Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How You Look at the Sky. A Great Teacher Looks Up.

              I hereby nominate September 7 Great Teacher Day.
            Great teachers are rare and should be honored as the national treasures they are. 
            When I learned Don Gifford was coming to London on his way to give a lecture at Cambridge on James Turrell I called up my old professor at Williams College and suggested  we have lunch.  
             "Great," he said. "I want to go to The Tate.  "They've got a nifty little restaurant.  I'll meet you there."
              Two weeks later the tall gaunt figure of the great James Joyce scholar, a little bent by time, raincoat flapping, was striding across the restaurant.  As usual, he was glowing with enthusiasm. "I've been looking at the new Turner exhibition." he said. "And you know how a lot of people point to Turner as the precursor of impressionism."  I nodded as if, yes, of course I knew that.
               "Well they've got his cartoons up so you can see his sketches and he is very precise about where he places his clouds, what he does with his light.  He moves them around until he's got them where he wants them.  Which is, of course the opposite of impressionism which was painting quickly to capture a moment exactly as it was."
                He smiled.  "But the point is not where Turner fits in the arc of pictorial history. The point is how you look at the sky when you come out of the building." 

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