value of prudence.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Greenwood Village - Comprehensive Plan

When I moved to theVillage sixteen years ago with my wife and young son, I felt welcome and immediately became a part of the community. As a teacher at Cherry Creek High School, I was fortunate to live in the community where I work. Granted I traded a 2200 sq ft house in Illinois for a 1400 sq ft townhouse, but it was home, and affordable for a teacher. Now with the proposed comprehensive plan revisions, I fear the welcome mat has been removed. Restricting any new housing development to single-family homes on quarter acre lots effectively eliminates any new residents who can’t afford $800K+ homes. Teachers in Cherry Creek start at $40K/year and top out at $80K after 30 years and a master degree. I don’t know of any police officers, firefighters, or city maintenance workers making more than that. And, I’m not complaining about the pay in public service – I’m very happy with my living. While I’ll never afford a house in Sundance or The Preserve or One Cherry Lane, I’ve made a home here. Unfortunately, the Council’s plans intend to ensure that no more people like me are welcome to the Village, and I find that sad. When the housing market passed me by, that’s economics. But when government zones to exclude the middle class, well, that’s just embarrassing. And it’s not the Village I used to know. In fact, the Council’s plans seem to be focused on preserving a subdivision, not a town or community or village. Similar intentions in the plan about transportation baffle me. The traffic in Greenwood Village stems not from residents, especially those who might prefer living near and using the light rail. It’s the 60K non-residents who work in GV Mon-Fri, 9-5 who clog our streets. But they don’t keep our shops and restaurants in business, and they don’t attend Fall Fest and GV Day. Their kids don’t attend our schools or play on our teams. They don’t make a Village – they don’t make this a home. So, why would the Council seek only to bring in more transient workers and zero new residents and homemakers? I’ve heard that Cherry Creek students think my AP English Lang class is really hard – they’re sometimes afraid to take it. Soon they get over their fear and even love the class. I hope the Council can learn from them that there’s no need to Save Our Village from the likes of people me. When I was growing up in Illinois, my immediate neighborhood had doctors and lawyers and business owners and teachers and plumbers and more. It was a true community. Yet that has faded over the years, as communities become increasingly closed off and isolated. 20 years ago, Robert Putnam warned us in his book Bowling Alone that a collection of houses does not a community make. It’s certainly not a Village. Let’s not dismiss him and close ourselves off.

The previous text is from my public comments at the November 13 meeting of the Greenwood Village, CO Planning & Zoning commission. The P & Z commission voted unanimously to approve the amendments to the Greenwood Village Comprehensive Plan and to send the amended plan on to the Council.