Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: A History of the World in Six Glasses

December 2, 2009

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at the Indiana Humanities Council.

In A History Of The World In Six Glasses, Tom Standage boldly states that the history of the world can be told using six signature beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola). These drinks are intricately linked to six major periods in world history–from our nomadic brethren deciding to stay in one place to the current fascination with Coca-Cola.

He goes on to divide history much like archaeologists divide it based on different materials (stone, bronze, iron) only in the form of beverages. But not in a world history textbook kind of way (although I did find myself re-learning bits of world history that I had forgotten over the years). Instead, Standage summarizes great periods of history and concepts into just a few sentences, sprinkles in a few interesting factoids and connects both big picture thoughts and minute details to the development of these beverages, as well as their widespread adoption. Standage explains how these beverages extended life expectancies, fueled the enlightenment, contributed to wars, and divided cultures. For example:

Beer contributed to an increase in farming and decrease in hunting.
Wine divided classes and cultures, particularly in Greece and Rome. 
Spirits influenced slavery, the American Revolution, and contributed to the British Navy’s strength.
Tea improved and sustained life, and it was the “lubricant” for the industrial revolution.
Coffee (and coffeehouses) served as fuel for the enlightenment.
Coca-Cola, love it or hate it, is symbolic of America’s rise in dominance.

Some of those interesting tidbits include that the oldest known recipe is for beer; that Coca-Cola created a clear, un-branded bottle for a leader in the Soviet Union so that he wouldn’t be seen drinking Coke during the Cold War; and that rum significantly contributed to the dominance of the British navy because it kept scurvy at bay.

It’s a brisk read, and offers fascinating insights into our history, and into human nature.

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The humanities: It’s not about what they are; it’s what we do

November 16, 2009

Due to an overwelmingly positive response, we wanted to share the following article with you, which was published in a variety of newspapers throughout Indiana, including the Indianapolis Star on Nov. 4, under the headline “Get in touch with the humanities.”

By Keira Amstutz, president and CEO of the Indiana Humanities Council. 

Once, after a dance performance, Isadora Duncan was asked what the dance meant. Her response has become famous as a terse description of art’s purpose: “If I could tell you what it meant,” she said, “there would be no point in dancing it.”

In my role as president and CEO of the Indiana Humanities Council, I often find myself being asked, “What are the humanities?” And sometimes, like Isadora Duncan, I think it’d be easier to dance than answer the question.

Why? Because sometimes describing the humanities is like describing the wind – it’s easier to say what it does than what it is. It swirls leaves on an autumn sidewalk. It teases a little girl’s hair. It pulses through a wheat field like waves on a landlocked sea.

So, I thought I’d explain what the humanities are by explaining what you can do – and perhaps already do – in, through and with them every day.

I don’t pretend that this list is conclusive; I know it only scratches the surface. But I hope that it will, in its breadth and diversity, allow you to create – and, more important, put into action – your own definition of the humanities. So, let’s get started:

Read a novel. Read a poem. Read the directions on a shampoo bottle. Read the Declaration of Independence. Read a blog. Read an essay. Read a review of a book you’ll never read. Read a sacred text. Read your diary. Read to a kid. Read the liner notes to an old jazz album. Read the lyrics to a song you love. Read a libretto.

See a play with a friend. Go early. Wander through the theater. View the stage from different angles. Peruse the program. Learn about the actors. Watch the play. Study the set. Notice the lighting. Listen to reactions. Find a place to have coffee. Discuss the play. Go to another play. Repeat the process.

Visit a courtroom. Visit a classroom. Visit an old teacher. Visit a park. Visit a museum. Visit a library. Visit City Hall. Visit a college campus. Visit a craftsman’s workbench. Visit an artist’s studio.

Look at a piece of art. Study it. Step back. Look at the piece beside it. Ask yourself: Why are these pieces next to each other? Why is this art? Step back again. Ask yourself: Does the size of the room affect the way I look at the art? Step back again. How does seeing more change the way you see the art?

Listen to a band. Listen to a debate. Listen to a well-tuned machine. Listen to a podcast. Listen to a diner ordering dinner. Listen to a photographer describing a photo. Listen to an architect explaining a building’s design. 

Stop outside a building you pass every day; look at its design. Do you know the name for the architectural style? Do you like it? What appeals to you? What would you do differently? Get a book about architecture and learn about the style. Find other examples of that style and compare them. Find examples of other styles and compare them. Take a walk with a colleague and debate the architecture you see.

Attend a historic-home tour. Attend a lecture. Attend the symphony. Attend a gallery reception. Attend a festival. Attend a legislative session. Attend opening night (of anything). Attend a public forum.

Speak at a public forum. Sing in a choir. Yell “Bravo” at a concert. Ask a question. Tell someone your family’s history. Recite a poem. Describe a work of art. Say what you think.

Now, think about what you’ve done. You’ve examined, studied and reviewed something made by humans or something that makes us human. You’ve thought about it, pondered it and processed it. And you’ve talked about it, debated it and discussed it.

That’s what the humanities are.

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Fly Into (Not Over) Indiana

October 14, 2009

Written by Richard McCoy, an Associate Conservator of Objects & Variable Art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Honestly, I don’t work for the IMA’s public relations department, but I can’t think of anyway to tell you about the show that just opened here without sounding just like a “PR Guy.”  Simply put, Sacred Spain: Art and Belief in the Spanish World represents the best any museum has to offer, anywhere in the world. 

 Sacred Spain

From the beauty and significance of the artworks on view, to the scholarship surrounding their context and selection, to the accompanying two-day symposium (which is free and starts this Friday: Sacred and Profane in the Early Modern Hispanic World, to the conservation work done on some of the artworks in the show (both here at the IMA and abroad), to the coordination and effort required to bring here over 70 artworks literally from all over the world, and, finally, to the design of the gallery and the hand-held devices you can use to learn more about the artworks as you experience them, all of this comes together for just three exceptional months right here in Indianapolis.

This exhibition is but more visual and tangible proof that Indianapolis is no longer a fly-over state for the art world; we’re quickly becoming a fly-into state.

As an art conservator at the IMA, one of my main responsibilities is to help make sure the artworks are safe and sound while they travel and are on view — this is a responsibility I share with a host of IMA folks.  My personal experiences with this show were in travelling to Madrid to oversee the packing and transportation of a few artworks from there to here (via a 15-hour truck ride to Paris), and earlier this year I oversaw the photography of The Crown of the Andes, which is in a private collection, and rarely on view.  Spending a few hours in close proximity to the Crown ranks up there as one of the most special days I’ve had working in the museum world.   

The Crown of the Andes ca 1600-1700

But what also makes this show exceptional is that you can see it all free — thanks to a generous donation by the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation. Also, the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue are presented with the collaboration of the prestigious State Corporation for Spanish Cultural Action Abroad, SEACEX.

Finally, to give you some in-depth background about one of the paintings in the show, here’s a video with Max Anderson, the Director and CEO of the IMA, Ronda Kasl, the IMA curator, who for the past 5 or more years has been working to put this exhibition together, talking about one of the paintings in the show, which was conserved right here at the IMA by Christina Milton-O’Connell and Linda Witkowski.

McCoy conserves artworks across all areas of the collection and his research extends beyond the technology and structure of artworks to include artistic intent and execution as it relates to the preservation of contemporary art. His current research includes the investigation of interior channels in African Songye power figures and making conservation public through social media.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Eat, Pray, Love

September 16, 2009

I finally picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” — a book I’d been begging my sister to borrow, but she kept lending it out to someone else before I could get my hands on it. Now, I feel like I’m the last person (or at least woman) to read it — especially because Gilbert’s sequel will hit the shelves in January.

Just from the jacket’s description, I knew this was a book for me — and not just because my sister told me so. “Liz” is everything I love in a great fictional character –s trong, funny, passionate, and of course, an avid traveler — but she’s not fictional. Even better. Knowing a little about Gilbert, I was also looking forward to exceptional writing.

So I woke up early one morning over Labor Day weekend just to crack open the book before anyone else stirred. I crashed through the first 75 pages before I even realized it, intermittently laughing out loud and getting a bit teary-eyed. As much as I hated to be pulled out of Liz’s world, when I got interrupted, it was just as well. The book was so delicious that I didn’t want to waste my enjoyment in one setting. Now, I get to live vicariously through Liz’s world a few nights a week. And maybe more. Like my sister, I may read this one twice.

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at the Indiana Humanities Council

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Making it Relevant – Confucius: Colossal Bore or Sexiest Thinker Ever?

July 10, 2009

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” – Confucius 

We’ve never seen a picture of him, but Confucius probably had more women hanging off his arms than a billionaire at the Playboy mansion. That’s because in ancient China, contemplating the enduring questions of the universe was one of the surest ways to get lucky when you out for a “night on the province”. Many people complain that the classics just aren’t “sexy enough” for today’s sensibilities. Those priggish prudes just needed to let loose and have fun, some would say. Well, I don’t know about you, but The Analects of Confucius holds the number one spot on my top ten list of “super sexy ancient Chinese philosophical texts.”

It’s not just because he made a long, pointed beard (which I can’t duplicate) the epitome of fashion, but because Confucius was a man who meant business. Confucius loved learning for its own sake, but he knew that most people were looking for practical ways for every day living, not a system of metaphysics or a hierarchy of the universe. Most people just want to make the best of what they have, and Confucius understood that. His philosophy was not an all-encompassing system, but short sayings that you could apply to life right now. You can pick up The Analects, turn to any page, and find something profound faster than a teenage girl can text her friends that omg confucius iz like de best ever LOL.

Consider these sayings:

“The gentleman cherishes virtue; the small man cherishes land. The gentleman cherishes institutions; the small man cherishes favors.”

“Acting solely in pursuit of profit will incur much resentment.”

“A man with clever words and an ingratiating appearance is seldom a man of humanity.”

That last one reminds of a certain first-African-American-President-of-the-United-States, but you probably haven’t heard of him. I could go on, but it would be better for you to just pick up The Analects and start reading yourself. Imagine: a virtuous life in twenty minutes a day, three times a week (or perhaps that was six pack abs). Long scholar’s robes and pointy beards may be sooooo fifth-century Orient, but The Analects of Confucius will always be in style.

This weekly series (by Joshua Eskew, a senior at Marian College studying English and communication, and an intern with the Indiana Humanities Council) will help expose the relevance of studying the classics.

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Meandering Indiana 13 – Wayne County

May 22, 2009

Summer is almost here, and Americans are ready to hit the road. Likewise, a citizen setting out from Maryland in the late 1830s could get on the newly built federal highway and drive a wagon straight through to St. Louis. The National Road, as it was called, entered Indiana on the eastern edge around Richmond, passed through many small towns before arriving in Indianapolis, and wound up in Terre Haute where it exited the state.

I’ve driven stretches of this same road (U.S. 40) on days when I-70 just seemed unnecessary. The pavement’s been upgraded a bit, but it’s still a fine way to travel. The National Road also still divides northern Indiana from southern Indiana, according to some historians. Since it runs down Washington Street in Indy, one might also say it divides the northern from the southern half of the city.

Back in Wayne County, the area’s Quaker heritage with its commitment to peace and justice is revealed in traces of the Underground Railroad, such as the Levi Coffin House (Fountain City), and in Earlham College (801 National Road West, Richmond).

I meandered to Wayne County quite deliberately one sunny day–for no other reason than to go sightseeing in Metamora. This tourist-friendly town is known for its historic canal and gristmill, and I also enjoyed the shops and the Side Track Cafe.

Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum (photo: William Eccles)

Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum (photo: William Eccles)

Another day I was at the Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum to meet with the Historic Landmarks Foundation staff about an exhibit project sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council. This historic site–with its house, barn, smokehouse, and springhouse–is sometimes listed as in Cambridge City and sometimes as in Mt. Auburn, but it’s not hard to find. For, as our nineteenth-century travelers discovered when looking for a place to stay, you can’t miss it. It’s at 838 National Road.

Read more of Nancy’s travels across the state, here.

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Salman Rushdie and I, Rushing to the Singularity

August 27, 2008

Sometimes the world moves in ways that force you think about specific topics and that topic for me is Salman Rushdie.

I read Stanley Fish’s column over at the New York Times. And in a column on Sunday he wrote a complaint about some recent statements that Rushdie made about Random House refusing to publish Sherry Jones’ debut novel. I don’t have any opinions about Jones or her novel, because I know nothing of either, save what I found out in Fish’s column.

And at first I thought very little of Fish’s column other than his opening sentence was immature and snarky–an attitude that Fish routinely adopts to no good purpose. Rushdie is not “the self-appointed poster boy for the First Amendment” as Fish asserts. To be one would hardly have done Rushdie a lot of good since his self-expression was put in jeopardy–along with his life–not by the U.S. government but by Iranian mullahs. And if Rushdie were championing a First Amendment cause in his criticism of Random House, someone in Fish’s line of work should hardly be diminishing the effort by saying that they were “at it again” as if fighting the good fight for free expression were nothing more than a dog barking at the moon. It’s also funny that a guy with a built-in soap box at the New York Times would criticize Rushdie (or anyone else) from attempting to get their opinions printed in the newspaper. And…

OK, I’ll admit it, as per usual I thought a lot about Fish’s article and what I thought made me mad. Some of what I thought about Fish’s article appeared here, at Language Log, another blog I read regularly. Bill Poser, the blogger at LL who wrote on Fish’s column found ways to make me even more angry. It turns out Fish’s reading of “censorship” was not just overly narrow and therefore wrong. It turns out he’d actually altered the facts of the case to fit his argument better. Harumph! (He has since corrected one his alterations/omissions).

And then! Over at the Sycamore Review blog (which I linked to yesterday) I stumbled across this post from earlier this month which directed me to this article on the most recently added book to my Incredibly Long Reading List.