A Sample of Kurt's Class Preparation

Kurt at the chalkboard at Sacramento State

Kurt at the chalkboard at Sacramento State

This file contains electronic notes in preparation, background, associations, documentation and references, outline, topoi, etc. for courses to be taught at CSUS in Fall, 1986.

Art 113-D, Creative Art and Mythology

When this series of courses, called Art and Mythology, was instituted as a regular part of the curriculum as offered by the Art History Area, the published model was a series of books written by Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, which was issued by both Viking Compass and Penguin Books in a softcover edition composed of four volumes. Each of these volumes was subtitled:

Volume I Primitive Mythology
II Oriental Mythology
III Occidental Mythology
IV Creative Mythology

The idea was to offer four different semesters that took as their starting point--or beginning frame of reference: at least an x/y plan as presented by Campbell's or any other one's printed word, set into the proverbial marked state, as we say.

Now we must update the Hypothetical ground: that which we would like to be able to take as given. More is given now. There are images that have already begun to impinge dramatically on the sensitive brain-pans of the children of the present generation, long before they have even come close to learning their abc's on Sesame Street--even longer before they have entered the formal educational apparatus with which society confronts them, whether exoteric (State Schools) or esoteric (Arica or parochial schools--not necessarily for everybody: but potentially open equally to the children of any??)

We are interested in bodies of information useful for the present generation, preferably worked examples, or perfected teachings: that is they have been worked through, and it has been shown that they are capable of being approached, studied, grasped and mastered by ordinary human beings. Let us consider just what we must take as given. The ability to count, and the ability to communicate in both the written and in the spoken forms of standard American English. Also, we might assume certain other domains within which valuable and culturally loaded distinctions are drawn in practice, in reality, and thus must be taught, namely in distinguishing musical notes by (different) conventions; by colors, and their names in different languages, and different psychic/associational values; also tastes in food, and on to the other complex culture manifestations such as the sense of humor, the -Fix of a people or nation, the politics and economics eventually, but their art and style long before.

June 24, 1986
Given: the Nagra tape recorder.
Proiects: Record tales and lore from members of the older generation, the grandparents of the children of the present generation.

What to do with the old folks is a major cultural and social issue in Japan, where this element in the population is increasing. Complications are in the oriental respect for age, traditional values are being lost by the fathers and mothers who are so Westernized, tuned to "progress, profit, power." On the other hand, Living National Treasures provides a model: The art of top spinning on TV.

June 26, 1986
Last night marked the 36th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War in 1950. At noon today, on TV news, appeared a group of about 100 protesters on the lawn of the capitol in Sacramento, in order to present their objections to Governor Dukmejian concerning his policy of sending members of the California National Guard to Honduras as a part of the overt and covert participation of the Administration in efforts aimed at the overthrowing the recognized government of Nicaragua, likely to be regarded as a serious contravention of international law as well as of logic. The protestors don't want another Vietnam, and so said their posters and such a song waved in the unfurling of banner voices. Lest one understand only that they might not want to have another Vietnam because we lost that one, because things didn't come out the way we thought they should (for Capitalism and Communism, so to speak)--but what about another Korean War, always officially called then a "police action," ostensibly on behalf of The United Nations. Am I entitled to wear a United Nations service ribbon? What are the terms defining location or theater, time and length of service that are used to determine eligibility for the military decoration? The Korean War today remains...what? A (Mexican?) Standoff? South Korea thrives, but as an acknowledged less-than-­perfect realization of the democratic principles so touted in theory by a popular spokesmen for trade, commerce and government of the West.

G. Spencer Brown who also has written and published under the name of my friend James Keys, very early on (when) in the meticulously crafted text of his attentively printed book Laws of Form,published originally in England but first in America by the Julian Press, while headed by Artie Ceppos, in 1972 (where) has caused to be set into the marked state a set of careful instructions and mechanical indications given by the editor to the printer, who then ACTS (the karmic moment) under the auspices of the publisher in the making of the book--which process, of course, includes the gathering and binding of leaves, while respectfully remembering the image of the Cumaean Sibyl on or above (?) the lunette in the Sistine Ceiling of Michelangelo Buonarotti who did it in buon fresco like only so few of his Renaissance Italian fresco painters (among them whom would you guess?)

Check the following for a surprise:   (Si)      (No)
     Piero della Francesca

which Sibyl, in her cave chamber guarded by the magical sign of the Labyrinth, composed nine sacred books of prophesy and offered them for sale to the representatives of the Roman world of trade, commerce and government who were concerned about some samsaric suffering going on at the time among her population of city dwellers (about the worse threat the nobles of Rome, in their considerable practical wisdom, were prepared to imagine) and who bought three volumes, but who, being discouraged by what they read of yet more sufferings contained in the prophesies of those three volumes were unconstrained to raise the sums requested by the Sibyl for obtaining the remaining six volumes, the leaves of which were then permitted to blow in the wind, just as in the lyrics of the well-known song intoned electronically so often into the ears of the generation of the parents of the present generation of children, through the esthetic realizations of Little Stevie Wonder and Robby the Zee, a.k.a. Finn, the White One, in the record of whose Wake therein on may read of the flapping pages of Mammon Lujus, or whazzit's latter-day practice of the art of letters which the Lady is said by same as, Carmenta, to have invented, in J. C. and The Robe's author Robinson's Skeleton Key. And to be sure the maker perfect scrutinizes or performs the subsequent stitching and binding, during which procedure, as a rule, note is taken of the count of pages that result in each gathering and as a consequence of what folding pattern has been adopted with respect to printing multiple images on the topologically simple x/y plane surface of a sheet of paper--just as Brown the author seems to have done with awareness and consistency carried into the domain of exceptional rigor up to but not (rather surprisingly I rather thought!) quite at the level of attention to detail of form as practiced in typography, detail THAT IS TO EMPHASIZE of substantial importance to the very notion of the "Renaissance" in the history of modern Western European culture.

This, then, transports us from 113D to the Renaissance course: Elizabeth X. Eisenstein challenges Professor Erwin Panofsky's notion of the Renaissance as being too limited in scope and most appropriate for describing the objects of interest and processes associated with art history. She suggests that a more truly significant historical phenomenon would be the introduction and rapid spread of print technology around 1450. Her arguments are very persuasive.

In one of the standard texts used by art historians teaching at the high school and college levels, is the late Horst W. Janson's warhorse A History of Art. Right up until the recently released edition, bearing a gold dust jacket (!) the appearance of printing in the West is taken as given, and is not further remarked upon as being something of note in our understanding of history.

Suppose we do not take this as given. Any printed text may then of course thereby seem a self-referential anomaly, unless we can conjecture alternate possible interpretations--in any case we shall soon have to determine what the historical truth of the matter seems to be, based upon the work, as published (according to the rules and practices of the EXOTERIC tradition, though not by any Laws, naturally, since there are principles that are manifested by the esoteric tradition, as simply, for example, unpublished, private communication that some of us might have from certain famous people about critical matters, such as for instance I have from Marcel Duchamp about the Anemic/cinema) -

And with this reference we go from the Renaissance to 203.G. Spencer does make himself formally explicit by indicating what is to be taken as given: namely, the ability to count and knowledge of the English language. But then, Brown writes as an Englishman, or at least as a Briton--while many of us are accustomed to read as Americans. What better way to prepare for the celebration of the Fourth of July? And what a party it will be with the fireworks and the Statue of Liberty and Lee and David and Ronnie and Nancy and ABC! But for 1987--bicentenial of the Constitution--we should treasure the latest publication of the Supplement to the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, since there are so many of our words in there, along with the modern language of the Aussies, Kiwis and Canadiens.


With a capital "R" the term refers to an event occurring in a specific historical period and place, namely during the early 15th century (with literary antecedents somewhat earlier), at first in Northern Italy, as evidenced by a turning to nature and by a revival of the forms of classical antiquity, shown in pictorial imagery and in architecture. The related Italian words are Rinascimento and Rinascita, both similarly derived from the word for "rebirth." Cultural historians recognize many "rebirths" or revivals, termed "renascences" by Panofsky, who discusses many associated problems [Renaissance and Renascences].

We should be aware of the different ways in which scholars have chosen to understand the concept of the Renaissance or of a renascence. Mentioned in class was Charles Homer Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, Cambridge Mass., 1927.

According to Kingsley Porter, in Romanesque Sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads, I, 19, "Modern art may be considered to have begun with the Byzantine renaissance of the Xth century." [This is quoted at the beginning of the first chapter by Ernst Diez and Oto Demus, Byzantine Mosaics in Greece: Hosios Lucas & Daphni, Harvard, 1931]. A new book by James Burke, The Day the World Changed, suggests that this momentous event was the translation of Greek documents by Western European monks around 1100. Indeed, Greek was always the principal language for cultural transmission in classical antiquity; and translation of Greek texts was a precursor of the Renaissance.

What most earlier art historians have missed, however, is the profound and wide-spread significance of mechanical printing, which entered Western Europe around 1450. According to Eisenstein [Printing Revolution] this is what really indicated a transformation to modern times, and involved a radical change in the way that information itself was transmitted or processed. Within 50 years, by 1500, the general impact of printing spread to all corners of Europe, affecting all levels of life and culture.


For our area of concern it will be instructive to turn first to the history of architecture. The word "architecture" itself indicates features of its archaic origins: arkw = bow and arrow + teks = to weave, to fabricate with an ax, also to make wicker or wattle fabric for (mud-covered) house walls. This technology is known to have existed in the high Paleolithic, and has persisted among certain marginal peoples down to the present. The Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq still build structures of bundled reeds (like the 1st little piggy). !Kung bushmen still build structures akin to that uncovered at the Terra Amata site near Nice that dates from ca. 400,000 B.C.

Evidence available for 15th century Europe.

Classical ruins survived through the Middle Ages, especially in Rome which was reduced in population and activity. In the sketchbooks of the architect Giuliano da Sangallo (ca. 1443-1490) a page shows the Ionic order "seen in Province" (the south of France); and he also has names "taken from Vitruvius." This provides examples or two of the principal sources: actual ruins and literary sources.

Vitruvius (last half of the 1st century B.C.) wrote the only (surviving) ancient treatise dealing wholly with architecture, De Architecture. According to him, designs should be based on proportion, which must have a fixed unit, called a "module." In temple architecture, this was usually half the diameter of a column. The influence of Vitruvius was immense: all books on architecture written during the Renaissance have an important section on what they consider `proper' proportions. The book of G. B. da Vignola, Regale delle cinque ordini d'architettura, 1562, is wholly devoted to this issue.

Orders and Proportion

Vitruvius cited the principle of 'appropriateness' in the selection of orders for temples dedicated to the various gods. There were five orders: Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. But his book deals primarily with Hellenistic examples (Greek 3rd - 1st century B.C.), although the Renaissance mistakenly thought he was writing about Roman architecture. Therefore, when they began to compare the text of Vitruvius with actual Roman ruins, a reconcil­liation was needed. This process then seems to have spurred the spirit of creativity, unlike during the later period of Classical Revival in the 18th century, with its pedantic, over-precise literalism.

Theories of architectural proportion were based on analogs with human anatomy. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) copied the famous drawing (of a man in two positions, within a circle and square) from Vitruvius [Book III, Chapter I, 2-4]. This symbolizes the spirit of Humanism in reference to the conundrum from Euclid's Geometry known as the problem of "squaring the circle": constructing, by means of compass and straightedge, a square having an area equal to that of a given circle.

The classical ideal of human proportions could be seen in the renowned Doryphoros by the 5th century B.C. Greek sculptor Polykleitos (also spelled Polyclitus). The growing interest in the antique stimulated archaeological excavations. Many sculptures that were well-known to the Latin writer Pliny, including the Belvedere Torso and the figure group Laokoon, were rediscovered and unearthed--the latter piece with Michaelangelo in attendance.

The courtier, architect, mathematician and theoretician Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) wrote books about painting [Della Pittura, 1436], sculpture [De Statua, 1464] and architecture [De Re Aedificatoria, begun about 1450 and printed 14053. "Beauty is a Harmony of all the Parts in whatsoever Subject it appears, fitted together with such Proportion and Connection, that nothing could be added, diminished or altered, but for the Worse" (Bk. VI, Chap. II).

The new Renaissance building style was known as the maniera moderna (modern style) in contrast to the preceding Gothic maniera tedesca (German style). Panofsky [Meaning, p. 191] says builders in the early 15th century, "committed to the principle of conformita... had to face the problem of stylistic unity." Sebastiano Serlio (1475­1554) published his Libre primo, d'architettura in Venice, 1551, recommended remodeling the whole structure or encasing it in a sheath. In Serlio's stage designs (as on the cover of Meaning), tragedy involved only royalty and the Renaissance style, while comedy could include common people and a melange of Gothic and "modern" styles [p. 197 n.]. Serlio's complete writings on architecture were published posthmously in Venice in 1619.

Architecture as a Liberal Art.

The most important Renaissance writing on architecture is by Andrea Palladio (1508-80): L'antichita di Roma (Antiquities of Rome) printed in 1554, and Quattro libri dell'architettura (Four books on architecture) in which he applied the virtus (qualities) of Roman architecture to contemporary domestic, public and religious problems of design. "Palladian motif" in his "basilica," the Palazzo della Ragione in Vicenza (begun 1549, completed 1614). Also in Vincenza, the Villa Capra ("Rotunda") begun 1550, completed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, the "most influential building for the history of domestic architecture in Anglo-Saxon countries" [Hartt, p. 638], embodying the elaborate and detailed calculation of proportions.

Federigo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, patron of the arts, humanist and important collector of manuscripts and early printed books, gave a patent in 1468 to the architect Luciano Laurana (d. 1479). In it architecture is justified by being related to mathematics and geometry, hence to the tradition of the Seven Liberal Arts. [See E. R. Curtius, European Literature in the Latin Middle Ages, Bollingen Series XXXVI, Pantheon 1953, p. 36 ff.]. The courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale is a gem, ingeniously solving several technical problems, and representing classical lettering on the frieze. Bramante was born in Urbino (1444); Raphael knew the palace. Laurana probably designed the View of an Ideal City painted by Pietro della Francesca. An unknown artist did the illusionistic intarsia of the Studiolo (1470s).

Major centers in Italy

Venice was a wealthy city throughout the Middle Ages, ruled by an oligarchy that commanded lucrative trade routes to the Orient. Its close connections with Byzantium are seen in the church of San Marco, begun in 1043. The Palazzo Ducale (1309-1424) was built in the Gothic ("Tedesco") style.

Milan has perhaps the most Gothic building in Italy, its Duomo or cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary (begun 1386). Milan's geographical location led to much trade and cultural interchange with France and Germany. There was a great tradition of Lombard masons and brickbuilders. Laws of the Lombard king Rothari promulgated in 643 A.D. concern the magistri comacini and document opposition to slavery by masons as well as the principle of the separation of church and state. [Paul Frankl, The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations through Eight Centuries, Princeton, 1960, p. 110 -ff.]

Rome, although only a small city in Medieval times, contained the important ruins of the Forum Romanorum, and one of the most fascinating buildings for the Renaissance, the Pantheon (ca. 120 A.D.) which survived as a Christian church, Santa Maria della Rotunda. The so-called Babylonian Captivity lasted from 1309-1376, when the Papacy was moved to Avignon in southern France. A schism in 1378 further reduced Roman ecclesiastical power. Pope Martin V restored the Papacy to Rome in 1420, although real power was regained only around 1450.

Florence was rich and powerful with an emerging merchant middle class controlling the prosperous wool trade & pilgrimage routes. Politics came under the power of the Medici family who ruled through the oligarchical Signoria. The Palazzo Vecchio (or, della Signoria) was begun in 1299. The Loggia de' Lanzi (1376-1391) adapts the Gothic style with rounded arches, and seems monumental though small in scale.