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Photo: MFA Boston
The results of a study on school field trips surprised the Brookings Institution researchers.

One of the messages I take from this Brookings report on student field trips is the importance of conducting research with both an open mind and a willingness to follow up on unexpected results. Another takeaway: researchers prefer to study things for which there are a lot of data available; worthwhile questions that don’t have a lot of data to work with often don’t get studied.

Jay P. Greene writes, “Most education research focuses on math and reading outcomes or educational attainment because those are the measures that the state collects and are readily available to us. Less is known about how students are doing in other subjects and whether their progress in those areas has important benefits for them and society. …

“A new experiment … examines long-term effects of students receiving multiple field trips to the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. The Woodruff Arts Center houses the High Art Museum, Alliance Theater, and Atlanta Symphony, all on one campus.

“We randomly assigned 4th and 5th grade school groups to get three field trips per year – one to each of Woodruff’s arts organizations – or to a control condition in which students received a single field trip. …

“The surprising result is that students who received multiple field trips experienced significantly greater gains on their standardized test scores after the first year than did the control students. …

“The reason these results are so surprising is that previous research had suggested that arts instruction tended not to ‘transfer’ into gains in other subjects. …

“When we conducted the analysis on the effects of treatment on test scores, we expected to find no statistically significant effects, just like almost all previous rigorous research. …

“We still do not believe that arts instruction and experiences have a direct effect on math or ELA ability. We think this because the bulk of prior research tells us so, and because it is simply implausible that two extra field trips to an arts organization conveyed a significant amount of math and ELA knowledge.

“Our best guess is that test scores may have risen because the extra arts activities increased student interest and engagement in school. … Maybe arts-focused field trips do not teach math or reading, but they do make students more interested in their school that does teach math and reading. But this is just a guess. …

“The odd thing about trying to write a paper with these results to present at conferences and submit to a journal is that there is strong pressure for us to pretend like we expected our findings all along. Discussants and reviewers generally don’t want to hear that you found something you didn’t expect and don’t really know why. They want to hear a clean story about how your results make sense and follow from your theory and literature review. In short, social science favors the false appearance of confidence.”

Ah, yes. When I was at the Fed, I often wondered about such things, but as a non-economist, I knew I was out of my depth.

Read about how the researchers intend to unpack the meaning of their unexpected results with future studies, here.

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Photo: Carter Burden Gallery
The Carter Burden Gallery in Chelsea shows works by artists who are at least 60 years old.

I’m always happy to see that older people are still appreciated in some quarters — in this case, at a New York gallery that features only artists over 60. Susan Stamberg has the story at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Some artists in New York may be wishing to get older faster. A gallery there caters to artists age 60 and older. No kids allowed.

“Some 200 artists have exhibited at the Carter Burden Gallery since it opened nine years ago in Chelsea. Business is good, and works sell from $200 to $9,000. It’s a lot like hundreds of other galleries in New York — except for one important thing: The Carter Burden has an age limit. Why?

” ‘Older adults do not stop being who they are because they hit a particular age,’ said gallery director Marlena Vaccaro. ‘Professional artists never stop doing what we do, and in many cases we get better at it as we go along.’

“What does change is the art market. With rare exceptions, artists who were hot when they started out found that galleries, and certainly museums, cooled to them as years passed. They kept making art, but weren’t being shown or bought. Carter Burden’s mission is to give them a wall, ‘because walls are the thing we need,’ Vaccaro said.

“According to Vaccaro, very few galleries represent older professional artists, unless they’re really famous. ‘And I get that,’ she said. “Galleries are a business. They need to show artists that are going to bring in big bucks.’

“Carter Burden is different. It’s a nonprofit, supported by a board, a corporate sponsor and philanthropists. …

“Artist Nieves Saah, 67, originally from Bilbao, Spain, has painted all her life. ‘My first show was in SoHo in ’85,’ she said. ‘And I had like 28 paintings there. I sold a few, and then from that I got many shows. I think that year I was in like 15 shows.’

“Then things slowed down. There wasn’t much interest for 10 years. Saah kept on painting her figures and fantasies in vividly colored, cheerful oils. One day she heard about Carter Burden and decided to apply online. ‘I was in a show one month after I sent the application,’ she recalled. …

“Werner Bargsten, a newbie, had his first show this past October. It consisted of stunning, powerful sculptured wall hangings made with clay and copper tubing, and formed into what look like wrapped packages. …

“At 69, Bargsten is glad to be part of the Carter Burden over-60 crowd. ‘I mean, look, it’s always harder to get out of bed the older you get, but most of the artists that I’ve met here seemed like they missed that memo that they were getting old. Most of them have the brains of a 20-year-old or a 30-year-old or something. So they haven’t really aged in terms of their spirit.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

Photo: Carter Burden Gallery
“Under the Stars,” by Nieves Saah, an 0ver-60 artist who shows her work at the Carter Burden Gallery in New York.

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Photo: Swem Library
Art on page edges from
The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. See 22 other examples at Atlas Obscura.

Have you ever noticed paintings along the page edges of old books? According to a 2016 Atlas Obscura article by Eric Grundhauser, they’re called “fore-page paintings.”

He writes, “While you don’t see them very often these days, fore-edge paintings were once some of the loveliest book illustrations around. … A fore-edge painting refers to an image painted or drawn on the closed leaves of a book. …

“Some ambitious, ‘disappearing’ fore-edge paintings were painted on the inside edges of the pages, so that the hidden scenes could only be seen when the page block was fanned in a certain direction. …

“These secret illustrations could be doubled, with an illustration on either side of the pages, revealing themselves depending on the slant of the page block (known as the ‘two-way double’). Some were painted so that if the book was laid open in the center, naturally splaying the pages to either side, two different illustrations could be seen on either side (known as a ‘split double’). …

“ ‘Sometimes the fore-edge paintings corresponded to the subject of the book, and sometimes not,’ says Jay Gaidmore, Director of Special Collections at the Earl Gregg Swem Library. The library holds the 700-strong Ralph H. Wark Collection, the largest collection of fore-edge painted books in America. …

“ ‘Most of the books are 19th century English fore-edges, but there are a few American scenes.’

“Fore-edge paintings can be found on books dating back to the 11th century, with early examples being decorated with symbolism and heraldry. …

“According to the Boston Public Library’s website for their 250+ collection of fore-edge books, for the most part the paintings were made using watercolors, and went unsigned, often being commissioned by a book-binding firm. …

“The technique has even been printed onto some modern books like Chip Kidd’s 2001 novel, The Cheese Monkeys, which was printed with a two-way double, disappearing fore-edge message. If the pages are shifted in one direction, the phrase ‘GOOD IS DEAD,’ appears, while if they are shifted in the opposite direction, the message, ‘DO YOU SEE?’ can be read.”

Tip of the hat to Fort Point artist Karen McFeaters, who retweeted this lead from @michikokakutani. More here, where you can see 22 additional examples.

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A Year of Art Discoveries

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Two Allegory of Justice figures in the Vatican, once attributed to Raphael’s followers, were identified in 2017 as being by the master himself.

This Artsy report on 2017 art discoveries was pretty cool. Curiously, I had already written about one of the finds — here. It was the Rodin sculpture discovered in a New Jersey town hall.

Abigail Cain writes, “Art history is, by definition, primarily a thing of the past — but each year, some small portion of it is rewritten by those in the present.

“In 2017, we gained new insight on the early years of Leonardo da Vinci and the final ones of Andy Warhol; amateur archaeologists were rewarded with major finds; and several masterpieces were discovered, simply hiding in plain sight. From newly mapped Venezuelan petroglyphs to a long-lost Magritte, these are 10 of the most notable art-historical discoveries of the year.”

I especially loved that volunteers made the find that occurred in England. “A team of amateur archaeologists,” writes Cain, “dug up one of the most significant Roman mosaics ever discovered in Britain.

“The discovery was made in a field outside of Boxford, in southern England, by a group of local volunteers supervised by professional archaeologists. Although the project began in 2011, it wasn’t until August of this year — during the final two weeks of the scheduled dig — that organizers realized they’d found something extraordinary.

“As it turned out, they’d uncovered a remarkably well-preserved mosaic, built as part of a Roman villa that dates to roughly 380 A.D. Not only is it a rare find for the country — experts have labeled it the most exciting of its kind unearthed in 50 years — the subject and style of the artwork is highly unusual for the area. The work illustrates the story of Bellerophon, a Greek mythological hero tasked with killing the Chimera.”

Check out Artsy, here, to read about: the discovery that two figures in the Vatican were painted by Raphael and not his assistants; two ancient tombs in Egypt; the likely identity of Leonardo’s mother; a portrait by Peter Paul Rubens found hanging in a historic Glasgow house; a miniscule carving recovered from a Bronze Age tomb with “detailed handiwork centuries ahead of its time”; the last piece of a lost René Magritte painting found in Belgium; and drone technology that helped researchers map “massive, 2,000-year-old petroglyphs in Venezuela for the first time.”

Doesn’t it make you want to go out and discover some long-lost treasure?

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Source: Biodiversity Heritage Library
A Stanley parakeet, one of 42 plates in Edward Lear’s
Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots.

Years ago, I read a biography of Edward Lear in which I learned that Lear had distinguished himself at a young age as an illustrator of nature — long before his playful limericks found an audience.

A new biography by Jenny Uglow brings more details to Lear’s story. And Cara Giaimo has a post about him at Atlas Obscura, where she reviews Peter Levi’s Lear biography.

“Edward Lear was a man unafraid of his own imagination,” writes Giaimo. “In his best-known nonsense poems and limericks, he wrote of things the world has never seen: green-headed Jumblies; toeless Pobbles; oceanic romances between birds and cats.

“But before he began bringing these impossibilities to life, Lear had a different focus: he drew parrots. When he was young, Lear was employed as an ornithological illustrator, and he spent years learning to draw birds, favoring live models in an era when most worked from taxidermy. Before he turned 20, he’d published Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots, a critical success, and the first monograph produced in England to focus on a single family of birds.

“Lear was born in London in 1812. One of the youngest of a gaggle of kids. … He was raised mostly by his oldest sister, Ann. According to biographer Peter Levi, it was Ann who taught Lear to draw. …

“Early on in Lear’s childhood, his father went into debt, and his family fell on hard times. When he turned 15, he decided to put his talents to work professionally, and began taking commissions for everything from decorative fans to ‘morbid disease drawings for hospitals,’ as he later wrote a friend. In this way, he explained, he managed to make enough money ‘for bread and cheese.’

“But when he found the time to choose his own subjects, he often made his way to London’s Zoological Gardens. … While many artists of the time relied on taxidermied specimens—which, after all, were better at staying still—Lear preferred drawing live animals, and was known to occasionally enter their cages, so as to get a better look. …

“Lear’s models inspired at least one bit of verse. In December of 1830, he ended a letter to a friend with an account of a parrot-filled day that had left him rather peckish:

‘Now I go to my dinner,
‘For all day I’ve been a-
‘way at the West End,
‘Painting the best end
‘Of some vast Parrots
‘As red as new carrots,—
‘(They are at the museum,—
‘When you come you shall see ‘em,—)
‘I do the head and neck first;
‘—And ever since breakfast,
‘I’ve had one bun merely!
‘So — yours quite sincerely.

“As this poem suggests, the job was rather demanding. … Eventually, though, he boiled the process down to a science. First, Levi writes, ‘A young zookeeper would hold the bird while Lear measured it in various directions.’ Then Lear would make a few pencil drawings of the parrot, in different poses, doing his best to ignore the curious public (although sometimes he drew them, too). …

“By 1831, he and Ann had moved houses to be closer to the Zoo; the next year, he put out what would be his final batch of parrot lithographs, drew up a table of contents, and encouraged his subscribers to bind them into a complete book. He was 19 years old.

“Although he started out expecting to produce 14 sets of illustrations, depicting about 50 species, Lear ended up stopping just short. … He didn’t want to make the same mistakes as his father. ‘To pay colourer and printer monthly I am obstinately prepossessed,’ he explained, ‘[and] I had rather be at the bottom of the River Thames than be one week in debt.’ …

“Levi writes of Lear’s participation in [John] Gould’s Birds of Europe, ‘The queerer the animal the more it arrested him.’ ”

More here.

Lear-inspired plates that my family members have cherished for years.
012518-Edward-Lear-plates

 

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Photo: Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images
A performance at the 2015 Havana Biennial. When the Cuban government postponed this year’s event, artists took matters into their own hands.

The recent hurricanes have stressed official budgets all over the Caribbean, and in Cuba, the government blames Irma recovery costs for its decision to postpone a popular arts biennial.

So artists and art lovers decided to organize an alternative event, as Laurie Rojas reports at the Art Newspaper.

“A crowdfunding campaign was launched [in December] for the #00Bienal (5-15 May 2018), an independent alternative event that is due to take the place of the 13th Havana Biennial, which the Cuban government has postponed until 2019 because of a lack of resources after Hurricane Irma hit the island. …

“ ‘The democratically minded #00Bienal will be ‘the Havana Biennial for everyone,’ says the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the main organisers of the event.

“The aim is to provide a platform for artists who do not have the visibility or official status to participate in a government-sponsored biennial. Street, Outsider, performance, digital and conceptual artists and photographers are all invited to submit proposals. …

“[Alcántara] says that ‘the government made a grave error’ when it postponed the Havana Biennial, describing it as ‘the most important cultural event in the country.’

“Other artists and curators, including Tania Bruguera, Alvaro Saavedra and Coco Fusco, as well as independent cultural spaces in Havana, have volunteered to help realise the #00Bienal. It will be completely self-funded and will not seek money from the state.”

Check out the Art Newspaper, here, as well as the Havana Times, here. Hyperallergic details here the government hostility Alcántara ran into for organizing the alternative event.

Two couples I know went to Cuba last year and loved it. If you go in May, please let me know if you see the arts event.

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Photo: Flying Studio / Mary Corse, Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Mary Corse transformed the exterior of her studio into “Untitled (White Light Bands).” The art takes on an otherworldly glow at dusk.

Here is a story about art works that you have to see in person because the light shifts when you move.

Carolina A. Miranda reports at the Los Angeles Times,”If you stand outside of Mary Corse’s studio in Topanga Canyon at just the right hour, you might get to see one of her works come to life. The painter, who is known for playing with the properties of light, last year transformed the exterior of her studio into one of her largest pieces to date. Along the building’s exterior face, she painted a sequence of four simple columns employing one of the materials for which she is best known: white paint mixed with glass microbeads. The material is what gives street signs and lane markings their illuminative properties.

“ ‘They don’t reflect light, they prism,’ Corse says. ‘It makes a triangle between the surface, the viewer and light. So if the viewer moves, then it changes.’

“In broad daylight, the columns on Corse’s studio are barely perceptible. But at dusk, when the light dims, it is a different story. The moment the wall is hit by any stray beam of light, the columns take on an otherworldly glow.

The effect is that of a portal opening into a parallel universe. …

“Since the 1960s, the Los Angeles artist has produced a body of work that toys with light and the emotional states it can induce — using reflective and refractive materials to create pieces that can shift and change in surprising ways as you move before them. …

“As an artist, she has remained somewhat under the radar — known to a circle of art world insiders; less so to the general public.

“That is changing. [Corse had a November show at] Kayne Griffin Corcoran in Los Angeles, with works from various stages in her career — including an immersive environment she first conceived in the 1960s titled ‘The Cold Room,’ a free-standing structure kept at near-freezing temperatures, in which floats a spectral light box. …

“In May, Dia:Beacon, the temple to minimalism in New York’s Hudson Valley, will present a long-term installation of four recently acquired works covering the span of her career. And the following month, the Whitney Museum of American Art will open the doors on Corse’s first solo museum survey.

“ ‘It will be focusing on her critical moments,’ says the exhibition’s curator, Kim Conaty, ‘starting with her early experiments with shaped canvases, when she was beginning to think about how to find light within painting. …

” ‘She has not only used materials in innovative ways to literally capture light,’ Conaty says, “but to also capture the metaphysical qualities of light. And she has done a lot of it through painting.’ …

“Conaty says the work requires some commitment from the viewer.

“ ‘You pass it, you do the double take, you come back, you move along the side of it,’ she says. ‘You can’t just walk through.’ ”

Conaty is a close friend of Suzanne, so if you are in New York City in June, please go see the Mary Corse show she’s curating.

More on Corse at the Los Angeles Times, here.

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