Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Chicago’s museums are second to none.  Though all the major museums in the Windy City are worth an afternoon or two, none is better, in my humble opinion, than the Art Institute of Chicago.  As luck would have it, theAIC-Facade-North-View1 AIC is all of two blocks away from the Chicago campus of Robert Morris University.  For each class I teach, I try to create at least one assignment that gets the students over to the AIC for a couple hours. If I have a little free time, I am more than happy to join them.

As a father, I have been looking forward to taking my two daughters to the Art Institute for some time.  The girls have already visited the Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Field Museum more times than I can count.  I take them to museums because I want them to gain an appreciation for Chicago’s cultural attractions early in life. How early?  Well, my daughters are now 7 and 5 respectively.  You may think this is too young for places like the Field, but you would be dead wrong.  The girls love it there, and never get enough of the Evolving Planet exhibition, the Ancient Egyptian exhibition or the Hall of Gems.  Heck, they even have had fun going into the special exhibits on Ghenghis Khan and The History of the Horse.  The Field, not to mention the Museum of Science and Industry are wonderful places for children, since their exhibits are usually pretty flashy and hands-on.

On the other hand, the AIC is a bit more staid and serious.  I love the AIC, but it is safe to say the term ‘hands-on’ isn’t very welcome there. Still, both my girls are pretty well-behaved, and they love doing, and looking at art, so I figured it was time to break the seal.  The perfect opportunity to take them to the AIC presented itself the day before RMU’s December Holiday break. Since the girls did not have school, and their babysitter could not watch them, my wife and I decided to bring them to the downtown campus for the day trading off parenting duties between our classes. During my two hours with my little…angels, I figured I would introduce them to the Art Institute.  Why not?  I figured they were finally ready, or, perhaps, I was finally ready.

I am happy to say that the experience was a positive one.  The girls really enjoyed themselves, and though the younger one  took her teddy bear in, they didn’t end up breaking anything.  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that a good number of exhibits at the museum were, at least partially, ‘hands on’.  Some pieces had computer tablet set-ups that allowed viewers, including my girls, to investigate the art more closely.  The girls loved this, and since they have been using touchscreen computers since, roughly, their births, they were able to really go crazy playing with images of the art.

As a parent, the ‘hands-on’ aspect of the museum was a nice surprise. But, also as a parent, the gruesomely violent nature and/or graphic sexuality of much of the art was an unpleasant shock.

Now, let me make myself clear. Neither I, nor my wife, are prudes or philistines.  I am not some ignorant bumpkin who never noticed the raciness of art before.  I am not embarrassed or disgusted each time I walk into the Ancient Greek exhibits.  But, as I walked my girls around the museum, I was looking at the artwork through new eyes; parents’ eyes. I have been looking at art during my adult life as a student, or a connoisseur (honestly a dilettante), or a teacher, and never as the protector of two small girls standing by my side.  As parents, my wife and I have tried to shield our children from the violence of television and movies as best we can.   Then, boom!  I let my guard down at an institution devoted to culture with a capital C, and as we walked out of the area devoted to Impressionism, we stumbled upon this:


And, here come the questions.

What is she doing to him?  Is that blood? Why are they cutting his head off?

Crap. This is a tough one. As I tried to scoot the girls out of the room, they didn’t want to go. They were transfixed by the gruesomeness, and obvious taboo nature of the painting.

So, what could I do?  I did not want to shut the door on this experience.  I decided not to cover my girls’ eyes, ears or mouths.  Let me try to explain.  After all, no matter how much I want to protect them from worldly knowledge, they are going to come upon such images sometime, or someplace. It might as well be in the reverent halls of the AIC, instead of the trash-heap of FX, FOX, or A&E.

“Well, girls….you see….”


By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The other day I was having a conversation with the inimitable Dr. Peter Stern.  I don’t really remember what we were talking about, but I made a claim that, the more I thought about it, seemed more and more true.   Simply as an aside, I said that from the years 1890-1945 Europe produced an inordinate amount of human brilliance.  As Peter and I pondered, we both felt that this statement was undeniable. Just take a look at the vast array of influential figures who were living, working and thinking during that first half century of the twentieth century.

Novelists/Writers: Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Leo Tolstoy, Robert Musil, Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, Knut Hamsun, D.H. Lawrence, Andre Gide, James Joyce, Hermann Hesse, Italo Svevo, Vladimir Nabakov, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Roth, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, Bertolt Brecht, etc, etc.

Philosophers: Hannah Arendt, A.J. Ayer, Isaiah Berlin, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Simone Weil, Walter Benjamin, Henri Bergson, Benedetto Croce, Martin Heidegger, etc, etc.


Bohr and Einstein

Social Scientists/Psychologists/Economists: Freud, Jung, Adler, John Maynerd Keynes, Freidrich Hayek, Joseph Schumpeter, William James, Peter Kropotkin, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, etc, etc.

Physical Scientists: Albert Einstein, Neil Bohrs, Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, Nikola Tesla, Max Planck, Ivan Pavlov. Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schroedinger, etc, etc.

Musicians/Dancers: Nijinsky, Diaghilev, Mahler, Shostakovitch, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, etc, etc.

Painters/Artists: Picasso, Braque, Modigliani, Matisse, Cezanne, Munch, Kandinsky, Klimt, Marc, Paul Klee, Egon Schiele, Beckmann, Dix, Kathe Kollewitz, etc, etc.

This is a small list that I came up with on the quick, and it is by no means complete.  The point is, for the population of Europe at this time (about 300-400 million), the number of brilliantly influential figures is inordinate; perhaps even incredible.

Perhaps ironically, perhaps not, this era also gave birth to the modern world’s most horrifically violent ruptures: The World Wars.  And so, this list has an air of tragedy about it as well.  How much brilliance was annihilated in the years 1914-1918, and 1939-1945?


Salinger in the military

During the First World War, roughly ten million young people lost their lives, almost all of them men. Many were already promising cultural figures; the vast majority, however, never had the opportunity to effect the world. A generation later, this ‘War to end all Wars’ would be overshadowed, and dwarfed by the Second World War.  In Europe, roughly 40 million people were killed from 1939-1945.  Unlike the First World War, the majority of the dead were civilians.  Males and females, both old and children,  were killed in the Nazi Holocaust, 300px-matisse-open-windowSoviet reprisals and repression, American and British bombings of Axis cities, and old ethnic conflicts rekindled by the war.

These wars annihilated millions of unheard voices that may have been the next Picasso, or Wittgenstein, the next Proust or Einstein.  I recently learned that the famously private American author, J.D. Salinger landed in France on D-Day carrying numerous chapters of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ in his rucksack. How many soldiers lost their future cultural glory to an anonymous shell fragment?  How many children died in the gas chambers of Birkenau with color schemes in their mind’s eyes that would have put Matisse to shame?

It was truly an era of brilliance. It was truly an era of tragedy.