All posts by Laurie Fendrich


My Painting Habit

In my previous post, I talked about how my experience in changing my way of sneezing taught me how hard it is to change a habit even in instances where we know it would be better for us if we did. Habits don’t merely concern things like the way we sneeze, however.  For example, habits writ large are what define a culture, for a culture is nothing but a vast collection of shared habits that go by the more lofty designation “customs.” And though it’s not apparent at first glance, habits a…


Sneezing, Cars, and Cows

“Texas Cow Poke” by Clotee Pridgen Allochuku via Flickr/CC

Sometimes I find it useful to think about things that bear no obvious relation to one another. For example, I’ve recently been thinking about sneezing, cars, and cows, and a connection to the problem of climate change has occurred to me.

First, sneezing. When I was young, I was taught to cover my mouth with my hand whenever I sneezed. Good girl that I am, I followed this rule until a couple of years ago, when I read that in order not to …


And Now Mars

It’s been almost half a century since Apollo 11 carried Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong to the moon. I remember running to make sure I’d catch the actual landing on television. Like many who heard Neil Armstrong’s first words when he walked on the moon, I heard them incorrectly. They are much more moving the way he actually said them: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” That a single man was walking on the moon was a magnificent idea, even th…


Private Greed, Public Loss

Protesters in front of Pennsylvania Station on Aug. 2, 1962 (Photo by Eddie Hausner/The New York Times. Click on image to get to source page.)

In 1882, New York Central Railroad president William Henry Vanderbilt declared, “The public be damned.” Although one might think this sentiment an anachronism that went away with the demise of 19th-century robber barons, it’s actually a perennial problem for democracies whenever private owners own what function as public spaces.

Here’s an example of wha…


The Price of Success

(Photo by burstingwithcolors, Flickr/CC)

What better event is there to capture the competitive spirit of Western civilization than the Olympics? From their start as simple sprints in 8th century B.C. Greece, the Olympics have been all about fierce competition and winning. Baron de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics (after a long hiatus beginning in the 4th century, the Olympics were revived at the end of the 19th century), famously described the Olympics with the words “swifter, high…


Collecting Art the Right Way

Photo by Tanaka at New York Daily News site, from a 2009 article

Together with his wife Dorothy, Herbert Vogel, who died Sunday at the age of 89, spent about half a century accumulating an enormous collection of edgy contemporary art. In 1991, the couple gave almost their whole collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. In 2008, they divvied up what remained of it among fifty museums in fifty states.

More striking than the couple’s generosity and sense of giving back to soci…


Madonna and Child

The Madonna and Child, Duccio di Guoninsegna, c. 1300, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In my last post, I blogged on a column David Brooks wrote last week on the rising inequality of opportunity between rich and poor children in America. Now comes a long New York Times article identifying single motherhood as a key factor in that increasing inequality. In the Times article, Jason DeParle (who in his separate blog includes statistics purporting to show the link between rising economic inequality a…


The Poverty of Moral Toughness

In his most recent column in The New York Times, David Brooks laments the results of a study led by Robert Putnam, a Harvard political scientist, which demonstrate an “inequality of opportunity” between rich and poor children in America. The children of the rich and poor, we’re told, are raised “in starkly different ways and have different opportunities,” and rich parents “invest more money in their children” than poor ones.

Although this sounds a lot like observing that faces come with noses, M…


The Italy Files: Heavenly Art, Hellish Heat, Missed Connections

An artist friend once said that it’s best to consolidate your disasters into one “inconvenient day.” Now I know what he means.

My Italian sojourn was going perfectly. Getting to Siena on June 1st went off without a hitch, the apartment assigned to me and my husband turned out to be beautiful—view of the Duomo out one window, the Campanile from another, and my studio was clean, light-filled and accessible at any hour. Lots of trips to the Siena Pinacoteca to see hundreds of  Sienese paintings,…


Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Birthday Boy

Happy birthday, you wild child!

Today, June 28, is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 300th birthday. Although it’s hard to imagine philosophers as squalling newborns, in Rousseau’s case, it makes sense. His whole philosophy hinges on the idea that we humans are born good but, along the way of making civilization, we manage to destroy what’s good in ourselves. From the moment the umbilical cord is cut, Rousseau essentially says, we systematically obliterate our real nature, which is one of benevolent…


Nostalgia for the 20th Century

While walking around the walled town of Siena this past month, my husband and I have quietly observed that even though most of the tourists here are European, if not Italian, a lot of them wear T-shirts printed with English words. The English is often goofy, as if it was translated from the Hungarian by Google translator. Today my husband saw a T-shirt that read, “MILLBURY COLLEGE RALEIGH CITY USA 1968.” I’ve traveled in Europe enough to know that American pop culture has been viral for ge…


Enough With the Paint Brushes Already

Jackson Pollock in a photo by Hans Namuth at Wikipedia

Here I am, blogging my heart out about what it’s like to spend an entire month in Siena submerged in Sienese painting, when I casually click on The Chronicle’s Web site only to see The Chronicle has chosen to illustrate Robert and Edward Skidelsky’s “In Praise of Leisure” with the clichéd image of paint brushes in a jar to signify a recreational activity. The Chronicle is hardly alone in seizing on the image of paint brushes for this kind of…


Seeing Sienese

Title page from Petrarch's Virgil (c. 1336), by Simone Martini. Illuminated manuscript, 29,5 x 20 cm Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan (Wikipedia)

In his exuberantly written, highly informative book Sienese Painting (Thames and Hudson, 2003), Timothy Hyman quotes the art historian  John White saying, “The patent on the history of art was taken out in Florence.” As Hyman observes, Vasari’s 16th-century Lives of the Artists bequeathed us a closed narrative whereby Western art culminates in Renaissance …


Siena Side Story

A cantrada drummer and flag bearer practicing for the Palio (shot from my apartment window).

While being an artist-in-residence at the Siena Art Institute in Italy means I get to spend a good part of each day working on small gouaches inside my light-filled studio, or tracking down as many of the tenderly moving Sienese paintings in situ as I can, it doesn’t mean I leave no time to meander the streets and observe the city and its people more generally. Al contrario.

While the thousands of Sienes…


Laurie, La Communista

Piazza del Campo and Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy

Lucky me. I’m artist-in-residence at the Siena Art Institute in Italy, for the month of June. I accepted this residency (turn it down? are you kidding?) for multiple reasons—because it gives me the chance to immerse myself in Sienese painting (which, like most artists, I love), because it generates an intensity in making my own art that can only come about when I’m pushed by an end date, because it lets me escape the quotidian patterns of m…


Mitt Joins the Trumper Movement

Mitt Romney is on record saying he thinks President Obama was born in Hawaii, but his former rival Donald Trump, whom people living above insect life know full well he loathes with a passion who is now a supporter  at whose feet he groveled for heaven knows what reason  and with whom he worked a Republican fundraiser in Las Vegas last night, is a fraud who will lie through his teeth whenever it suits his repulsively over-the-top ego thinks  the man does not think—I can’t believe I am typing out …


Making the Grade

"What the … A third essay question–on Erasmus and Renaissance portraiture! Save us! Save us!" (Photo by Patrick Denker via Flickr/CC)

On the last day of class, before finals began, a student asked me if it was possible to rewrite one of the essays for a course that had included three essays, a midterm, a final examination, and seminar discussions. “I need an ‘A’ for my scholarship,” the student announced. Although my brain quickly ticked off the ways I loathe this sort of appeal, I sm…


Where Do We Liberals Really Stand When It Comes to Free Speech?

From Wikipedia, a Théodore Chassériau portrait of Alexis de Tocqueville, who may have known Americans better than we know ourselves.

Several commenters have asked Brainstorm bloggers to weigh in on the firing of Naomi Schaefer Riley. My conflicted opinion on the matter kept me silent for a while—perhaps no better than Hamlet’s dithering. In any event, with the dust now somewhat settled, I’d like to say something.

I found Ms. Riley’s two Brainstorm posts on Black Studies programs so sloppy, arrog…


Paint It High and Deep

(Photo by Flickr/CC user muffinn)

Most working artists in America (certainly most who teach at colleges and universities) hold a Master of Fine Arts degree, established by the College Art Association, more than 50 years ago, as the terminal degree in the fine arts. As Dan Berrett writes in this week’s Chronicle, however, that may be about to change. The College Art Association is now tiptoeing around the idea of embracing the studio Ph.D. as the new terminal degree in the fine arts. Recently, th…


Freshmen Really Can Write

Picasso's "Ma Jolie." (Click to get to image's host site, MoMA.)

A couple of weeks ago, I lectured on Picasso and Cubism in a team-taught course for Hofstra Honors College freshmen in which I am one of 14 professors. The students in my two discussion groups also took a field trip to the Museum of Modern Art to see Picasso’s seminal Desmoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and other Cubist works by him. For a short paper, I asked students to persuade an imaginary “Uncle Fred”—who’s hostile to modern…