Sunday, June 03, 2007


I've begun working on my new language in earnest! I need to learn the writing system at first, so that I can sound out words, and for me, learning something like that means flashcards. I also rely on flashcards for vocabulary/definitions type learning. I'm not great at memorizing things like vocabulary and such, but I've learned that flashcards help me a lot, so that's what I go with.

From what I've learned about learning, the process of writing out flashcards is really important, sort of making muscles work helps me learn.

In my usual day-to-day learning, I'm building a whole lot on a fairly good framework (lit stuff, history, and so forth), so what I'm learning fits into what I know, generally. But learning a totally new writing system is hard because I don't have any framework at all to work from. Of course, once I learn it, I'll begin to have a framework for the rest of the language learning.

All this effort is a good reminder how hard it is to actually study and learn new things. I have an advantage in having lots of experience learning. On the other hand, I'm not exactly a toddler learning a language, and it's hard to wrap my mouth around things.

I tend to be good at conceptual learning. For other sorts of learning, I need visual and physical help. Pictures help me a lot, but actually handling an object helps me even more. I don't have an easy time totally visualizing from a description, for example. But my brain makes aural and visual connections well.


I'm listening to an absolutely fascinating book on CD these days called The Judgement at Paris about the decade from the early 1860s to the early 1870s, focusing on the French art community and the beginnings of impressionism.

When I started back to school after the Peace Corps, I took several semesters of art history. Remember that framework thing I was talking about earlier? Art history built the scaffolding for my historical and artistic framework, and I depended on it hugely during my first several years of graduate school. I still depend on it for some eras (ancient Egypt and classical Greece, for example).

The thing is, when I took art history, we looked at the pieces that get into books, in the same way that when I teach intro to lit, we focus on the poems, short stories, and plays in an anthology, reading more broadly than deeply in any field. But when you learn that way, you see what critics think is the finest work by Manet or Monet or whoever, rather than getting a sense of how they developed. And even when you study more deeply, say as I've studied Shakespeare, you get a sense of the development retrospectively. What you miss unless you're careful, though, is that Shakespeare wasn't SHAKESPEARE until he'd been dead a while, if you know what I mean. No one knew when he was born that he'd be a great playwright, or that he'd survive to adulthood, even.

It's important, though, to always remember that when someone writes a book or paints a painting they may love it, but they don't know what's coming. They don't know if it will get ruined in a fire, be loved/despised by a critic, be bought for a fortune, be unfinished because they get smallpox or syphilis and die. Life was as difficult and scary and uncertain for those famous folks before they died as it is for everyone (even the famous, I'm told).

The cool thing about this book, though, is that it gets much more of a sense of the frustrations of painters having trouble painting, being late with the rent, and being rejected or accepted by the Salon. I also have a basic understanding of what the Salon was, even!

I'd never heard of Ernest Meissonier before, but he was a major figure just before the impressionists hit big, and I gather his reputation has suffered from being sort of old fashioned just at the propitious moment when fashions were really changing. (Sort of like Spenser, perhaps?) Still, it's fascinating listening to the tape and then seeing some of his pictures on the web. For example, the book talks extensively about the difficulties of painting "Friedland." The book also talks about "The Siege of Paris" after the war of 1870, during which one of Meissonier's pupils died.

We saw several of Edouard Manet's paintings in my art history class, but without a context that they were shocking! SHOCKING! And not greatly admired during his early years entering them for the Salon. How many times have I seen pictures of "Olympia"? The book does a good job giving enough context so that I can understand something of the shockingness of it. For me, it always appears in the context of "art" or an art book, and so it's safe and such. But it wasn't when it was rejected for the Salon of 1863.

1 comment:

  1. I bought The Judgment of Paris nearly a year ago, but never read it. Just a few weeks ago, I finally picked it up in hopes of finding a specific bit of info on a painter. I read a few chapters and was hooked. It may be a few more weeks before I get back to this, but I'm looking forward to it precisely because of the framework and context it can provide.