“The Great Stone of Sardis”

Without photographs of every moment being recorded around us, illustrations drawn and reproduced in the early era of off-set printing gave an open window for artists to show us glimpses of these times, even if through the fiction of illustrating stories. Remember, no matter how futuristic and not-of-its-time the original Star Trek seems to be, it still conveys plenty of information about the real-life mindsets of the 1960s… when you are in it, you cannot see it.

The Great Stone of Sardis” (1897)
by Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell (1862 – 1924)
Illustration from Harper’s 1897, 95, 913; ch XXV
8 x 8 in., ink and wash on paper
Coppola Collection

Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell was an American artist and writer.

A native of McDonough County, Illinois, Newell built a reputation in the 1880s and 1890s for his humorous drawings and poems, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar, Scribner’s Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Judge, and other publications. He later wrote and illustrated several popular children’s books.

In the Parlor” (tent) 1895
by Lucius Wolcott Hitchcock (1868-1942)
12 x 14 in. ink and wash on paper
Coppola Collection

I have not been able to track down where this appeared (yet), but it is too good not to share. I’ve had it for a while. Hitchcock is something of a big deal in the world of magazine illustrators.

Lucius Walcott Hitchcock is known for illustrator, genre, figure and marine painting. He painted in the academic tradition of the Jean Paul Laurens and Colarossi School of Paris, where he studied with Jules Lefebvre and Benjamin Constant. His pictures were extremely well painted, and he was especially effective in presenting the social elite. His work appeared in most of the major magazines, including Scribners, Harpers Monthly, and Woman’s Home Companion.

Hitchcock was born in West Williamsfield, Ohio, and became one of the early members of the Society of Illustrators; he also joined the Salmagundi Club and the New Rochelle Art Association.

His awards were many, including a Silver Medal for Illustration in Paris in 1900.

Outside of a small circle of friends

Opening up my curmudgeonly bag for a moment (does not seem like this image would imply that, would it?).

A surprising number of years ago, during the late 1990s, a silicon-valley tech and educational tech innovator and developer, whom I know, was pushing me to try out something that, in retrospect, was an early version of a computer-based social medium. I would, she assured me, love to create a small circle of friends to post notes and pictures and chat one another up, telling some immediate story going on in my life at that moment. Try it… you’ll like it.

At the time, it struck me as an utter waste of time. And given my singular disinterest, to this day, in the comings and goings of funny cats or what anyone is eating for dinner – or what our current President decides to fart at 3AM that gets interpreted by the press and headlined in time for counting clicks at 8AM – I still do. I’m in the diminishing demographic that contemplates before running my mouth or posting my — well, not posting a bunch of stuff that I would just as soon keep to myself.

I am swimming against the tide. Any urban or slightly-urban setting you go to on this planet is overwhelmed by humans with their noses glued to their mobile devices. My driving has gotten more defensive than ever, because the roads are filled with these people. The self-driving cars cannot come fast enough to suit me.

The comprehensive platform called “WeChat” has functionally taken over China in the last couple of years. I absolutely think they have gotten this right (I can admire the achievement of a goal without advocating for it)  for the same reason the smart phone was the revolution it was, namely, it is truly integrating all the current things people think they want… and it is giving them things they did not know they wanted, but it turns out they did… and it has made it easy to do.

Beyond the social media stuff (groups of friends, chats, picture posts, micro-blogs), people can exchange huge amounts of information through QR codes by passing their phones over another person’s screen, and WeChat has integrated commerce – paying for lots of stuff out in the world, nailing discounts of all kinds that show up all ready to use, grabbing taxis, and so on. I am assured (and by the looks of it I have no reason to doubt it) that WeChat represents a user-friendly one-stop-shop for all this stuff that, in the interesting words of a colleague in Hefei, looks like it was designed by Apple.

What I have seen on this trip that I did not see 3 months ago – faculty members who are as on-board with WeChat as 10-year-olds were with Pokémon Go not that long ago.  Here are two of my colleagues (one from the US, one from China) during two (of many) “hold on a second” time-outs.

Interestingly enough, there is a belief that “WeChat makes things so efficient,” but what I observed was simple and frequent distraction from whatever it was we were supposed to be doing at the time. WeChat was not more efficient for the task at hand, was it? At every meal I was at, and during every meeting I attended, all of which had agendas, the people were hopping up and down and running out of the room to attend to whatever beep, blurp, or ping was ringing in at that moment.

The title for this post is borrowed from a song title by one the 1960s protest singers, Phil Ochs, which appeared as a track on his 1967 album Pleasures of the Harbor.

Ochs’s composition is incredibly ironic. Played to the joyful honky-tonk upbeat tempo of a piano, a banjo, and tinny percussion, with a few added cowbells thrown in for fun, Ochs tells the story of the murder of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death just outside of her Queens home in 1964, while, according to reports, the neighbors ignored her pleas for assistance.

Forgive the comparison, but I find a comparable irony in the effects of social media – people spend more time navel-gazing on the me-centered micro-verse and increasingly miss the big picture.

Outside a small circle of friends
by Phil Ochs
Pleasures of the Harbor  (1967)

Wikipedia: After years of prolific writing in the 1960s, Ochs’s mental stability declined in the 1970s. He eventually succumbed to a number of problems including bipolar disorder and alcoholism, and committed suicide in 1976.

I was introduced to Ochs in 1978 by a friend who would end up succumbing to AIDS about 15 years later.

Look outside the window, there’s a woman being grabbed
They’ve dragged her to the bushes and now she’s being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I’d hate to blow the game

And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.

Everything You Think You Know About China…

ZC and me (February 2002 and February 2017)

“Everything that you think you know about China is wrong.”

In late February 2001, I wrote this statement as the opening line of a report for my colleagues when I returned from my first trip to Beijing.

Sixteen years later, the statement still holds!

That’s because China is a moving target. And therein lie both the intrigue and the charm of the place.

In 2001, I was searching for a way to say that many of my own stereotypes about China needed to be thrown into the heap after that first trip.

The caricature of science in China is what we disparagingly call doing “turn the crank” experiments: no invention, perhaps not even a strong sense for the fundamental theory behind the buttons being pushed on the equipment, and the generation of experimental data without a strong critical sense to sort out the wheat from the chaff. In fact, this was neither universal nor the norm in 2001, and by any number of US-generated reports, we are on a fast-track trajectory towards second place.

Placed in the context of history, the progress made by Chinese science – which, effectively, did not exist from 1949-1980, a time during which Western science grew enormously – was spectacular. In twenty years’ time, 1980-2000, much of science had rebooted to levels that were in places only about a decade behind us, and in other places right up to date. In the past fifteen years, this gap has narrowed.

The rate of progress is what people miss when they have not been there, because perhaps you are calibrated to your own neighborhood. I’ll pick my most favorite concrete example: mass transportation. In 2001, the era of the massive movement of people on bicycles through the middle of Beijing was just about over. By 2003, you just did not see this any more. In 2001, there were about 25 miles of subway in Beijing – the circular Line 2, outlining the place where the old city wall stood, and the linear Line 1, cutting line 2 about 2/3 of the way down, just south of Tiananmen Square, and extended just a few stops on each side of Line 2. You paid 2 RMB (then about 25 cents) at a window for a paper ticket, which you walked over to a person a few feet away to tear and let you pass. Other cities were deemed “too small” to support subways. Fifteen years later, there are 300 miles of subway and light rail around Beijing, and the fast-train connections between cities that cut down 12-16 hour travel to 3-4 hours.

Nothing is perfect, a lot depends on your source of news and your perspective, which the 2016 US elections have certainly proved.

The rate of change in China, given that most modernization did not start until 1977, is what you need to look at. Stock values… the temperature… everything is defined by small ups and downs. But back up for a decade or two of perspective and you can see where the real trends are located.

And when you combine rate with scale, you get momentum. It is not just a few people moving forward. As one of our Beijing hosts said in 2001 when I was wrapping my head around what 1.3 billion people meant: “Remember, this is China, if you are one in million…” he paused… “there are 1300 of you.”

With Professor Wang, Dean of Chemistry, Nankai University
February 24, 2017

“#2 Adam”

Adam001 Adam002 Adam003
#1 Adam” (ca. 2000-02)
by T. L. Lange (1965-2002)
48 x 48 in., mixed media on canvas
Delta Airlines SkyClub (North DTW Gate 64)

This painting is in one of the Delta SkyClub locations at Detroit Metro. And I really like it, and have admired it for years… and you know what THAT means.

I would go directly to the artist, but Lange committed suicide on January 23rd, 2002 at age 36.

So about a year ago I asked them if I could buy it. They had information about the artist in a folder: “#1 Adam” by T. L. Lange (you can look him up).

I had some fun email exchanges with Delta Airlines and with the Detroit Transportation Authority.

I want this painting.

So, this person, Tessa, was having a Kickstarter and I liked a couple of her pieces.

Her painting of the little hands, and the bird with a sky in it. I liked… so I picked up the commissioned 9×12 and figured she might take on “#2 Adam” for me.

I offered her a few different ideas, but said that I though she might be able to handle an homage interpretation of Lange’s “#1 Adam” for me… and she agreed.

Here are the first and second progress reports. Stay tuned for more.

AdamTessa001 AdamTessa002


“Tank Man”

Painting2Tank Man” (2015)
by Kyle MacDonald (1979-)
54 x 42 in., acrylic on canvas
Coppola Collection

Did you recognize the image? The classic iconic 20th Century photograph of the “Tank Man” turned into large wall art, is a “Spongecore” style take on an image seen by hundreds of millions of people around the planet – an enduring act of one man’s stance against the state during the events in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

Kyle MacDonald is the “One Red Paperclip” guy who came into internet fame with a 15-stage trade-up that began with a red paper clip and ended with a house in Canada.


“Richard Nixon Portrait” (ca. 1979)

Chadwick NixonRichard Nixon Portrait” (ca. 1978-79)
by Paul Chadwick (1957-)
20 x 20 in., acrylic on board
Coppola Collection

This is an astoundingly unique piece by “Concrete” artist Paul Chadwick, more than a decade before his signature work. Chadwick and I were both born in 1957.

Chadwick reports: “The Nixon portrait was done in art school, probably 1978 or 79. I graduated in 1979. It was painted for Don Weller and Mike Gaine’s team-taught class, Advanced Illustration. Weller had a jaunty Peter-Max sort of illustration style, linear with colored inks. Gaines was an art director at an ad agency. They were quite the comedy team. The idea was that it illustrated a psychological profile of Nixon. Hence the faux-mathematical lines imposed. It’s acrylic — I seldom used slow-drying oils at Art Center College of Design. I had one eye on doing movie posters when I was in art school — and got to do a handful once I was out, although I never gave Drew Struzan anything to worry about. This portrait was probably done with that in mind, showing I could do a likeness.”

The Knock on my Door

Illustration from Puck(?) ca. 1880-90
by Frederick Opper (1857-1937)
12 x 18 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

I got this inquiry from an academic program director earlier today:

We are concerned because [a student] received a C- in your course without a single progress report getting filed, alerting us to [the student’s] apparent difficulties. We have no concerns about the legitimacy of the final grade, but we are trying to understand what happened, particularly the lack of any red flags to [the student’s] academic advisors to intervene. 

I would be grateful for a prompt response to this query.

I do love this question. Here was my reply:

Honestly, “C-” is a passing grade, and [the student] had a C/C- borderline performance throughout the term, and went down a bit on the final, which glued in the final grade. But it could have gone either way.

I would not start even think about making reports unless things are falling under the “D/E” (failing) threshold.

There are no other graded components other than the exams, so the TAs have no access to individual student performances and would not have been in a position to issue any report, regardless.

Much more to the point, though:

I’d be quite interested in following up, sometime, on the benefits and detriments of proactive interventions on the educational experience of our students. The late Professor Emerita Seyhan Ege and I had a delightful and ultimately unresolvable disagreement about this choice, and I miss the lively debate about it since her passing.

We both agreed that the conversation with the faculty member was the most important thing for the student who is in academic trouble… no debate on that. We disagreed on the path.

Seyhan contended that the conversation was the most important thing, so anything to get it to happen was necessary. She wrote personal notes on the exam papers of the students below a certain value, urging them to her office. I have never done this. And I argued that it was detrimental.

I contend that the decision to acknowledge the need for the conversation is the most important thing, so as long as my openness to make appointments and talk is well known, then admitting to one’s self that the appointment is necessary is a significantly more long-lasting educational lesson, in the long run, than the conversation itself.

Seyhan and I agreed that there were students we were each throwing under the bus because of our position. Some of her students lost the rare opportunity to learn how to self-regulate, while at the same time others benefitted from the interaction in her office. I sometimes see students who finally show up – yes, in desperation – and then who end up kicking themselves for not having come in earlier (remember the last line spoken by the Deanna Troi character in the ST:TNG finale, ca. 1994… “You were always welcome.”).

Anyhow, it’s a great topic.

I know this program director well, so I was not at all worried about opening this debate. The response:

You raise really important questions, which is partly why I am pursuing this. I’m interested in figuring out how effective long-term support (as opposed to just ensuring students get good grades) might get provided. My query was prompted by the fact that in this particular student’s case, not a single red flag was raised, in courses across the curriculum, although in retrospect it’s clear they should have been. We might reasonably disagree on where to draw the line of concern; maybe it’s my weak-kneed social-science/humanities attitude that anything below B- is a concern, but that’s a minor quibble.

The bigger issue is exactly about proactive interventions. So let’s revisit that question over coffee sometime.

In reply, I could not help but make sure the point was being made:

I am 100% sympathetic to the dilemma, particularly the unasked question.

Why wasn’t the student at my door… at your door… at the advisors’ doors… if the situation was so uniformly dire? My own concern is that the student’s instructors were the second-most important people who were not raising red flags. [The student], to me, is the first most responsible and has not yet learned that.

“But officer, I speed all the time and no one has ever pulled me over, so I thought it was OK.”

Or, is this really about someone who does not know how to swim – and does not know that they do not know, because they see everyone around them swimming just fine – and jumps into the deep end, figuring that surely, if I start to drown, someone will notice and rescue me.

“Still Life with ​South Korean Bowl with Asian Pears”

BowlPearsStill Life with South Korean Bowl with Asian Pears” (2017)
by Abbey Ryan (1979-)
9 × 12 in., oil on linen on a thick (3/8 in.) panel
Coppola Collection

Now this painting is an example of why I collect and support Ms. Ryan. I do not think there is a painter out there who can capture a classic mood, space, texture, and tone of worldly objects the way that she can.

I sometimes think what she is able to do is to hit the “uncanny valley” as it applies to painting. She is clearly not in the realm of the photo-realist painters whose work can look like pictures of plastic objects; but there is not a lick of impressionism here, either. You know it is a painting, but it includes a possibly discomforting reality at the same time.

That notion of being simultaneously opposite opens an interesting window onto all art that is famously associated with Magritte’s sense of surrealism, and I have alluded to this previously with respect to the title I contributed to this piece by Abbey. A reminder:


In Magritte’s “Treachery of Images,” with the inscription “this is not a pipe” written onto the canvas, it does not negate the pipe completely, despite one of Magritte’s favorite responses to people’s upset: “you think that’s a pipe, well you’re going to have a hard time filling it with tobacco.” (something like that)

More to the point, perhaps, and I have not seen this written anywhere but it might not be a new thought at all: the surrealists were growing up in the same era as the development of quantum mechanics, and in every respect seeing the results from the double-slit experiment on the interference patterns of light and declaring “this is not a particle” created the exam same surrealistic tension in the science community that “this is not a pipe” created in the art community.

Moreover! Schrödinger’s declaration that the cat is both alive and dead until you act upon it may have some bearing on Magritte. Magritte’s pipe both is and is not a pipe, simultaneously, until you try to act upon it to differentiate its reality from its representationalism. This issue is getting more relevant today as representational reality becomes more ‘virtual’ by adding 3D and tactile components. You might be able to stuff virtual tobacco into Magritte’s virtual pipe while wearing your headset, and one day you might even get some satisfaction from puffing on it, but you’ll not develop the throat cancer.

If the key to understanding Magritte’s surrealism is that his pipe both is and is not a pipe simultaneously, precisely because the image itself is anchored in our sense of realism, then don’t Abbey’s pears accomplish this to a perhaps even greater degree?

Perhaps it is the surrealism in these paintings that I am attracted to. You can dismiss the impressionistic easily enough as a cartoon, and the photo-realistic painters are (I would argue) as easily dismissed because you can readily dissociate them from reality. Hence my comment about these paintings sitting in the uncanny valley – both dead and alive, like Schrödinger’s cat, but outside of the box.

Well, there’s a thought for you “quantum surrealism” … hang on, while I plug this into Google.

Heh. There are no new ideas, but this one is pretty fresh. Using the quotation search… 994 results.

And the unquoted search on ‘surrealism and quantum mechanics’ pops out 525,000 results, starting with this one (and a copy of the Ambrosio review, quoted below, is filed here, for when the link becomes obsolete):

Surrealism, Art and Modern Science. Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Epistemology. By Gavin Parkinson, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008, 294 pp., 60 b&w, 20 colour illus. ISBN 9780300098877

(available from Amazon.com)

The years between the two wars, which saw the flourishing of the surrealist movement, were a time of momentous discoveries in the physical sciences. This crucial junction, though not entirely ignored by art historians, has remained until recently only marginally explored. Historians of surrealism have dissected the movement’s political engagement and its reception with reference to psychoanalysis, Marxism and Hegelianism, ethnology and avant- garde art and literature. Yet the birth of surrealism also coincided with two memorable landmarks in the history of science: the institutionalization and popular acceptance of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and the emergence of quantum physics. Gavin Parkinson’s Surrealism, Art and Modern Science tells a sweeping story about the surrealists’ reception of the discoveries that changed the field of physics at the beginning of the twentieth century. Following a pioneering tradition inaugurated in the early 1980s by Linda Henderson’s The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (1984), Parkinson’s research across the boundaries of art and science stands as a truly interdisciplinary endeavour.

So, from the science side, there is an emergent sense of the surrealistic view of quantum mechanics.

What about from the art side? Is there a quantum mechanical view of surrealism (it’s only the goddam point of the dualism, anyhow!).

Abbey Ryan: leader in Quantum Surrealism.

You heard it here, first.

By the way, wa-aaay back in 1995, there was a conference in Brussels that I contributed to (and sent an undergraduate to deliver a paper at) called “Einstein meets Magritte” (our submission to the book is here, minus Fig. 1):

Coppola, B. P.; Daniels, D. S. “Mea Culpa: Formal Education and the Dis-Integrated World” In, D. Aerts, S. Gutwith, S. Smets, and L. Van Langenhove (Eds.) Science, Technology, and Social Change Brussels: Kluwer, 1999, 107-128.

From an international meeting called “Einstein meets Magritte.” We pride ourselves in interdisciplinary education and research, and extoll our abilities to integrate. Interestingly enough, the world always has been, and always will be, integrated. We pulled it apart… so what we are really doing is just trying to put it back together.

This book is also available (1200 people paid $159.00 for an e-book from a conference in the 1990s… geez, give it up already and just give it away):

Einstein Meets Magritte: An Interdisciplinary Reflection
The White Book of “Einstein Meets Magritte”
Aerts, Diederik, Broekaert, Jan, Mathijs, Ernest (Eds.)

1999: Springer Netherlands (274 pp)
c. Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht

eBook ISBN: 978-94-011-4704-0
DOI: 10.1007/978-94-011-4704-0
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-7923-5757-5
Softcover ISBN: 978-94-010-5979-4

“Blood Moon”

bkacicek.blood_moonBlood Moon” (2016)
by Barbara Kacicek (1957-)
10 × 10 in., oil on linen
Coppola Collection

Part of an ongoing series from Barbara, commemorating the differently labeled moons that exist.

The phenomenon has been known for a long while: the moon in total eclipse appears reddish in color as it is illuminated by sunlight filtered and refracted by the earth’s atmosphere.

The popularization of the “blood moon” label is quite recent, historically. The blood moon prophecy is a series of apocalyptic beliefs promoted by Christian ministers John Hagee and Mark Biltz, which state that a tetrad (a series of four consecutive lunar eclipses—coinciding on Jewish holidays—with six full moons in between, and no intervening partial lunar eclipses) which began with the April 2014 lunar eclipse is a sign of the end times as described in the Bible in the Book of Joel, Acts 2:20 and Revelation 6:12. The tetrad ended with the lunar eclipse on September 27-28, 2015.

As far as I can tell, we’re still here.

On the up side, Barbara’s painting is phenomenal.