Art Appreciation: Winslow Homer’s The Guide

Art appreciation
The Guide by Winslow Homer, 1895

By about 1890, however, Homer left narrative behind to concentrate on the beauty, force, and drama of the sea itself. In their dynamic compositions and richly textured passages, his late seascapes capture the look and feel (and even suggest the sound) of masses of onrushing and receding water. For Homer’s contemporaries, these were the most extravagantly admired of all his works. They remain among his most famous today, appreciated for their virtuoso brushwork, depth of feeling, and hints of modernist abstraction.

H. Barbara Weinberg
Dept of American Paintings & Sculpture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I too yearn for the good old days in America when a man could take his canoe out into the water, find a nice hard rock and then smoke his pipe peacefully.

All while not wearing any pants. There is nothing as free, as liberating, as American as feeling the cool breeze coming off the river directly onto your exposed nether regions.

This is what we have lost in our technology sophisticated go, go, go world of tomorrow. Thankfully Homer was there to capture this simpler, freer time. When men were men and often spent a hot summer afternoon, alone and aloof from his fellow man contemplating the beauty of nature while fully exposed to it.

What a time to be alive!

(I’m not the only person who thinks this guy isn’t wearing any pants, right?)

My Five Favorite Books I’ve Never Read

Never Read Books
Credit: Hillsdale’s College

We’re all guilty of it. You walk into a bookstore just to browse and end up walking out with a small handful of purchases to add to the ever growing of backlog of books you own but haven’t read. Or maybe a book is so popular in your social group that despite never cracking the book open you can easily describe the narrative as well as expound on the symbolism found within it. Or perhaps it’s a part of the canon and while you’ve never actually sat down to read the book you’ve fallen in love with a play, movie, or TV series that was adapted from or inspired by the book. In our media rich culture there’s almost an endless way to absorb a novel without ever having to read it.

However you came to it you I’m betting you there are books that you’ve judged, sorted, and ranked without ever having read a chapter of. Below I share my five favorite books that I’ve never read.

Never Read Books
Credit: Unknown

Five Favorite Books I’ve Never Read

5. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – Remember this book? You were supposed to read it your freshman year in high school. Like me though, you probably instead got the cliff notes on the book and made do. Why? Because every time you tried to read the actual book you fell asleep two paragraphs in! That’s okay though, because everyone in the English speaking world knows what this book is about. The story of a disgusting peasant rag child who through pluck, and incredible luck becomes rich and then through more pluck and incredible bad luck becomes poor again. At some point there is love and betrayal.  And then more love. Like, I said you already knew what this book was. 

4. Emma by Jane Austen – The first of two Jane Austen books on this list. No one has ever read Emma outside of English majors and screenwriters. The book sits sadly on its shelf desperate for attention, meanwhile Clueless is in semi-constant rotation on Cable TV. We’ve all seen Clueless, don’t lie, and we all secretly wished to either be Cher or Josh, though I suppose a few us were hoping to be Christian…  So, you’ve kinda been fantasizing about a Georgian-Regency romance novel since 1995. Who knew?

3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – I know this book is really thick and I know we’re all supposed to have read it before. I also know that the English speaking world doesn’t have anyone in it that serves as an analog for the position Tolstoy holds in Russian literature and culture. War and Peace is a meditation on the Patriotic War of 1812 told through the lives of noble families in Russia. The cast is large and the relationships byzantine. Though the language is haunting and beautiful.

2. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – Post Modernism’s very own Ulysses, Wallace’s Infinite Jest is a 1000+ page, overwrought, disorganized, epic that at times seems to be describing the lives of drug addicts, tennis players, and terrorists in a dystopian NAFTA state. The book serves as a means in itself and the mere act of reading the book has been taken as some as a badge of honor. Understanding the book though? Not understanding it might have been Wallace’s point all along.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – It’s Bridget Jones’ Diary! That’s right! Another Georgian-Regency Rom-Com! This is the one where two people hate each other at first but then fall in love as their forced to interact repeatedly. So, basically it’s every rom-com you’ve ever seen. It’s also full of clever dialogue.

Karuna – A Neologism

karuna

Karuna

  1. the universal compassion of a Bodhisattva.
  2. any action that is taken to diminish the suffering of others.
  3. active sympathy or a willingness to bear the pain of others.

We ask a lot of the word “sorry.”  We use it when we are distressed, when we are feeling regret, to apologize, to ask someone to repeat something, to express sympathy, and to describe someone or something in a pitiful condition.  We’ve saddle the word with so much that at this point I think use of the word fails at the primary purpose of words – to convey information from one person to another. Instead of informing the word ‘sorry’ instead confuses and requires further explanation and explication.

We have other words we could use to convey some of the information that “sorry” is now used for. Today, I just want to focus on that fifth definition above, “to express sympathy.” Instead of using ‘sorry’ one could say, “I sympathise with you/you’re situation.” Or you could say, “I’m empathetic.” Or you could try and use the word ‘compassion’ not sound clunky in a sentence. All of these words though sound paternalist and patronizing. They all convey a strong felt emotion but they also come off as distant and intellectual. ‘Sorry’ conveys very little of the emotion of compassion but does feel close and personal when it conveys the correct message at all!

Enter ‘karuna.’ The word is found in both Sanskrit and Pali and is often simply translated into English as ‘compassion.’ This loses some of the subtlety found in those original languages though where the word is not just describing an emotional state but an emotional state that moves one to action on behalf of the one suffering. When a family member or friend shares a pain or hurt with us and we are moved to take that pain or hurt on ourselves and act to reduce that pain or hurt we are experiencing karuna. But, what we say is ‘sorry’ a word that conveys none of that depth of emotion and may leave the listener saying, “you didn’t do anything wrong.”

So, I suggest that we stop using ‘sorry’ to express sympathy and instead say ‘karuna.’ This both solves the confusion use of the word ‘sorry’ sometimes creates and better conveys our actual thoughts and feelings in a concise, clear manner.


  1. The Wikipedia article on ‘karuna’ is here.
  2. Brahmaviharas – the four Buddhist virtues, karuna is the second.

 

Art Appreciation: Gérôme’s The Tulip Folly

The Tulip Folly
Jean-Leon Gérôme’s The Tulip Folly
This is my tulip. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My tulip is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My tulip, without me, is useless. Without my tulip, I am useless. I must tend my tulip true. I must grow it straighter than my enemy who is trying to grow his. I must sell my bulbs before he sells his. I will…
My tulip and I know that what counts in war is not the blossoms we bloom, the color of our petals, nor the smell we make. We know that it is the bulbs that count. We will bulb…
My tulip is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its stamen and its pistil. I will keep my tulip watered and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will…
Before God, I swear this creed. My tulip and I are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until victory is Netherlands’ and there is no enemy, but peace!