latest reviews and articles

Understanding a Revered Art Form

25 July 2019 ~ The Wall Street Journal

Scholars have long valued Korean ceramics. More recently, shows have highlighted distinctive Korean styles within a painting tradition imported from China. And now, in the U.S. city with the largest population of Koreans, “Beyond Line: The Art of Korean Writing” spotlights calligraphy at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Anyone unsure why East Asians regard calligraphy as the highest art form might want to head straight to the gallery devoted to “Royal Calligraphy” and look at pages from a sketchbook of King Hyojong (who reigned from 1649 to 1659). Using Chinese characters and the occasional flower as his subjects, he experimented with scripts and styles, producing a remarkable range of energy, emotion and tone. In one column, characters stride, bold and dynamic. In another, they cascade like a wispy waterfall. In yet another, they fly off the page, as sprightly and exuberant as a Joan Miró drawing. (full review)


Astrolabe Tech Made… not so easy

Screen Shot 2019-05-11 at 9.32.38 AM

Let me start with a confession: I am no engineering whiz, but I like to know how things work. I studied religion, and I often write about art, which is how I became entranced by astrolabes. Their beauty is mesmerizing, but their efficacy as an instrument leaves me perplexed. Imagine a medieval lass trying to ferret out the secrets of a smartphone, or even a dumb phone. Well, that’s how I feel, and I don’t like it.

So I’ll set myself a task: I, a Brooklynite, am going to find my way around an unfamiliar city—Boston—using an astrolabe. To get started, I ask Sara Schechner about this. She is a historian of science with a special interest in the history of astronomy, and she curates the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University. “It can’t do that,” she says. “Astrolabes,” she explains to this liberal arts major, “aren’t navigation devices. They’re early computers.”….  read the whole article and watch the accompanying video  (there’s no firewall!)

Where Sacred Meets Secular

1 May 2019 ~ The Wall Street Journal
Kasuga Sacred Deer Mandala – left: 16th-C, collection of Cleveland Museum of Art; right, first half of 15th C, collection of Minneapolis Institute of Art.

By the time you leave “Shinto: Discovery of the Divine in Japanese Art” at the Cleveland Museum of Art, you’ll have interacted with striking works—from depictions of exuberant festivities to evocative images of deities. You’ll know that many are on loan from Japan, including a number prized as Important Cultural Property, and that they are all tied in one way or another to the veneration of divine beings called kami. You may also remember that the works date from the 10th century until 1868, when the government declared Shinto the state religion. What you won’t be able to do is concisely define Japan’s age-old “way of the gods.” And that is good.  (read full review)


An Ancient Story Continually Reinvented

10 April 2019 ~ The Wall Street Journal

20190311_135325At no time over the past 1,000 years has “The Tale of Genji” fallen out of favor with the Japanese public. Begun at the turn of the 11th century by a woman known to history as Murasaki Shikibu, the sprawling tale of amorous pursuits in a court rife with power plays came out in installments over a number of years. It was instantly and persistently popular even though, for centuries, the only way to reproduce the “Tale of Genji” was to either commission or transcribe a copy. Only in the early 17th century was the story printed, triggering yet another explosion in readership.

Beginning with illustrated books and albums, the book also inspired artists and artisans, from calligraphers and painters to ukiyo-eprintmakers, ceramists, and creators of luxury lacquerware. The resulting trove makes what many consider to be the world’s first novel an ideal subject for exhibitions, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated” is a particularly grand one.  (link to review)20190311_142934

Power Made Pretty

21 March 2019 ~ The Wall Street Journal
Detail of a Ming dynasty (Yongle period ca. 1417-1423) silk embroidery of Hevajra in the Pritzker Collection

Seeing a portrait as claiming—and proclaiming—a ruler’s legitimacy or attributing political motives to a beautifully made artwork is hardly groundbreaking. Yet for all the familiarity of its underlying concept, the Rubin Museum of Art’s “Faith and Empire: Art and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism” proves refreshingly new. It provides a much needed and highly informative corrective to the prevailing tendency in the West to view Tibetan Buddhism and its adherents exclusively through the lens of spirituality and pacifism. (read full review)




2 thoughts on “latest reviews and articles

  1. For some reason I always found myself hanging out with minority students as an undergraduate. In the sixties there was not a lot of integration on the Lutheran college campuses Iattended and being a bit of an outcast myself I identified to a small degree with their apparent anxiety over the problems of assimilation on a white campus. The programs you wrote about would have made an incredible difference in their lives, I’m sure. When I was a graduate student, however, I noticed that one possible effect of a growing population of minorities in college in many courses was a “watering-down” of the material being taught. Those courses that retained a high level of academic expectation were deserted quickly by students who dropped out of such classes in droves. When I returned to school later to earn a secondary degree I found many such classes apparently eliminated from the course options altogether. I am sure that there were many factors behind these changes besides the changes in the student population, but I can not help but think from my personal experiences that our general curriculum might be slowly watered down to ensure student success. Western literature and culture seems to be slipping away, in my opinion, at an alarming rate. I fully acknowledge the need for all people of every ethnic heritage to receive a college education, Indeed, our nation depends on it.. I am also aware of the personal struggles that may plague students from different socio-economic backgrounds and applaud the steps being made to help them succeed in college programs. I also pray that our schools do not become mere training centers for specialized careers and that the liberal arts are not totally eliminated from college and university curriculums in order to made the road to a degree a little smoother for students who for various reasons are not sufficiently prepared academically to meet the abstract thinking skills such courses may require.

    1. Your concerns are shared by many and most valid. By all accounts, in Prof Hogan’s biology classs (the opening example I give in the piece) , the material stayed exactly the same; all that the professor changed were her teaching methods. It is of course easier to test for this in the sciences than it is for liberal arts classes where the quality of essays and discussions (breadth of knowledge, critical analysis, etc) is key. I am interested in seeing what a current study headed by Howard Gardner reveals about Liberal Arts programs (

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