Along with enjoying the English spring and the company of 21-month-old Nya, formerly known as the Upholstery Eater, who says "Good morning, Carol!" when I come down for breakfast, "Bless you" when anyone sneezes, and occasionally "Blimey!" I'm reading another book about the brain, this time, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Daniel G. Amen, M.D. So far I've learned that witzelsucht is "a term in the psychiatric literature that characterizes 'an addiction to making bad jokes'" and that my pathological aversion to paperwork could indicate an imbalance in my prefrontal cortex. Amen's prescription? Hire someone else to do it.
I’m off to England again, and may or may not post until I come back the first week in April, so thought I’d leave you with something to read: The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge, MD, about how our thoughts and experiences form the actual physical structure of our brains. There are myriad new ideas to ponder in this book, including how to keep our brains functioning into old age. I always thought I was safe because I use my brain so much, but it turns out it isn’t how much you use your brain, but how much you use it in new ways that keeps it young (good news for polymaths, formerly known as dilettantes). The older we get and the better we get at what we do, the narrower we become. Doidge suggests learning a new language to keep the mind alert, but I’ll just relearn the old one—French—which I learned as an adult and found, the last time I tried to use it, that it had dissipated to the point that only the nouns were left. Inspired by the book I’ve also started playing the piano again, learning a new, difficult piece and memorizing it (my piano teacher used to say that a piece wasn’t “mine” until it was memorized, and I feel that way about poetry, too—just ask me, the next time you see me, to recite Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky).
Memorization, it turns out, exercises the brain in important ways. Doidge writes:
…for hundreds of years educators did seem to sense that children’s brains had to be built up through exercises of increasing difficulty that strengthened brain functions. Up through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a classical education often included rote memorization of long poems in foreign languages, which strengthened the auditory memory (hence thinking in language) and an almost fanatical attention to handwriting, which probably helped strengthen motor capacities and this not only helped handwriting but added speed and fluency to reading and speaking. Often a great deal of attention was paid to elocution and to perfecting the pronunciation of words. Then in the 1960s educators dropped such traditional exercises from the curriculum because they were too rigid, boring, and “not relevant.” But the loss of these drills has been costly; they may have been the only opportunity that many students had to systematically exercise the brain function that gives us fluency and grace with symbols. For the rest of us, their disappearance may have contributed to the general decline of eloquence, which requires memory and a level of auditory brain power unfamiliar to us now.
There’s much more in the book to challenge contemporary assumptions about how we use our brains—but for now I’m just happy to remember where I put my passport.
I found a Washington Post interview from 2007 that delineates thought pro and con about Yuskavage, and then this, from Jerry Saltz’s latest piece in New York:
The same bogus arguments come up every time there’s a Lisa Yuskavage show. Is her work feminist? Is she, oy, “critiquing the male gaze?” At the opening of Yuskavage’s current solo outing, I was standing between two paintings: Figure in Interior, a picture of an anorexic nude on her knees with her legs akimbo, shaved vulva exposed, white cream/semen dripping from her face onto her breasts; and Reclining Nude, a picture of a recumbent girl in a glowing green glen, her breasts pointing in two directions, legs splayed to expose pink genitalia protruding from blonde pubic hair. A well-known museum curator sidled up and swooned, “Lisa’s paintings are as rich as Vermeer’s and Boucher’s. They’re as sumptuous as the background of the Mona Lisa.” I blinked silently until she mentioned Courbet. Then I bitchily snipped, “If you think these paintings have that kind of mojo, you’ve either never looked at those paintings or you know nothing about painting—which I’ve written about you.” We smiled at each other and parted. I love the art world.
While I don’t necessarily draw the same conclusions as Saltz about what is important now, we agree, that with the social and economic changes of the last few months, the era of forced cynicism, as evidenced by Murakami, Hirst, Koons, Prince and others, including Yuskavage (and perhaps Currin), may have come to a close. It’s not enough to make work that comments on art; we want the real thing.