Essays

Essays

Feb 28th 2023
EXTRACT: " It has now been a year since Russia, my birthplace, invaded Ukraine. For 365 days, we have been waking up to news of Russian missile strikes, bombings, murders, torture, and rape. It has been 365 days of shame and confusion, of wanting to turn away but needing to know what is happening, of watching Russians become “ruscists,” “Orks,” or “putinoids.” For 365 days, the designation “Russian-American,” previously straightforward, has felt like a contradiction in terms. For those in my situation, some methods of adapting to the new circumstances have come easier than others. Russian books still crowd my bookcase, but I no longer have any wish to re-read them. Chekhov and Nabokov cannot be blamed for the aggression against Ukraine, but it nonetheless has stolen their magic and their capacity to teach. These authors were my friends, as were the old-country rituals like Russian Easter vigils and New Year’s screenings of the Soviet classic Irony of Fate. I feel the loss acutely, but perhaps it is for the better. It helps me concentrate on the present."
Feb 18th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Like the United States, France has gained strength through immigration, a fact often overlooked by opponents of open borders. Science, industry and the arts have clearly benefitted. And I found the local color in the population to be a rich source for artwork."
Feb 17th 2023
EXTRACT: "Insects are by far the most numerous of all animals on Earth. The estimated global total of new insect material that grows each year is an astonishing 1,500 million tonnes. Most of this is immediately consumed by an upward food chain of predators and parasites, so that the towering superstructure of all the Earth’s animal diversity is built on a foundation of insects and their arthropod relatives. ---- If insects decline, then other wild animals must inevitably decline too."
Feb 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "When Bob Dylan and the Beatles were creating a conceptual revolution in popular music, producing works that were highly personal, obscure, and often incomprehensible to listeners, Bacharach was the greatest composer who continued the experimental tradition of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and the other giants of the Golden Age."
Feb 7th 2023
EXTRACT: "Many of Hopper’s most famous works – Nighthawks (1942), for example (not in the exhibition) – have become so ubiquitous that we are in danger of no longer being able to see them. The corrective for this over-exposure is to engage with the artist’s less familiar work; that is, to come to the artist through another portal – obliquely, if you will – and thereby trace a new path into the world that his oeuvre represents. Hopper observed, “I think I’m not very human, I didn’t want to paint people posturing and grimacing. What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.” It is as telling a description as any of Hopper’s painterly fascination with New York City."
Feb 3rd 2023
EXTRACT: "The built environment we inhabit is just the residue of a much greater imaginative world that never saw the light of day, evoking what might have been or still could be..."
Jan 18th 2023
EXTRACT: "In 2018, former US president Bill Clinton coauthored a novel with James Patterson, the world’s bestselling author. The President is Missing is a typical “Patterson”: a page-turner of a thriller, easy to read, with short chapters and large font. Patterson is accustomed to collaborative writing ..... He is as much a producer as he is a writer, using a string of junior collaborators to run his factory of novels. Patterson outlines the plot, the coauthors write the story, Patterson offers feedback. While he doesn’t seem to do much writing himself, it is a system that has made Patterson a rich man."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "With hindsight, 2022 will be seen as the year when artificial intelligence gained street credibility. The release of ChatGPT by the San Francisco-based research laboratory OpenAI garnered great attention and raised even greater questions.  In just its first week, ChatGPT attracted more than a million users and was used to write computer programs, compose music, play games, and take the bar exam. Students discovered that it could write serviceable essays worthy of a B grade – as did teachers, albeit more slowly and to their considerable dismay."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "The thought of her, as always, gave me a jolt of hope, and a burst of energy. And a stab of sorrow."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: ".....if academic discourse and campus debate are shut down every time a person feels offended, how can universities possibly examine controversial topics? Without intellectual freedom – one of the great achievements of American civilization – they can’t."
Jan 5th 2023
EXTRACTS: "London's Tate Britain and Paris' Petit Palais have collaborated to produce a wonderful retrospective exhibition of the art of Walter Sickert (1860-1942).  The show is both beautiful and fascinating. ----- Virginia Woolf loved Sickert's art, and it is not difficult to see why, because his painting, like her writing, was always about intimate views of incidents, or casual portraits in which individual sitters momentarily revealed their personalities.  ------ Sickert's art never gained the status of that of Whistler or Degas, perhaps because it was too derivative of those masters.  But he was an important link between those great experimental painters and the art of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, ...."
Dec 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "One of the great paradoxes of human endeavour is why so much time and effort is spent on creating things and indulging in behaviour with no obvious survival value – behaviour otherwise known as art. Attempting to shed light on this issue is problematic because first we must define precisely what art is. We can start by looking at how art, or the arts, were practised by early humans during the Upper Palaeolithic period, 40,000 to 12,000 years ago, and immediately thereafter."
Dec 3rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "As a portrait artist, I am an amateur at this compared to the technology gurus and psychologists who study facial recognition seriously. Their aplications range from law enforcement to immigration control to ethnic groupings to the search through a crowd to find someone we know. ---- In my amateur artistic way, I prefer to count on intuition to find facial clues to a subject’s personality before sitting down at the drawing board. I never use the latest software to grapple with this dizzying variety.
Dec 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "In the exhibition catalog Lisane Basquiat writes: 'What is important for everyone to understand… is that he was a son, and a brother, and a grandson, and a nephew, and a cousin, and a friend. He was all of that in addition to being a groundbreaking artist.' "
Nov 24th 2022
"The art of kintsugi is inextricably linked to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi: a worldview centred on the acceptance of transience, imperfection and the beauty found in simplicity.....nothing stays the same forever." --- "The philosophy of kintsugi, as an approach to life, can help encourage us when we face failure. We can try to pick up the pieces, and if we manage to do that we can put them back together. The result might not seem beautiful straight away but as wabi-sabi teaches, as time passes, we may be able to appreciate the beauty of those imperfections."
Oct 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, was quick to congratulate Sunak, referring to him as “the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians”. In the difficult waters of British and indeed international politics, all eyes will be watching to see how well the bridge stands."
Oct 5th 2022
EXTRACTS: "In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw eulogized Jean-Luc Godard as 'a genius who tore up the rule book without troubling to read it.' This is a fundamental misunderstanding." ----- " As had been true for Picasso - and Eliot, Joyce, Dylan, and Lennon - it was Godard's mastery of the rules of his discipline that made his violation of those rules so exciting to young artists, and his work so influential.  But perhaps these innovators' mastery of the rules can only be seen by those who themselves understand the rules."
Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For many of us, some personality traits stay the same throughout our lives while others change only gradually. However, evidence shows that significant events in our personal lives which induce severe stress or trauma can be associated with more rapid changes in our personalities." ----- "Over time, our personalities usually change in a way that helps us adapt to ageing and cope more effectively with life events." ----- " ....participants in this study recorded changes in the opposite direction to the usual trajectory of personality change." --- "....you might like to take the time to reflect on your experiences over the past few years, and how these personality changes may have affected you."
Sep 21st 2022
EXTRACTS: "It might seem like an obscure footnote among the history-making events of 2022, but the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s death coincides with the 300th anniversary of Adam Smith’s birth." ----- "As a committed Stoic, Smith had little patience for greed. The whole point of Roman Stoic philosophy was to use personal moral discipline to support the rule of law and constitutions, and to make society a better place." ----- "When we read Smith, we are better served to think of the example of Elizabeth II than of those driven by personal greed. It might sound archaic, but, as Britons’ response to her death suggests, these values still appeal to a great many people today."
Sep 14th 2022
EXTRACT: "On the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the former Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Charles III. Although it’s been known for decades that Charles would succeed his mother, there were rumours that he might, once king, choose the name George due to the contentious legacies of Kings Charles I and Charles II."

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