Posts Tagged ‘Art’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

On December 19th, I began to read the most famous novel of all time.  I hefted Leo Tolstoy’s epic masterwork War and Peace off my shelf for the first time in years. When I say years, I mean years. I had actually read War and Peace one time51qFi0rYw7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ before when I was 21 years old. Back then, during the Spring Semester of my Junior undergrad year, I signed up for a course titled ‘Great Books’, or something like that.  We had to read Homer’s Iliad, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain and Tolstoy’s aforementioned monster.  That is A LOT of reading for a 15 week course.

It was a pretty interesting course. However, I really didn’t need it to graduate.  I signed up because I thought it would be fun. I enjoyed the class and I enjoyed the readings, but I did not want to produce any of the work.  I just wanted to learn about the books. So, I did something that I probably shouldn’t discuss: I dropped the course, but kept doing the readings and showing up to the class.

What can I say? I’m a bit of a nerd.

At 21, I enjoyed War and Peace.  I don’t think it was the first Tolstoy I had read, but it was undoubtedly the first of his great novels I tackled.  I must have read it when it was cold outside because, for some reason, whenever I would think about the book in the years following it would make me think of winter.  And so over the last few winters when it would get cold outside, I would think fondly of the big ol’ tome.

Which brings us back to December 19th. I finally cracked that monster open again. It had been 18 years since I had read it so I really didn’t remember a great deal. Would I still enjoy it?  It was questionable. Over the last 3 or 4 years, I have re-read some ‘great works’ that I loved in my early 20’s.  Maybe it was to be expected, but I found that my late 30’s self felt differently about said books.  Some books really spoke to me at an older age more then they did at a younger age.  One of these was Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.  I remember slowly slogging through that book when I was 20. When I read it at 35, I absolutely loved it! On the other hand, one of my favorite books when I was 21, Albert Camus’ The Plague really didn’t hit as hard the 30-something me.

So, what about Tolstoy’s epic? 39 years of age, or 21 years of age made no difference. It was, is and always will be amazing.  I realize many people get intimidated by the size of the book, the number of characters and the historical references therein, but I think that is war_and_peace_is_heavy_readingbased upon reputation and heresy more than reality.  Many will sit down and read all the Game of Thrones books, and each of those are only a bit shorter than Tolstoy’s work. Plus, there really aren’t that many main characters; ten or so protagonists make up roughly 80% of the book. Granted, the historical aspects of the book can confuse, but all you need are some end-notes to clear things up.

Tolstoy’s writing in War and Peace is simply awe-inspiring.  The psychological portraits of even the most secondary characters make you feel as though you have truly entered a complete world; a world that is not easy to extricate yourself from. After finishing the chartemainaltarbook, I felt spiritually charged. Only the greatest pieces of art have this ability. I believe a good analogy would be walking into Chartres Cathedral for the first time.  The size, the colors, the sounds, the epic nature of the environment must take one aback. Even if you don’t believe in what the church represents, the grandeur of the product still moves you. This is much like Tolstoy’s creation. At times, Tolstoy’s esoteric mystical Christianity shines through in certain characters’ beliefs, words and actions. While I in no way buy into Tolstoy’s religion, it is difficult not to be moved by his descriptions of the sacred.  War and Peace is Chartres, Rouen, Notre Dame in written form.  The nice thing is, you don’t need to travel thousands of miles across an ocean to experience Tolstoy.

So, what book is next?  I need some time to think about that one.


By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

For the holiday season, we at the Flaneur’s Turtle have increased our efforts to promote the site:

Michael Stelzer Jocks has infiltrated the Salvation Army. With each donation, he sings, “All I Want for Christmas is Youuuuuu….to ‘LIKE’ and ‘SHARE’ the Turtle.”

MSJ Salvation Army

Dr. Peter Stern has been dressing like Baby New Year, wearing a sash with the Turtle’s web address.

New-Year-Baby Peter

Tricia Lunt is making the rounds at Chicago bars singing a sultry “Santa Baby” alternative: “Turtle baby, slip some insight under my tree….”

Trish Christmas

I am working as Santa at Macy’s and giving the children boxes full of Turtle posts.

…that are also wrapped in Turtle posts.

…with a card that says “Don’t be naughty – read the Turtle.”

…“PS: I was totally kissing your mommy underneath the mistletoe last night.”

Paul Santa

We plug the Turtle via social media, in classrooms, and on the side of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower in Chicago, but it’s not done out of vanity. (Ok, it is for me. Like Lady Gaga, I live for the applause.) The Flaneur’s Turtle and all other print and digital publications must self-promote. A publication has no value if it has no audience.

It’s like that old saying: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to see it, it won’t get on Instagram.

On social media, where I shamelessly plug myself, I saw a quote from a 1992 Paris Review interview with poet Yehuda Amichai: “When you’re a poet you have to forget you’re a poet—a real poet doesn’t draw attention to the fact he’s a poet. The reason a poet is a poet is to write poems, not to advertise himself as a poet.”

One aspect of the quote is agreeable: all artists should create their art because they love to create it – not because they hope to label themselves as poets, musicians, painters, actors.

However, artists should not forget they are artists, and they damn sure need to advertise themselves.

We live in a world of endless distractions that….

Hold on. Blake Shelton is dressed like an elf on Kelly Clarkson’s NBC Christmas Special. Hilarious. And she’s such a cutie pie.

Blake and Kelly

Ok. Like I was saying, we live in a world of distractions. We have to fight for people’s attention in the classroom, at the dinner table, on social media. It’s even more pressing for artists and little ole publications like the Flaneur’s Turtle, who need to figure out how to be ever-present and influential without being annoying and intrusive.

Growing up, I wanted to be a writer. Part of the appeal was my misconception that it was a perfect fit for a shy, antisocial kid like me. I could hide away and write in a log cabin in some anonymous woodland area, speaking only to myself and the forest creatures until I went insane like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

I eventually learned that art has a business side full of professional connections and branding and marketing. It is a separate art form unto itself, and it can be exhausting. But it’s all necessary.

So, thanks to everyone who reads the Turtle and joins us in conversing about our topics, both online and in person.

Now go give the gift of the Turtle to your loved ones this holiday season. I’m sure they’ll love it way more than jewelry or a new smartphone.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I’m moving at the end of May, so I spend a small amount of time each morning packing a box or two. I am not going far; I found another apartment Logan Square, approximately seven blocks away. Nevertheless, the process of moving has been revelatory. The first observation for all movers is the same: I have more stuff than I thought.  As I slowly pack, carefully wrapping things and nestling them according to similarity of purpose and placement, the boxes have begun to pile up, and I still have more stuff. I don’t even own much, really. I certainly don’t own things of much value, except the sentimental kind.  Moving forces individuals to confront their relationship with their possessions, and I am pleased to see how my things beautifully align with the life I have chosen.

Like most American women, I own entirely too many articles of clothing. However, the clothes I own are inexpensive, enabling me to rationalize buying more than I need and buying from thrift stores ensures that no one else will be wearing the same thing. I have already packed most of my considerable scarf collection. There are two segments of the scarf collection, the winter variety, at least fifty scarves that range in size, color, and pattern, including special scarves handmade for me by Ruthie, my brilliant friend from graduate school; Jackie Couch, my best friend’s mom; and other crafty friends Ingrid and Hanna.  The non-winter variety includes another fifty whimsical, colorful bits of fabric, many gifts from friends who recognize scarves as my accessory of choice because they are unique and appealing and make any outfit infinitely more fabulous.

A growing number of boxes are filled with items for cooking, baking, and entertaining. Even though I live alone, I have (mismatched) service for 12 or more in order to feed as many people as will fit in my modest apartment. I grew up in a crowded, rowdy house, and can think of no better definition of home than a small space overflowing with people and laughter. My incomparable book club cycles through my place twice per year. I host brunches and dinners for my Urban Family on designated holidays and birthdays, and just for the hell of it. I cherish oddities, a fair amount of serving “fish dishes” and accessories shaped like fish (I like rhyming). The best example are gifts from Leah, twin fish salt and pepper shakers, and a completely adorable and utterly inaccurate set of fish-shaped measuring spoons that are the mysterious secret behind my perfectly salty chocolate chip cookies.

City_Lights_BookstoreI have beloved books, and plenty of them. I love books, but not all books are worth the trouble it takes to lift and lug them across states, or even around the corner. I keep the countless books I have received as gifts, specially selected for me by my tremendously thoughtful friends and family. I buy a book every time I travel, being careful to select a title meaningfully tied to the place. On my recent trip to San Francisco, I visited City Lights Books and bought a poetry anthology from its own publishing imprint. I have inscribed copies of all the books written by Dan Chaon,a phenomenal writer who was my professor in graduate school. Books comprise a majority of my possessions, which seems reasonable to me.

The last major segment of my possessions consists of works of art, relatively inexpensive art, but art nonetheless. As I eagerly anticipate hanging them on new walls, it occurs to me that these things are the most prized. I have wonderful souvenirs from my travels, a Huicholi yarn drawing from my trip to Puerta Vallarta. Austin Kleon’s  work wowed me online, and bought one of his limited edition “Newspaper Blackout Poems.” Chicago festivals are a treasury of local artists, including Jay Ryan. I’m incredibly lucky to know artists. My dear, old friend, Emily made me two fantastic pieces, and gave me one more. I bought a marvelous reclining nude hand-drawn by the wonderfully creative Chas Appleby, my former student and forever friend. Matt Schlagbaum knows he owes me a work of art, too. All this art makes my walls sing.

Despite all the trouble and strain, moving affords the chance to look carefully at the stuff of life. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll discover you are very rich indeed.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty.

A couple of weeks ago, MSJ (to whom I happen to be married) said something cool: “I’m more interested in what’s unfamiliar to me than what’s familiar.” As I ALWAYS do when he says interesting things, which he does so often, I thought about it for a while. For once, I agree.



As you may know, my current intellectual pursuit/guilty pleasure/obsession (depending on your perspective) is rap music. I’ve created a new RMU course called The History and Poetics of Hip-Hop, and I’ve been studiously following blogs, reading criticism, and bobbing my head to Nas’s Illmatic, Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers, and N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, while my students school me on Lil’ Wayne, Lupe Fiasco, and Kanye West. (I know; my job is friggin’ awesome.)

So, many of my friends and colleagues have been all: “Say what? YOU like rap music? YOU? A 30-something, Oak Park-living, food-and-fitness-obsessing, intellectual-pretending, white-being mom?” What interest could you possibly have in the world of hip-hop?


First of all, I do happen to have some familiarity with the music and the culture, even if it is simply because I was a suburban (read: white) kid in the 1990’s going to an urban (read: black) high school, and the distributors of rap music, both in tape/CD sales and in the media (MTV) in the ‘90’s made the smart marketing move to target white kids whose disposable income was growing and who needed a new rebellious consciousness to identify with, because Madonna was mainstream, punk was no longer available, and grunge, well, was just too grunge-y. So, my friends and I would ride around in our parents’ cars rapping every Digital Underground, D.O.C., and DJ Qwik lyric at the top of our lungs. We even got into the 2-Live Crew. No joke.

This was the unfamiliar. We were fairly privileged teenaged white girls with a pretty limited sense of how messed up the world really was. Sure, we knew kids at school who were in gangs, our friend groups were quite economically and racially diverse, and we occasionally went to “the east side” to find that lady who would buy beer for minors (good god, I hope my kids never do this). But, for the most part, the larger culture validated our own limited, sheltered experience, and, from the teenager’s perspective, this was WAY too familiar to be cool.


Los Angeles, 1992.

Our exposure to hip-hop was a cultural awakening to something truly unfamiliar: the reality of lack (said KRS-One) and what it’s like to have a larger culture that marginalizes and, even, villain-izes you. That, frankly, was cool. When we learned of the Rodney King beating and the L.A. riots, we were, I think rightly, compelled to make sense of that marginalized experience. And, in what I now know was a complicated and immature reach toward eliminating the inner racism that made a spectacle of “the ghetto” to people like us, we totally embraced gangsta rap. We recited the aggressive lyrics with all of the white chick swagger we could muster, and complained when our parents or teachers talked about how inappropriate “our” music was as that same distribution and media network slapped the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” sticker over the cover art, compelling us even further to shout “You don’t like how I’m livin’, well f**k you!” and “Me love you long time.” No joke.

After years of New Kids on the Block and Debbie Gibson, which validated our suburban-girl experience and rarely challenged us, we were ready to be challenged. So we embraced the marginalized identity, and the marginalized art that went along with it. Perhaps it was just rebellion, but I think it might be a yearning to empathize with the unfamiliar, really, that draws us to art we don’t immediately understand. Sure, much of what we enjoy and admire is grounded in the universal-ization of our own experience, but, what is REALLY interesting is art that makes the unfamiliar familiar. Regardless of my claims to street credibility simply due to the fact that my friends were diverse and I knew Too $hort’s real name (Todd Shaw, yo.), white privilege rendered me, and the culture that represented my experience, incapable of really understanding what it was like at the time to be outside of the mainstream (read, mistakenly: cool). Embracing rap music was a transgression that both irritated my parents AND gave me a sense of myself as someone unjustly misunderstood and anti-authority, even if it was inauthentic and, looking back, kind of embarrassing. Plus, it felt pretty damn cool to act “hard”.

These days, as I research the social and cultural movements of the 1980’s and 90’s that helped make hip-hop what it is today and apply critical poetic analysis to “6 ‘N the Mornin’” and “Get ‘em High,” I’m a little more self-reflexive in my response to the “Say, what?” question. I’m into rap precisely because it comes from a place that I have little familiarity with, but that I long to feel empathy toward and, for whatever foolish reason, to identify with.

Plus, much to MSJ’s dismay, I can’t resist a phat beat, a dope flow, and a smooth voice.

BY: Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

(This post is dedicated to all of the faculty and students in RMU’s Institute of Art & Design.)

There are lots of things I can’t do. For example, I played basketball for years, but I could never dunk. I’m not confused or dumbfounded by how someone could possibly dunk. I know how it’s done; I just couldn’t do it.

But there is something that I can’t do and I don’t even understand how it’s done.

Let me start with where this thought came from:

In the news recently, there was the story about the unveiling of Kate Middleton’s first official Imageportrait. The criticism of the portrait was that it did not look entirely flattering. This, of course, is contrary to how the beautiful Dutchess of Cambridge is eminently photogenic; she looks pretty in every photo. As the news coverage discussed the criticism, I couldn’t help but agree with the noted flaws, especially that it seemed to age her.

 However, despite the criticism, I was awestruck by the attention to details in the painting: the shadows, the angles, even the precise layout of individual hairs in her eyebrows.

I have no idea how any visual artist creates art. My brain can’t wrap around it.

And I say this despite the fact that I minored in Art in college. I took lots of classes like life drawing, painting, computer graphic design, 3D modeling. I learned the basics and perhaps honed a skill set, but still I couldn’t understand how artists do it.

 I had many of those classes with my friend Kari. She was the opposite of me – an Art major with a minor in English. Just as I loved writing and dabbled in art, she loved art and dabbled in writing. Sometimes when we had art projects to complete, I would hang out with her in the painting studio and watch her go. She mixed oil paints with precision and the colors always came out perfect, and she could replicate colors over and over. (I couldn’t replicate a color unless it came straight out of the tube.) And every brushstroke was placed without hesitation. It seemed like every blank canvas was just a paint-by-numbers to her, as if there was no doubt as to how it would fill out. (I, on the other hand, would just put colors on the canvas, and whatever it kind of looked like after a while, I’d go with it.)

 When I see a basketball player dunk, I understand how it happened; I just could never get high enough to do it myself. But when watching Kari, it was like she was born with a different set of eyes and a different mind that I couldn’t even understand. It was all completely alien to me. And I still feel that way whenever I see great visual art. I don’t know how artists decide on the contours of lines, or the placement of shadows, or the gradients of colors. I don’t understand it. At all.

But it amazes me. Artists amaze me.