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20 February 2015


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Richard, thank you for making me think once more. I have to admit I first thought you were getting a might tough on some folks but it did get me to thinking. If people are not prepared by life to study, to enjoy the expansion of their knowledge about a particular field, I do believe you are correct in saying they will not easily start doing so in retirement.

And this is truly a shame as there are so many resources available to us in our modern information age. Going to the Galleria Uffizi while on a trip through Italy? You can learn so much about it before ever stepping foot in the building. Who built it, why is it called the Uffizi? Why is it laid out the way it is? Who were the Medicis? Why are the early images in the first gallery so flat looking? Why where they all altar decorations? Who invented perspective in paintings and why? Why was Botticelli allowed to paint the otherworldly Birth of Venus in an age of strict religious observance. Is that really Lorenzo Medici at the bottom of one of Botticeli's paintings?

I believe you get ready for retirement during the living of your pre-retirement life. As the saying goes, get curious and stay that way. Now back to You Tube and more videos on how to surf fish here on the Florida first coast.

mistah charley, ph.d.

I agree with the author that attempts to acquaint oneself with portions of humankind's common heritage of scholarship and art can bear better fruit if guided. In this regard my spouse and self are satisfied customers of The Great Courses, several of which we have watched all the way through (I am especially fond of the astronomy offerings). These may also be available in one's local library.

William R. Cumming

Another wonderful post! Many thanks!

It does amaze me that so many that think themselves educated lack curiosity!

nick b

While it is probably true, I find it hard to believe that anyone who gave a proper listening to Gabriel Faure could dismiss him. Many people are unknowingly familiar with his work from the seventh movement of his Requiem, 'In paradisum' which has been appropriated many times for movies and television shows. Though it does amuse me when at times movements from Faure's Requiem are used as background music for situations wholly inappropriate for a requiem mass.

I smirked the other day when I heard Faure's Pavanne played on a 'light classical' loop of songs at a boutique my wife dragged me off to. I'm guessing no one else there knew what it was or who wrote it, but it's beauty was unmistakable and I'm sure it was thought pleasant to the ear by all there. Need it be anything else?

Music, like art, is highly subjective. What appeals to you may not to me. Still it's never too late to try and enjoy it. I'm not sure if art or music is ever created to be only 'understood', but rather to simply be enjoyed. If someone does not delve deep into the meaning or history of art or music, have they enjoyed it any less? Perhaps it has not 'spoken' to them in a way that would make them want to explore further.

I am familiar with Faure because I have had the pleasure of performing his work. I enjoy "Romantic-era" music, because it is very pleasing to my ear. It 'speaks' to me. As a result I have a fair knowledge of many of its composers and their works, and yes, this does enhance my appreciation of it while listening. Baroque style music, on the other hand, is not pleasing to my ear (just my own taste, it doesn't have to be yours). My light study of Baroque composers and their music has done nothing to increase my appreciation of it. I just don't care for how it sounds. YMMV.

I would encourage anyone at any age to leave the comfort of their home and visit a museum or attend a concert or hear some poetry read aloud. It doesn't need to be an educational moment either. It could be solely for the enjoyment of life. While you're out there, you just never know what may 'speak' to you.

Charles I

Thanks Richard, though that thanks comes from a shallow, now self conscious intellectual dilettante.

But you are harsh on consumers and contemplators of art, and those who stick to their patch, abide its shallow glories, through ignorance of beyond-the-horizon. Even those self-limited, deluded juniors who skipped the lecture on The Cave because it was just too damn nice a sunny day outside.

Most of my friends, now in mid 50's, my emotional and spiritual family - aside from you lot of Committee pixels - haven't the foggiest notion of The Cave or the Golden Ratio nor would they care if they did. We sure never talk like this, we go on about how good dinner was, how fat we are, how the kids doing, and what's on TV. I do endlessly harangue them about nature, beauty, gratitude and gardening, having given up on politics.

I live and meditate in a remnant of the great boreal forest and it seems clear to me that the foundations of art, beauty and their current hierarchical . . . perspectives are a direct function of Creation and our Natures, corrupt as we have now made them. One only has to learn of the Golden Ratio, to see it and the endlessly repeated spiral in situ, read of of Mandlebront and fractals in nature, to make the connection.

Frontal lobes seek novelty, variety. Gaudy willy-nilly sophistication of the elemental is the handmaid of that addiction imho, accounts for a lot of what you bemoan.

And let us not forget, there are workers, drones and Queens. There is being born in the West with access to a classical education, a a mobile economy and the luxury of contemplation, and there is being born under a twig in the Sudan.

There is knowing that your food and lodging are secured unto your death, and knowing that unless they be secured today, death looms tomorrow.

There is you and I.

Its a glorious thign warts and all.


I am tempted to agree with Mr. Sale; I too have seen aged tourists walking through the Sistine Chapel, talking to each other about their grandchildren. I suspect all of us have seen the equivalent many times.

However I believe a more charitable emotion might be pity - that they didn't receive a liberal education and are thus blind to many of the finer things in life, perhaps not "blind" but lacking the intellectual tools to begin to discern the complex webs of concepts and categories that make up the context of great art.

I believe that the beginning of all true wisdom is to understand what you do not know and also where you cannot go. If one possess this knowledge it is possible to begin a process of self education at any age although if it is totally unguided it is going to be harder.

I play my Faure requiem in memory of my partner and I hope one day someone will play Brahms German requiem, the First Two movements, in memory of me.


I'm stealing this line:
"We cannot appreciate grandeur if there is no place for grandeur in our nature."

"What is the kind of eye that can say, that, in nature, there is no color black?"
[BTW, it's why most house paints fade. They use black instead of Thalo (how they spell it now) Blue in the formula because it's cheaper. Always add a couple of drops of Thalo Blue--at a minimum in though color mixing is more complicated than this--to every can of paint ordered at Home depot, etc, including white, to extend the life of the color and introduce the full spectrum that will change with the day's light.]

Jesus, I love these thought pieces of yours.


Fauré. Hmmn. When I was five, I was in love with his Pavane Op.50. I made my mother play it so I could fly off the backs of the living room sofa chairs. I was the bird flitting around the room. Also loved Walter de la Mare poems, Thelonius Monk (my father's influence), and the ache of the overture to Tannhäuser. Still do.

nick b


What does one surf cast for in Florida? and on which coast? In my neck of the woods, er, shore, it's almost always for stripers. I've never fished from shore in Florida, always from a boat. But as the price of charters rises, I may be tempted to bring my surf casting rig on my next trip down south.

nick b

Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem: such a beautiful choice. No one ever asks for Bach's Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine, do they?


Oh look at how stupid and shallow those people are.

Not like me, at all.


That reminds me of my first moments in the Sistine Chapel, circa 1970. Large bored Italian policeman, pointing to the Take No Pictures sign, printed in Italian (Duh!), English, French Spanish, German. Suddenly a gaggle of Japanese tourists pour in, whip out their Nikons and blaze away. Goggle eyed, he keeps on pointing to the sign and saying, with increasingly higher volume, non, nein, no! Still trying to appreciate the majesty of the pre-cleaned art (two of the belt paintings had been cleaned and the results were amazing), we finally started laughing. We left just as he was lunging for one of the cameras.

nick b


"What is the kind of eye that can say, that, in nature, there is no color black?"

While it can blue, brown, green, red or even yellow, naturally occurring obsidian is most commonly black.


This is why I decry the lack of art and music classes for kids starting in Grade One. One of my master degrees is an MFA in Painting. I had extraordinarily strict training for my undergraduate work. (Not in the US.) In my first year, I had to mix 64,000 colors to match the huge Munsell Chart on the studio wall *exactly*. I had to learn the chemistry of every paint used by painters in the 20th,, 19th, 18th, 17th, and 16th centuries, and what made their pigments fugitive or not (why does El Greco's color last but not Picasso's?). I had to learn the history attendant every painting we learned in art history classes. This was in addition to everything else, like actually drawing. So when I hear critics slam art training as unnecessary or fruitless or new-agey or froufrou, I sneer inside. Because the education I got in that regard surpassed the luck of anything they received, and it was a far more interesting context.

When I was doing my masters, I took an art history elective with the acknowledged Bernini expert of the world. She was in her 60s, and had spent her summers for over three decades at the Vatican Library. It was my astonishingly good fortune to take her class after one particular summer when she came back with a find that shocked even her. Over the years she had befriended the Vatican Librarian, bringing him cookies and wine, and inviting him for home-cooked meals at her apartment in Rome. That particular summer he took her aside to show her drawings that no one had ever documented from a protected section of the Vatican Library that is off-limits to all but the Librarian and a few need-to-know officials. They were the roughs, the planning drawings, and the finals for the Bible produced in the 14th C. The Librarian allowed her to photograph them as long as she promised never to publish them, and only show her masters students (typically four to a class) discreetly. And she was never, never to allow her slides to be copied.

The **entire** iconography for the Bible, Jesus in the Manger, the Three Wise Men, the Rolling Back of the Stone, Jesus carrying his cross through the streets of Palestine, three men on a cross, all of it was manufactured by a 14th C scribe who made it all up, and they wrote the Bible subsequent to that to accommodate the pictures. My professor (can’t remember her name) was thunderstruck. Genuinely shocked. The Librarian confirmed to her that it was the truth; she suspected that he wanted someone to know the truth before he died. None of what we know as the Bible today existed before then (remember they didn’t print the first Bible until 100 years later). it had, but in an entirely different form. The Vatican at that time wanted to get a bead on painters (like the 11th and 12th C monks in Kosovo who had painted the first 3-D people, predating Giotto) walking away with the iconography; they wanted to control the imagery and the stories. And what we know as prayers to God written from the 3rd to the 12th C were love poems written from one ‘seminarian’ to another ‘seminarian’ down the hall. I saw slides of the drawers these protected drawings are kept in. I saw slides of the drawings. My professor, a European, was known as an assiduous scholar, not given to bombast or careless scholarship. I’ve never forgotten that day, nor the look on her face as she explained the slides, and read from her notes of the Head Librarian’s detailed explanations. We all sat there, slumped, with our jaws open. Everything I had been taught about the Bible wiped out in two hours.


So don't try for self-improvement or if you do, do it in accordance with Richard Sale's rules.
The snobbery and bitterness of the pseudo-intellectual.


Black is the 100% saturation of red, blue, and yellow.

Ishmael Zechariah

Richard Sale,
I am sure you have read Dorthy Sayers on this subject. Here is a snippet:
"Is not the great defect of our education today—a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned—that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.”
― Dorothy L. Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning

Ishmael Zechariah



Pompano, RedFish, Speckled Sea Trout, Sheepshead, Lady Fish. Caught Strippers up in Maine while growing up there. You fish with Mole Crabs, AKA: Sand Fleas, on a Pompano rig. You Tube, as I hinted at, has hours of great how to vids. I am fishing from beaches around Jacksonville and St. Augustine but you can fish from any beach.

The action really gets going in late April but you can catch fish year round.


Neat post! I was thunderstruck to see the Bernini altar up close. Even as a callow youth, I knew Iwas looking at something incredible.

My favorite class in college was music appreciation. It spawned a love of classical music that I carry to this day. It also helped that there was this extrodinarily good looking young woman in the class who took a liking to me. We both repaid the professor's ardor for her subject with an insight that explained to her why her classes consistently knew the first few stanzas of much of the music, but not the composer or the actual title. She was unaware that the old cartoons borrowed liberally from classical music. I told her that Schubert's Erl King was the background music for driving rain storms and thundershowers in one cartoon after another and that Bigs Bunny would not be an icon without Rigoletto as accompaniment.

The Twisted Genius

I know precious little of Ravel, Debussey or Faure. Hell, this is the first I've heard of Faure. I am not a Renaissance man, but I doubt anyone truly is. I cast a wary eye towards any self-proclaimed Renaissance man. I do, however, understand the joy of knowing something deeply and thoroughly after years of guided study and diligent practice. And having the humility to know there is always more to learn. Thanks for another thought provoking essay, Mr. Sale.

IMO one doesn't have to master all one tries. Just enjoy. I can sit on my front porch and listen to the songs of the mockingbird sitting on the very top of a blue spruce. He seems to be proud of his own mastery of his vast repertoire. (Yes, that is pure anthropomorphic projection on my part.) I like trying to recognize the source of each of his mimicking songs. Mastery, no, but it brings a smile to my face and often that's enough. In the words of Winnie the Pooh, "sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits."


"The snobbery and bitterness of the pseudo-intellectual?"

You're calling Richard Sale a pseudo-intellectual? And you think that what he wrote above is snobbery and bitterness? Since *ad hominems* are disallowed here, the most charitable thing I will say about your remarks is that they are the observations of a fool, and indicative of a lack of basic reading comprehension capabilities.

What Sale does have luckily, however, is a body of work that any reader can avail himself of to disprove you easily. Not to mention his awards.


"No one ever asks...."

Unless to memorialize one's delusions of grandeur.


"and they wrote the Bible subsequent to that to accommodate the pictures."

Sounds like production plans for a new blockbuster edition - think Book of Kells. At most it could only have been one of the many (and still ongoing) attempts to produce a standarized text. People have been commenting, glossing, revising, and rearranging Jerome (and subsequent versions) for 1500 years. There were a gazillion pre-1300 manuscript copies of the vulgate lying around in monasteries and libraries. Any drastic changes would have created controversy.


specially since in matters of The Word of God the threshold for controversy is exceedingly low.


Exactly! Depth, like gravitas, is overrated - and not without hazard: beware the slippery slope to tunnel vision.

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