a new project

Since I retired in November of 2018, I have been considering ways in which I could continue to explore the world of the arts. I taught FINE 1306, Introduction to Fine Arts, for 13 years at Dallas Baptist University. During that time, I taught on-campus, in-person classes at 8:00 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday during the fall and spring semesters. I also taught online sections of the class in the fall, spring, and summer semesters, as well as mini-hybrid classes during March, May, August, and winter breaks. This class is taught by many other professors because every student is required to take this class, except for music majors and education majors (they take specialized versions of the course taught by professors in their disciplines). I believe, but I’m not sure, that I have taught the course more frequently than any other currently serving DBU professor. I also was responsible for a major re-write of the online curriculum in 2010, as well as minor updates to reflect new textbooks in 2014 and 2018-19. I just state this up front to testify that I know the course material inside and out, and I’ve learned a lot about all kinds of art during this long process.

In addition, I took 36 hours of doctoral classes at UT-Dallas, majoring in Aesthetic Studies. This program is an inter-disciplinary study of art, music, history, literature, and philosophy. Those courses furthered my love of and knowledge about the arts in all areas.

What I want to do, now that I’m semi-retired (I still teach the online and mini-hybrid courses), is learn more and share more by taking advantage of this blog. In the past, I have written in this forum sporadically at best, but my hope is to eventually produce a nearly daily output. My two main challenges are: 1) sticking to it and not sloughing off or making excuses; and 2) not writing too much. I’m very wordy, as you can see!

My plan is based on a modified version of the course schedule I use during the week-long mini-hybrid courses that I teach, to wit:

Monday – paintings and other flat visual arts

Tuesday – sculpture, architecture, and other three-dimensional visual art

Wednesday – music

Thursday – cinema and theater (mostly movies)

Friday – television

Saturday – books

What I hope to do is feature some of my favorite items from these categories and provide brief reviews or information about them. I worry about getting too pedantic, but perhaps I can learn to avoid that and just be entertaining. I plan to include items of pop culture, as well as the more traditional, “classical” works, so maybe that will help!

I started today with four paintings chosen by my students and the haiku poems they wrote that were inspired by those paintings. This occurs only a few times during the year, when I teach the mini-hybrid courses.

Tomorrow I’ll feature a work of architecture to get us started. Let’s see how it goes!

poetry & paintings #6

Once again, students in my May mini-hybrid class chose paintings that appealed to them and then wrote haiku to accompany the paintings. This is an exercise in the interrelationships of the humanities, where one type of art form can interpret a previously completed work of art in a different medium. My students are neither artists nor poets per se, but I think their considered attempts to experience the ways in which works of art can inspire the creation of new works are worthy of publication here.

Just a reminder for anyone who, like me, attended high school too long ago to remember clearly, a haiku is a non-rhyming poem of three lines and seventeen syllables in this pattern: five syllables, seven syllables, and another five syllables. One challenge is to remember to think in syllables, rather than words.

Here are the paintings chosen by my students and the poems they created in response to their choices.

Bathers, Dieppe, by Walter Richard Sickert (1902)


“Bathers,” by Hannah Rains

Bathing at the beach.

Summer breeze blows as they wade

in up to their knees.


The Last Supper, by Tintoretto (1594)

last supper

“The Last Supper,” by Carol James

He then broke the bread

so they would never forget:

The death of the King.


Suspense, by Charles Burton Barber (1894)


“Breakfast,” by Cynthia Russell

We must say our prayers,

for thankful friends we should be.

But don’t close your eyes!


The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise, by Vincent van Gogh (1890)

van gogh church

“Deep Inside,” by Whitney Paschal

A beacon of hope –

Violet-hued glass and sky.

Look inside for Him.

poetry & paintings # 5

It’s been almost a year since the last time I posted poetry created by my students, and a lot has changed for me. But I taught a Spring Break mini-hybrid class in March and three of my students completed the assignment to write a haiku of one or two verses, inspired by a painting of their choice. Here are the results of this activity.

The Last Judgement, by John Martin (1853)

The Last Judgement 1853 by John Martin 1789-1854

“King of Kings, Lord of All” by Carylann Hendrix

Jesus is His name

Finally here – Judgement Day

He rules, reigns always.


The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, by Caspar David Friedrich (1818)


“The Wanderer” by Dago Barbosa

Alone to wander —

To see the land down yonder

To find, and lose, life


Suspense, by Sir Edwin Landseer (1834)


“The Most Loyal Companion of All” by Kaylee Rae Edmonds

Dog sits, exhausted.

Expecting to travel soon

As his man’s best friend.

Though he wants his rest,

His is loyal to his man —

He never leaves him.

poetry & paintings #4

This will be the last edition of “poetry & paintings” until December, because my online classes don’t participate in this activity. I hope that anyone who has read these student-created poems has enjoyed them. I think it’s important to mention that the students don’t get a lot of time to think about their poems and polish their poetry: this exercise takes place on the last day of class and the students have about 15 minutes to select paintings and then compose their haiku. These poems came from my long semester on-campus Spring 2018 class. I hope you enjoy the haiku selected for inclusion here.

The Roses of Heliogabalus — Lawrence Alma-Tadena, 1888

alma-tadema - roses

“The Roses of Heliogabalus” by Madelyn Medina

What a royal meal!

Sweet roses fall on the guests,

For evil or bliss?

Seascape at Saintes-Maries — Vincent van Gogh, 1888

van gogh - seascape

“Seascape at Saintes-Maries” by Hannah Marshall

Spontaneous sea,

Pushing and pulling colors.

I am soft, yet harsh.

The Great Wave of Kanagawa — Katsushika Hokusai, c.1833

hokusai - wave

“The Journey” by Abraham Garcia

As we head to base,

The waves hit with a big roar!

Please, please God, no more.

A Wheatfield with Cypresses — Vincent van Gogh, 1889

van gogh - wheatfield

“A Pretty Day” by Jacob Gedde

The trees are swaying

While the wind is still playing.

So, are we staying?

Good Friday, Daisy Nook — Laurence Stephen Lowry, 1946

lowry - daisy nook

“Good Friday, Daisy Nook” by DJ House

Fun times at the fair!

But no one asked the question:

Is Waldo in there?

Golconda — René Magritte, 1953

magrette - golconda

“On Magritte’s Golconda” by Morgan Bandy

Observe, my dear son,

The grid of frozen people

dying in neckties.

  – – – – –

They and I and you

are inky punctuations,

shot through nothingness.

poetry & paintings #3

When learning how the various arts can interrelate, my FINE 1306 students have the opportunity to experience the concept of “interpretation,” in which an existing work of art inspires another artist to create something new.  Last Saturday, students chose a painting and then wrote a haiku inspired by their choice.

Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles — Vincent van Gogh, 1888

van gogh - bedroom

“Favorite Place,” by Suzan Issam

The bedroom is calm,

What a peaceful place to be!

Nights filled with sweet dreams.

Wild Poppies (Les Coquelicots) — Claude Monet, 1873

monet - poppies

“Wild Poppy Field,” by Morgan Eichler

Walking through the field;

Orange flowers scattered throughout,

Umbrellas in hand.

Sunflowers — Vincent van Gogh, 1888

van gogh - sunflowers

“Sunflowers,” by Jadee Hankins

Yellow, green, and brown,

Fragrant flowers in the pot;

Smells I once forgot.

Napoleon Leading His Troops over the Bridge at Arcole — Horace Vernet, 1826

vernet - Napoleon

“The March,” by Sam Ellis

“Onward!” Captain yelled

As the drums played on… tap-tap;

We marched on… tap-tap.

The Bear Dance — William Holbrook Beard, c. mid-1860s

beard - bear dance

“Bear Party,” by Emily Bannister

Community fun!

Chaos, disorder, and noise—

Harmless enjoyment.

Midsummer Eve — Edward Robert Hughes, 1908

hughes - midsummer

“Far Away Land,” by Amanda Bannister

Little wings, bright lights

In a land never journeyed.

Fairies welcome her.

Niagara Falls — William Morris Hunt, 1878

hunt - niagara

“The Falls,” by Abby Middleton

Cascades flowing down.

Sounds of thunder all around;

Hear the mighty roar!

Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X — Francis Bacon, 1953

bacon - pope

“A Pope’s Duty,” by Lori McDermett

The pain, I cry out:

Innocents’ confessions burn.

Oh Lord, hear me weep!

– – – – –

The burdens they bring—

I am the pain, suffering,

Waiting. Please save me!

poetry & paintings #2

Students in my Introduction to Fine Arts class experienced the ways in which various forms of art can interrelate by writing original poems based upon paintings they chose from a collection of available images. Their poems were written in the form of haikus, with a per-line syllable count of 5-7-5, but I did not enforce the rule about contradicting ideas or thoughts. As I’ve done before, I present to you a few of the outstanding efforts from the students in my Spring Break hybrid-mini class of 2018.

We’ll start with Brennan Claflin, who chose Seaport at Sunset by Claude Lorrain (1639).

lorrain - seaport at sunset

Seaport at Sunset

Ships come into port;

Sun sets in the western sky.

Freight is unloaded.

Next we have Delaney Gusdorff, who wrote two verses about Armand Guillaumin’s Sunset at Ivry (1873). I find it interesting that both of these paintings showcase the predominant transport industries of their times, although they were created 234 years apart.

guillaumin - setting sun at ivry

Sunset at Ivry

Overwhelming smoke,

Immense beauty in the sky.

Which do I see most?

– – – – – – – – – –

God made the nature;

Humans make pollution, but

We’re His creation.

Henri Rousseau’s Tiger in a Tropical Storm (1891) inspired David Hairston to write his haiku.  Rousseau later changed the title of this work to Surprised! in order to submit the painting in an exhibit of independent artists that were challenging the status quo. David reflected the two titles in the two verses of his poem.

rousseau - tiger in a tropical storm

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)

Tiger prowls in grass,

Masked by the thunder and light.

Eyes open with fear.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tiger prowls in grass,

Surprised in the stormy night.

Floating over prey.

Quaker preacher Edward Hicks painted 62 versions of The Peaceable Kingdom. The version pictured here was completed in 1826 and now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Keara Walley‘s haiku is unique because, in addition to the 5-7-5 form, it also rhymes!

hicks - peaceable kingdom

The Peaceable Kingdom

Beasts of land and sea

Truly at peace we may be,

For God so loved we.

Melissa Mullen‘s gentle poem contains a clever internal rhyme. She was inspired by Mary Cassatt’s equally gentle painting, titled Summertime (1894).

cassatt - summertime


Floating silently;

Cool breeze in the air, and not

A care in the world.

Finally, Evyn Seaman‘s haiku shares a thoughtful, theological interpretation of René Magritte’s The Son of Man (1946).

Ren? Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964, Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009  øðä îàâøéè, áðå ùì àãí, 1964, øñèåøöéä ò"é ùîòåï éðåáéõ, 2009

The Son of Man

One bite, then came fall.

Always working, debt still tall—

He came, freed us all.

Thank you for reading. I’d like to thank the students named above for granting me permission to share their creations with you. I hope you enjoyed them!

thoughts on Psalm 51:10-12

I’ve known these words, this passage, since I was a teenager. In high school and college I learned a song based on this scripture. But today as I read these words from The Voice translation, several new ideas occurred to me that I want to think about and share.

Psalm 51, verses ten through twelve, says this:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; restore within me a sense of being brand new.voice

“Do not throw me far away from Your presence, and do no remove Your Holy Spirit from me.

“Give back to me the deep delight of being saved by You; let Your willing Spirit sustain me.”

As I was copying out these familiar words, I focused on what they mean to me today, fifty years after I first learned them through a song.

First I wondered: how in the world could a 64-year-old woman ever again feel “brand new?” Consider a brand-new product—a toaster, for example. The new toaster is shiny, with no nicks or fingerprint smears. The inside is clean, free of burnt crumbs and singed sesame seeds. The cord is new and flexible, with no frayed wires or dust build-up. It’s so perfect, you almost hate to place it in your kitchen, where you know its beauty won’t last long. Forgive me for anthropomorphizing, but it’s almost like the toaster is eager to start toasting! It wants to do what it was created to do.

But I’m not a new toaster. I’m the old familiar toaster, the one that’s about to be replaced. I’m a bit beat-up, and some of my settings don’t work so well anymore. I’m covered with the grime of use and age, and my insides are littered with the crumbs of previous years – the successes and failures, trials and adventures of a long and active life. Maybe it’s time to be cast aside for a newer model.

But if the toaster in this analogy had belonged to my dad, it would not end up in the garbage. My dad’s motto was “why replace it when you can fix it?” He would have taken the toaster apart, cleaned out its interior, disposed of the crumbs and debris, re-wired the control buttons, and put it all back together with a new electric cord and a freshly polished exterior. Back on the countertop, the toaster would be ready to perform its duties faithfully for many more years to come.

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this! You might think that it’s self-centered of me to use my dad in this comparison as an analog for God. Please know that it’s not my intention to be disrespectful or blasphemous. But I can imagine God our Father hearing my plea: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; restore within me a sense of being brand new!” I know that my Father can clean me up, take me apart and empty out the messes left over from the difficulties and hardships I have faced in the past. Although the scrubbing may be uncomfortable, He is able to scrape off the layers of fear, loneliness, pride, and laziness that have collected on me over the years. He can rid me of the bitterness I may still entertain, the grudges I hold, the disappointments that left me wary and suspicious and closed off. He can fix my broken connections, with people and institutions, and best of all, he can replace my worn-out cord and plug, restore the connection I need to tap in to His power, the power of the Holy Spirit.

When repaired and restored, I can once again feel the “deep delight” of fulfilling my purpose, even if I don’t completely understand what it is. As long as I stay plugged in, the Power will be available when I need it, for whatever task the Father assigns.

#23: The Grapes of Wrath

grapes of wrathThe Grapes of Wrath, 1940.  Directed by John Ford, and starring Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, and John Carradine.  Based on the novel by John Steinbeck.

At #23 on the AFI Top 100 list, The Grapes of Wrath was yet another film that I was familiar with, but had never actually seen.  Set in the midst of the Great Depression, the film tells the story of the Joad family, sharecroppers from Oklahoma who lose their land and then set off with thousands of others for the promised land of California.  Along the way, they experience the kindness and the cruelty of the American people, and discover the harshness and the beauty of the American landscape.  The Joad family’s trials, tribulations, and triumphs represent the shared experiences of the people of America’s heartland during the terrible drought known as the Dust Bowl days.

This is an important film for these reasons.  Americans should never forget the events of that time, events that shaped the way our country developed through the mid-twentieth century.  Although the style of the film is a bit dated, especially in the way the actors tend to speachify occasionally, the message itself is timeless, and the film contains some great moments of cinematography, directing, and acting.  Director John Ford took full advantage of the bleakness possible through black-and-white film to give the movie an almost visceral feel of dust, dirt, grime, and despair.  One especially intriguing moment comes early in the film, when the Joads’ neighbor, Muley, describes for Fonda’s character, Tom, the destruction of people’s homes, and the community in general, by what he calls the “cats” – the Caterpillar tractors used by the landowners to clear the land for large-scale, machine-enabled farming.  Ford uses a montage of clips of tractors, usually shot from below to make them seem larger and more threatening.  The montage is overlaid on footage of the ever-rolling track belt of a tractor’s wheel assembly, which imparts a sense of encroaching and inevitable doom.  When Muley describes the actual annihilation of his own home, the camera focuses on the imprints of the track belt’s ridges left behind in the dirt of his now-destroyed front yard.  The implication of man’s powerlessness in the wake of the machine is clear and lasting.

By far, the most riveting performance was that of Jane Darwell, in the role of Ma Joad.  Darwell’s careworn yet tender face imparts infinite depths of feeling, suffering, insight, and wisdom.  Her loving acceptance of Tom’s (Fonda’s) past is balanced by her determination to remain decent, kind, and forgiving in the face of incredible suffering.  She worries that Tom’s experiences in prison have made him hard and mean, yet her love and devotion are clearly present in her every interaction with him.  It’s obvious, even before any mention of the fact is made, that she is the one who is holding the family together, through her own strength of character, persistence, and stubborn dignity.  At the end of the film, it is Ma’s character who makes the closing speech, rather than Tom or any of the other male characters.   The speech is almost like a soliloquy, because she seems to be addressing a larger audience than her husband and son who ride with her in the front seat of the truck.  She muses on the hard days they have survived, and confesses that there were many times when she thought all was lost.  However, she concludes by expressing hope for her family’s future.  She reiterates the family’s close ties to the land and unbreakable bonds with each other.  But it’s not just her words that infuse the viewer with optimism — it’s her face, and especially her eyes.  You can see the light of hope and determination in her expression, and you begin to share her vision for a better future.  This must have been very inspiring to the audiences of 1940, who had themselves suffered, to one extent or another, the kinds of deprivations and humiliations depicted onscreen.  Ma Joad’s vision for tomorrow did not just encompass herself, or even her own family, but the entire country as well.  She spoke hope for all Americans.

(author’s note: I wrote this a few years ago, when my plan was to review all of the films on the AFI’s Top 100 American Films list. I recently rediscovered this post, which was ready to publish when I lost track of it.)

paintings & poetry

On their last day of class, I asked my students to choose a painting from a large collection of reproductions that I brought to class. Then they were charged with the task of writing a haiku about the painting of their choice. I was very pleased with the results. Most of the students took their poetry with them, but here are three who shared their work with me.

Michael McAndrew chose Rouen Port Unloading Wood by Camille Pissaro (1898).  Here is the painting:

Image result for rouen port unloading wood

Here is his haiku:

Cold steel in cold sea

Men rise early in morning

Labor for fam’ly


Kyler Luckey chose La Place Valhubert by Armand Guillaumin (1875):

Image result for la place valhubert

Here is Kyler’s two-verse haiku:

Cold air and warm hearts

Hand in hand down the river

Boats pass like moments.


Time is fleeting by 

Like a small flame flickering

Cold air bites our hands.


Finally, Adam Cowart chose the painting Napoleon Leading His Troops Over the Bridge at Arcole, by Horace Vernet (1826).

Image result for napoleon leading his troops over the bridge at arcole

And here is Adam’s haiku:

As the soldiers fought

“What is this all for?” they thought

Nor war, but for peace.


Our Fine Arts textbook talks about ways in which the various arts can interrelate with one another. This would be an example of interpretation, where one art form already exists and then another artist draws upon that work for inspiration in creating something new, usually using different media.  I really appreciate these three students who were willing to share their work with me — and now, with you, too.

review of “Not a Scientist”

Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science by Dave Levitan

not a scientistI don’t remember how I came to know about this book; perhaps Amazon recommended it to me or I read about it in the Brain Pickings blog. Whatever the initial impetus was, however, I am very glad to have read this book. Levitan’s premise is that politicians engage in various rhetorical errors when discussing scientific topics. Whether those errors are intentional or accidental is difficult to determine with certainty, although some repeat offenders, like former Texas governor and current U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, have strong and obvious ties to oil and gas interests in their respective states.

The title of the book refers to a speech made by Ronald Reagan in 1980 when he was running for the presidency against incumbent Jimmy Carter. Reagan said, “I have flown twice over Mount St. Helens out on our West Coast. I’m not a scientist and I don’t know the figures, but I just have a suspicion that that one little mountain out there has probably released more sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere of the world than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind that people are so concerned about.” Levitan goes on to explain that the eruption of Mount St. Helens ultimately released about 1.5 million tons of SO2 (sulfur dioxide) into the atmosphere—a prodigious amount. But the output of the past ten years (at that time) of human activity—automobiles, power plants, and factories—was estimated to equal over 200 million tons from the United States alone. (Levitan, 2) Reagan’s “suspicion” was off by a mere 99.25%!

According to Levitan, Reagan’s speech ushered in an era of misrepresentation and misuse of scientific data for political purposes. By using various rhetorical devices, politicians have been able to bend scientific facts to non-scientific purposes. The types of rhetorical foul play Levitan describes include such common occurrences as oversimplification, cherry-picking, demonizing, ridicule, and fabrication. But he has also crafted some clever names for other common instances: “Blame the Blogger,” the “Certain Uncertainty,” the “Credit Snatch,” and “Lost in Translation,” among others. He provides a chapter on each of these rhetorical snares, with plenty of examples from recent political history, as well as the real scientific facts and explanations that correct these errors.

Levitan builds his cases with unimpeachable sources from the U.S. government and worldwide scientific organizations. His bibliography of sources and notes extends to 34 pages of small print. The author comes to this topic with solid credentials. He has been working as a freelance journalist covering scientific topics for the last ten years, and has been published in Scientific American, Slate, Discover, and the Guardian, among others. His focus in this book is not just about politicians playing fast and loose with scientific facts; he also discusses the policies that have resulted from these errors and the medical and environmental impacts they have had on society.

The main scientific issues that Levitan addresses are global warming, vaccinations, marijuana use, and abortion. He doesn’t try using the scientific data to promote his own political beliefs or agenda; instead, he demonstrates the ways in which scientific facts have been misrepresented in order to persuade voters and lawmakers toward erroneous conclusions and unwise policies. While other issues are represented, his main focus is upon climate change and the foolhardy policies that have been adopted over the last forty or so years because of the intentional misuse of scientific data, findings, and facts.

Like almost all scientists and others who are scientifically informed and aware, Levitan is alarmed by the evidence of global warming and the obvious role that human activity plays in advancing climate change. So political conservatives and climate change deniers will not enjoy this book (and would probably not choose to read it, anyway). But those who do read this book will come away with a deepened appreciation for the complexity of scientific inquiry and the difficulties of passing along that type of information to the general public. However, the book itself is not difficult to understand. Levitan has a knack for explaining the complexities and vagaries of scientific inquiry in a way that is easy to understand but is not over-simplified. He does not talk down to the scientifically ignorant, but instead patiently explains the types of data currently available, the procedures for collecting that data, and the principles of nature involved with the particular issues at hand.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has been confused by proclamations made about scientific topics in the news media, as well as to anyone interested in public policy and rhetoric. I’m very glad that I took the time to read this book, and I feel sure that I will find it to be a useful reference tool in the future.