Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012

School, Piano, etc.

I don't have my usual "oomph" this semester. Kinda dragging through, doing the required work and my mid-term reviews were all 'As' except, of course, Italian, and after performing the calculations required to convert the strange point system they've substituted into the one the rest of the world uses, it looks like I'm running my usual shaky 'B' in there. But the stress of managing classes where most of the work is essentially unchallenging busy-work and balancing my work, along with personal issues, is taking its toll, I think.

By unchallenging, let me give an example. I have a core requirement called "Depth of Inquiry," which is a choice of classes designed to hone and refine the analytical skills of freshmen. I took "Eyes and Vision," which is a fairly interesting class involving the history of vision research, involving the investigations of ancient Greeks, the Renaissance masters, Isaac Newton,  Descartes, etc. Fine so far, except the class scrapes the very thinnest epidermal layer of these mighty intellects. Okay, I understand it's a survey class. But now get this: we get a weekly study guide with the answers to the tests. Basically it's a list of questions with asterisks next to the questions that are going to be on the test. So we look up the answers, fill them in, and remember them for the quizzes and tests.

I've also discovered all the art classes--and I've taken three so far--all teach the same things. They have a party-line and you can pretty much learn everything they have to teach in about three weeks.  My senior-level Drawing Class (Drawing IV) has non-majors in it. To my surprise. And these people, not to hold it against them, can draw about as well as my four-year-old-niece.  As I said, I don't hold it against them, as they're neither artists nor art majors, but they're in the same class as I, who am both.

My ennui seems to be shared by my fellow students. Last spring semester had an air of electric desperation about it, as we all struggled to keep up with the assignments and to outdo ourselves. This fall, everyone has a "whatever" cloud of indifference hovering over them.

Of course, my particular dissatisfaction stems from m growing realization that IU, and possibly all universities, is operating a scam on the level of a time-share operation. I transferred to IU with 120 credits. You need 121 to graduate. But the credits from my former colleges weren't up to the exalted standards of IU, because they prefer transfer students have at least 20 hours on campus. Very well. That's a couple of semesters.

THREE semesters later, they're still adding classes to my requirements. I applied to the Individualized Major Program because apparently in order to get a BFA, I would have to begin all over as a freshman. Never mind my 120 credits--it's a long story. But the IMP program would allow me to use them. I would be out in two more easy semesters. Or so it would seem.

I put together a proposal that meets (actually exceeds) the requirements for graduation for IU, my proposed major: Literary Illustration. Translation: Writing and illustrating my own books. I submitted a draft and it was "suggested" that I and my adviser consider expanding my proposal to include three or more classes outside my major to add diversity. Understand two points: (1) there are already core requirements for diversity which I have already met (2) three or more classes adds at least one more semester. Remember that Time-share scam? I have no doubt in my mind that even if I do this, I'll apply for graduation to be told I need to take one more semester of something or other, and it will be some easy, totally BS class like Kenyan Folk Dance, because due to a new university policy one or more of my transferred classes are no longer an acceptable replacement for cultural diversity. No doubt. In my mind.

Bottom line is this. I don't need this degree, it's unfinished business from my past which would give me personal satisfaction to close. If my proposal is refused or addenda are suggested, I'll thank them for their time and this will be my last semester at IU. After all, it's not like there's a job waiting for me at the end of this. I'm a guy ten years away from retirement, and a degree in Literary Illustration ain't going to make me a hot ticket. I'll mourn over not finishing my business, but I'm not going to be scammed just to get a piece of paper.

But I may be tilting at windmills. It may all work out and my next big life achievement will be the world's only person holding a degree in Literary Illustration. We'll see.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cristofori's Dream

I  finally got this sounding fairly good. It's a little clunky in spots but overall. not too shabby.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Another Semester Smoked

Summer Semester I took two classes, one four-week intensive (Ethnomusicology) and one eight-week intensive (The Craft of Fiction). I learned,in the former, about all sorts of ethnic music in America. In the second class, I wrote all kinds of essays about various works of fiction. I got an A+ in the first class and an A in the second.

Fall Semester has started and I have three classes: Drawing Four, Italian II, and The History of Eye, Vision and Brain Theory.  Off to a good start.

In piano news, plugging away, working of theory, dexterity and various pieces including a jazz version of Over the Rainbow, a piece of music I seem to be obsessed with.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer Semester: Its Horrors

I had a month off between semesters so I decided to work on Joplin a bit more and add--get this--SYNCOPATED peddling.  Yes indeed.  Syncopated peddling to an already syncopated piece of music.  After driving myself insane for about three days, it finally clicked, sort of, and is sounding fairly good.

Summer semester began yesterday and what was I thinking?  I took two classes, not difficult subjects really but Summer term is an entire semester compressed in to four weeks.  Which means each day covers one unit.  When I came home and began the homework for both classes, I realized doing a week's worth of homework for two classes in one evening was insane.  I can do it but the next month is going to be hectic.

So what if I won't sleep or get anything else done?  I'll have two more core requirements out of the way, which means (drum roll) ALL of them will be out of the way.

You can survive anything for a month, eh?


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Raise a Glass of Cognac to the Scholar and Gentleman

My grades were posted, one by one.   First came a resounding A +. in Advanced Drawing, which was a good start.  Next, an A in Art History: Renaissance to Present.  I layeth the smack-down on the final, it lay whimpering in the corner.  The topic for the essay portion I selected from the list of possibilities: Art and Religion.  Oh man.  I wrote so fast and furiously I inflamed an impressive writer's cramp.  I turned in my neat blue exam booklet shaking my aching writing hand while the Prof laughed.  I'll bet laughter was scarce while he waded through my 50,000 word manifesto re: the artist's role in documenting the vox spiritu of civilization.

The third Ace in my hand was dealt by my painting professor, the one who assigned thirty-odd paintings in one semester.  The final painting, a four-foot by forty-inch composition rendered on a canvas stretched on a frame we built ourselves in the campus wood shop, you may see here.

A week passed before we took the dreaded Italian final exam.  I studied all week,  I admit I struggled with this class.  It moved at breakneck speed and my brain, calcified by age, stubbornly refused to absorb the lingo at the blistering pace, especially at 9 AM.  My performance on the tests has been shaky.  I took the two-hour final, not certain about any of it.  I had some time left, so went back and checked my answers.  I found mistakes, corrected them.  But were they mistakes?  I changed them back,  then changed them again.  Then back,  Aggh.  I remained trapped in this paranoid cycle until time ran out and I had to turn in my paper, not sure if any of it was correct or if my answers had deteriorated into the ramblings of a lunatic.

On the bus back to my car my brain whispered that I had made numerous errors, and correct answers danced in front of my eyes in the manner of genii conjured from a bottle.  I arrived home convinced I'd failed the exam, and by extension the entire course, and would have to retake it in Summer school.  In fact, I had set in motion plans to do this very thing before taking second semester Italian as my mastery of the preliminaries was so shaky.

By Sunday my conviction of dismal failure was rock-solid.  We were supposed to have our grade by Monday, so I checked online every hour.  By 6PM there was no word, and I had sunk into the blackest pit of despondency.  I slunk to bed at 10PM, no news of my fate forthcoming.  Summer school started the next day, and I figured I would simply start all over in the fall.

This morning, Tuesday, I checked online and couldn't believe my eyes.  Through some sinister witchcraft, I made a B in Italian. That's correct--a B.  I would have been happy with a D, the lowest passing grade.  A C would have launched me into an ecstasy rivaling St. Teresa's.  But a B?  My mind couldn't cognize this miracle.  Had I been at the local park, gnawing on a tuna sandwich, and happened to see Jesus tip-toeing across the duckpond with a glowing halo playing about his brow surrounded by a swarm of cherubim holding the hem of his robe above the festering pondscum, I wouldn't have been more disbelieving of what my eyes reported.  Nodding, I logged off, prepared coffee, drank it slowly, not quite convinced, because I'm sometimes given to hallucinations.  Once I saw Freud and Einstein sitting next to me passing a bottle of schnapps while exchanging anecdotes about amusing times in Thompkinsville, KY.  But I digress.  After allowing plenty of time for caffeine to work its magic on my neurons, I checked my grades again.  The B stood proud and tumescent amongst the As. It was real.  I had not only passed Italian, but did so with a modicum of dignity.

My new plan is to solidify my basic Italian and get a running start of the intermediate material before second semester.  I also intend to keep my workload in check so I'll have time to play my piano.  I really missed it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Finals Week

It's Finals Week, and the Men's Room on the third floor of the Fine Arts building smells of oil paint and desperation.  On campus, wild-eyed, disheveled students stagger about mumbling to themselves, attempting to retain the tiniest morsels of information within traitorous cranial sieves.

At the beginning of the semester there were twenty-four students in my Italian class. By the end, eight remained. It was like some weird survival game. I kept looking for hidden cameras. I had a perfect attendance record, even though one week I had a gruesome flu that wracked my frame like Torquemada's henchmen. I was afraid to miss a single class. Some of the younger contestants were missing three or four classes a month. If you missed a class, you fell so far behind the attrition rate comes as no surprise. The pace was so furious I thought at one point the teacher had to be kidding. This course was the intellectual equivalent of a Chuck Yeager stress-test. Material appeared on the exams we didn't cover in class, and indeed we wouldn't absorb until the following week. We were asked to conjugate verbs and complete sentences containing words and phrases we hadn't yet learned. Since this was my first semester, I can't say whether or not this is typical, or if we had fallen behind the scheduled curriculum. We covered 225 pages of the textbook this semester, as well as auxiliary material. I've been studying for the final coming up Friday, filling in gaps I may have missed on this whirlwind ride.

In piano news, I had little time to practice, but attended my lessons, which I bumped to every two weeks due to my hectic school schedule. The Painting class topped out at thirty-two paintings, an incredible amount of artwork, and my Drawing class had around a dozen assignments, which was a bit more reasonable.  One of these was an "Installation," which means you make a three-dimensional creation and then go vandalize the community by installing it in a public place. I created a statement--a mutant infant with tentacles growing from his face, crawling from a trashcan-- about how industries pour mutagenetic chemicals in drinking water and put it outside the Kelly Business school.

I have three finals out of the way and the last one is Friday.  I began learning a new piece, or rather began work on a piece I dropped about a year ago: "Over the Rainbow," and I just about have it down cold.  I also have on the table an arrangement of Gorden Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind." I found a clip of some dude playing it, and I downloaded the sheets for it:

I intend to raise a glass of fine Cognac Friday after the Italian final, and enjoy the weekend.  Summer semester begins May 8th.  I'm curious to compare second semester Italian to this first introduction. I hope second gear has a slower pace. Ciao, Ragazzi.

Friday, March 23, 2012


I'm juggling five paintings, three of them part of a tryptich for end-term, one a giant multi-figure composition, also for end-term, and the fourth an in-class assignment. I have a hired model for the multi-figure, with whom I'm working after-hours. My friend Tom is modelling for the tryptich, and the in-class model handles those duties.

Italian seems to be going well, so far, and Art History is no problem. That class is too easy. I sometimes forget I'm taking it at all and fall asleep during it. The tests seems so easy I think they must be deceptions, and I look for potholes and hidden mines. But this is because I took Art History before and I know most of this already man.

I drew a giant 7' x 4' nude in drawing class in about two hours, and called it Giant Dave.

I think all the painting is going to pay off, but I have numerous shows in April and wonder what's going to happen When Worlds Collide.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Paranoia, an ever-present humming in the beehive of my subconscious, had me firmly convinced I was spectacularly failing each and every one of my classes. Especially Italian, with Painting running a close second. Italian class moves so fast it's alarming, and even these twentyish Adoni and Houri sport a dazed and glassy-eyed appearance on their ruddy countenances in reaction to the blistering pace. Bear in mind they don't work, live on power-drinks, and are somewhat less than half my doddering age. I sometimes feel like a monkey caught in a tsunami clinging to a grapevine.

In an attempt to buttress the teetering Jenga-tower of my calcified brain, I procured a tutor, a native Italian, and if not for this secret weapon I would have been left bleeding in the dust. As it was, I pulled a "C" for mid-terms, but it landed on the border and was almost a 'B.' However I got a high 'B' on my midterm oral exam, so I am turning a corner, and feel much more confident with the lingo. I think the second half of the semester will progress much more heroically.

In spite of dire forebodings worthy of Roderick Usher, my Painting mid-term evaluation went very well. My main concern has been I can't finish the paintings we do in class. We've been doing four paintings a week, and before this, back when I was a productive painter, I used to do four paintings a year. All my homework assignments were polished productions but those piteous class paintings were all unfinished canvases. This didn't seem to matter. In fact the instructor told me he felt this was a good way to teach: to keep everyone a little out of breath. I now think of this as Asthmatic Art Academy.

Yet I feel myself slowly adapting to this type of frenetic production, and have been adjusting my creative process accordingly.

Drawing? Who knows, but I sense I have done well. My drawing instructor, a tiny Asian woman, suffered a concussion wrestling (yes, you heard correctly, and no--there is no video, I already asked) so delayed the midterm evaluation until after Spring Break (which I am now currently enjoying in hedonistic languor). Art History is also delayed until after break, but no problems there; I could get a 'B' while taking exams while somnambulistic, which describes my condition during most of the lectures. I took these classes already, but IU won't let me transfer the credist, so I have to take them again. Dang it.

I'm plotting my strategies for second term, so I won't be quite as stressed. I'm going to work ahead of the game instead of trying to hang on to a roller-coaster as I have been doing. I've contacted a model about working with me for my final painting project and he's planning with me to make it spectacular, and for drawing I'm working up some preliminary exercises to allow me to hit the ground running upon my return. I'm trying to work smarter, not harder.

People have been asking if I'm having fun, and if it's worth it, and if I'm happy. I really don't know. I feel that my mind is sharper and I'm stretching my limits, so this is a good thing. I won't really know how I feel until the end of the semester when I can reflect on the progress I've made.

As we Italian-speaking people say, Arivederci

Sunday, February 5, 2012

First Exams

I've had a terrible cold, because let's face it: kids are basically disease vectors, and I spend a great deal of time riding sealed capsules called campus shuttles filled to capacity with college age kids hacking up lungs. Granted, many of them think they are immortal and indulge in the insanely stupid habit of smoking (if anyone saw how either of my parents died they would never even consider smoking), but this cold which made the rounds was of Medieval-plague proportions. I had a headache which pounded like a kettle drum, and during a simple Art History quiz after spelling such Italian jawbreakers like Gentile da Fabriano and Brunelleschi, my brain vapor-locked on van Eyck. I got the 'van' part but for the life of me 'Eyck' froze my synapses. I think wound up scrawling 'Eyke.' Oh well--I found out he doesn't count off for spelling as long as you don't try an ambiguous cover-your-bet dodge like combining Ducio and Giotto into 'Duciotto.'

So this coming week we have an actual exam MONDAY in Art History, and another in Italian on TUESDAY. I have been studying diligently and am curious to see how I'll do in Italian. Art History I have on lockdown. After all, this is the Italian Renaissance. Italian verb conjugations are giving me a bit of a tussle but I'm gaining on them. I think I'll do okay.

The two studio classes are challenging. We do three-four paintings a week and two-three major drawings. Being obsessive, I really can't just toss these things off; I have to put in a lot of work and effort. So I think I'm probably devoting about twice the work most people are doing. Back when I was a productive artist, I think I may have done four or five paintings every six months so this pace is interesting to me. The drawing lab is very fast-paced and we'll often begin another project before the previous one is complete, and switching gears this fast is, I suppose, part of the program.

I have a still-life to finish this weekend and I need to do it before my vegetables wilt any further. My cold is much better and I feel a surge of energy returning. I look forward to the exams and to seeing how much of this new erudition is sticking.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

World's Oldest College Student?

I don't know, but it seems that way. After successfully navigating Indiana University's sometimes bewildering bureaucratic labyrinth, a process that took most of the summer and fall, I was accepted as a student November 11th, 2011. I discovered that IU was like most monolithic bureaucracies; that is if you don't get the answer you want the first time you ask, keep asking and eventually you will get the answer you want from someone. In this case, I wanted to enter IU as a transfer student in the Fine Arts department with credits transferred from UT as well as my Mechanical Engineering degree from another school. After asking Admissions, Transmissions, Omissions, Submissions, the Department of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the Department of Redundancy Department, I found out if I entered as a General Studies Major, my wish would be granted.

I attended UT in 1982, Pellissippi in 1992. Therefore, some of my credits were in the archaic quarter system and some in semesters. After calling in various necromancers to translate my credits, I consulted with an adviser in the Fine Arts department to determine my academic standing. My plan is to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and go one to a Master's of Fine Arts Degree. She was stunned to find I had a total of 142 transferred credits. You need 120 to graduate. "Excellent," I said. "I can go on to Grad school."

"Well, "I was told. "We like you to have 20 credits on-campus in studio."

"I understand, but I'd like to go on to Grad school."

The good news was I have all math, English, history, etc. long satisfied. However, due to changing standards I have a language deficiency, so must take Italian. Cool, my Graduate thesis will be Renaissance studio techniques so it will be handy to read those old manuscripts in the original lingo. Plus Twenty hours of painting and drawing lab, no big deal. Then on to Grad School.

But the hilarious item of this bon adventura was I was required to attend New Student Orientation. I tried to get out of it; I really did. Piteous e-mails to every official I could pin down was ineffectual. I even attempted bribery. No avail nor solace. I had to go.

I arrived early, as is my obsessive-compulsive wont, and realized I was going to orientated by kids young enough to be my children. I befriended a couple of them posthaste and learned that everything we would cover that day--and I mean everything--I had already accomplished.

So after the opening obsequies, and after several well-meaning people attempted to steer me to the room where Parent's Orientation was taking place, I found an adult and explained I had already registered for class and displayed my schedule. I also explained I had already had three appointments with an adviser. She looked at me in surprise. "You're already registered for classes?"

"Yes, here is my schedule, and I have seen my adviser, she's the department head."

"Well, all you need to do is get your books and Student ID."

"I already have those." I showed her my ID, with a picture of me grinning like a rottweiler.

She looked a little offended. "Then you don't need to be here. You can go."

Which is what I had been trying to tell them for three weeks. I tried to toss her a bone. "You mean it? I'm kind of disappointed."

She actually snorted. "I'll bet." She crossed my name off of some computer list, or perhaps made a note on my PERMANENT RECORD: "Troublemaker: Too Smart For His Own Good. Acts Independently. Doesn't Run With The Sheep. Keep an eye on him.

I've been going to classes for two weeks now and the process is a lot easier than it was in 1982. Transportation is more efficient. There are on-line resources that make studying a cinch. I watched a video for one of my classes that placed so much emphasis on attendance it pretty much promised if you just showed up for class, you would get a passing grade.

I'm delighted, almost giddy with the realization that I am back in school, continuing the thread that broke in 1982. Yet I feel a little slow. Perhaps the weight of my years and experience lay heavy on me. I was watching my fellow art students and realized they still sailed toward something they saw on the far horizon. It didn't bother them that their artwork was flawed because they knew someday they could be great artists--they had time. I know I have no horizon. I don't care about the finished product of my artwork--the drawing or painting-- because when I paint or draw I do so for different reasons. I'm more fascinated by the process itself. I don't care at all about the finished product. I can't. If I did, I would be in utter despair, because the product itself is unsatisfying compared to the effort put into it. I more often than not give them away.

I know I'll never be a great artist, or even a good one. But I can be a better artist, so for me the process of creation is where I find my satisfaction, and if I find an incremental improvement, or some discovery along the way, or learn something about myself or the world, there is my art.

Monday: Two quizzes. How exciting.