An Erotics of Art: Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation”

After we had condensed a fat classic into a single line in high school–my introduction to literary criticism–I grumbled to myself, “If that was all the writer wanted to say, then why did I have to read 472 pages and several articles? Why didn’t he just say it directly? Why bother hiding his point behind obscure symbols, as if it were some complex word puzzle?”

However, as Susan Sontag suggests in her essay “Against Interpretation,” art is more than its meaning. It is an experience, a sensual, emotional, and spiritual interaction. The urge to interpret, she argues, is “the revenge of the intellect upon art,” the revenge of the mind against something it cannot easily contain.

Instead, she says, we need an “erotics of art.”

“Bliss Dance,” giant sculpture by Macrco Cochane that once graced Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay (photo by Ronosaurus Rex)

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Making Argumentation Fun and Memorable: An Introduction for Composition Classes

Argumentation is the core of most college essays, yet many student-writers are unsure of what an argument is and how to make one persuasive.

Here, I offer a one-day introduction that lays the foundations to argumentation in a fun and memorable manner.

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Urban Abstracts: The Making of an Art Show of Ronald B. Richardson, aka Ronosaurus Rex, at Madrone Art Bar

Thanks to everyone who came to and supported my photography show at Madrone Art Bar from June 18-September 2nd, 2018 and for those who entered my contest. Check out their amazing creativity and insight by looking at the tag #ronosaurusrex on Instagram.

Looking for beauty in unlikely places, Ron Richardson photographs colorful urban details so small, so unobtrusive, so unimportant that most walk by without noticing. 

In these nooks and crannies of our civilization, the natural meets the artificial: plants grow in the cracks, litter mixes with fallen flowers, and metal rusts into glory.

Ron Richardson has been honing his unique abstract photography style for over two decades. With a body of work in the many thousands of photos he has taken to the streets to build a new collection specifically for Madrone.

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Abstract Art Reinvented in Abstract Photography

Abstract art is the wing of a reckless angel touching your unconscious soul.
Max Zsol

On a field trip with my high school English class to the art museum at the University of Utah, most of my classmates, I noticed, were actively looking while they were in the museum, but once they stepped outside, they went blind to the world around them. “Art is only worthwhile,” I thought, “if it teaches us to see the world more richly.” Since that realization, abstract art has helped me see the colors, shapes, and textures around me for their own sake, a way of seeing I have tried to capture in photography. In this post, I give credit to some abstract artists who have influenced my photographs, as I previously gave credit to modern, figurative artists who have influenced my work.

John Whistler

Although the painting Nocturne in Black and Gold–The Falling Rocket (1875) by John Whistler is representational–it shows a falling rocket –it is probably the earliest paintings to approach abstraction, as the image is less important than its coloring, shading, and mood. The work is exemplary of the Art for Art’s Sake movement (1850-1872). Whistler’s painting did not directly influence my photography (since I did not know about it until I began researching for this post); however, its dark background stained with patches of light influenced other artists who inspired me to take my photo Light on a Black Door (2017).

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Modern, Figurative Art Reflected in Ronosaurus Rex’s Photographs

The camera freed the artist from the responsibility of representing the world realistically in art. If someone wanted an accurate portrait or landscape, he would hire a photographer, rather than a painter. Consequently, since the 1860s, painters have tried to represent things that the camera cannot easily capture, such as an impression, an experience, a feeling, movement, light, even the passage of time.

instagram-anglesIronically, some photographers, like me, an Instagramaddict, trespass upon the painterly realm in an attempt to capture these elements that seem exclusive to painting. In this post, I will pay homage to some of the modern, figurative artists from the romanticists onward who have influenced my photos, and in a separate post I will honor the abstract artists who have influenced my photography.

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Don’t Correct Composition Papers; Don’t Grade Them. Read Them!

Correcting Papers

When composition teachers complain they have a pile of papers to correct, they are invoking out-dated assumptions about composition, namely that there is something wrong with our students’ papers, and our primary job is to seek out those errors and eliminate them. Such teachers count fragments like a judge bound by the Three-Strikes-and-You’re-Out Law, condemning a paper that has too many fragments.

Even if the argument is persuasive and the evidence convincing.

Image from Red Ink in the Classroom?

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21 Most Unusual, Most Beautiful, and Most Romantic Places to Explore Along the San Francisco Bay Trail and Beyond

I saw many beautiful and fascinating places on my 350-500 mile walk around the San Francisco Bay Trail (and beyond) at every accessible point, including islands, bridges, and docks. Here are my twenty-one favorites in a long overdue post. (All photos are my own unless otherwise noted. Check out more pics at #ronosaurusbaywalk on Instagram. I am now walking around the bay again on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, so check out #ronosaurusbayridge too. See also my guest post on Save the Bay Blog.)

#21 Garbage Mountain

“You bring me to the most romantic places,” Omar Rodriguez-Rodriguez told me when I took him to Garbage Mountain to walk the 2.8 mile Wildcat Marsh and the charmingly named Landfill Loop Trail. More of a squarish hill (158 feet high), the mountain was opened as a dump in 1953 and sealed in 2010. Framed on either side by Wildcat and San Pablo creeks, cutting through vegetation-rich tidal marshes popular with water birds and mammals, the dump is returning to nature. The brochure from Republic Services, which now owns the site, explains that poisonous water leached from the site is treated and used in the park, the nearby Chevron refinery, and the Richmond Country Club. Siphoned methane is converted to electricity and sold to PG&E, enough for 1,500 homes. In short, Garbage Mountain is transforming human waste into a natural preserve and a source of water and energy. A great place for a date (if a little stinky on the downwind side).

Garbage Mountain, as seen from Wildcat Marsh

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Making Vague Words Specific: Activity for Composition Classes

Examine the two sentences below and decide which version you like better. Why?

It is a way of managing them and getting them down on paper. There is nothing unusual about this, and you can learn to do it well and feel good about it if you try.

Writing is a way of capturing elusive, half-formed ideas, dragging them into the light of day, and herding them onto paper. This process is not alchemy; it is a craft, which can be learned like any other, such as making a bookshelf. If you invest the time and effort, you can learn to write powerfully.

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The Most Worstest Introduction: A Group Activity for First Year Composition

Instructions: Tell students that you are going to do a fun writing activity that reviews the typical steps of an introduction and gets students to consider what separates strong from poor academic writing.

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Parallelism Matching Exercise

Purpose: To introduce the concept of parallelism.

Preparation: Print out two sets of the sentences below, cutting one up and leaving the other whole as a guide to the sets of sentences.

Activity: Introduce the concept of parallelism by writing on the board: “I like karate, to play tennis, going skiing.” Ask students to discuss what is wrong with the sentence and to find three ways to fix it. (I like karate, tennis, and skiing. / I like to do karate, play tennis, and go skiing. / I like doing karate, playing tennis, and going skiing.) Elicit the concept of parallelism.

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