Impressions of George Mason University

After four semesters, these are my impressions:


English professors always talk politics.

Some art professors talk politics, but usually in context.

History professors never talk politics.


English classes require prerequisites or level of study. But these can often be overridden with approval of professor.

History classes are usually open without prerequisites or approval. It is the student’s responsibility to do the necessary work.

Art classes invariably require prerequisites with a minimal pass level, or level of study. These cannot be overridden by professor.


English professors pass you for attending, or not.

Art professors expect attendance and completion of work.

History professors work on the assumption of a failing grade. You are expected to convince them otherwise.


Some professors state up front what is expected, and expect it.

Others do not.


All professors are welcoming.


Drawing Conclusion.


It is now mid-term but I still remember the first day of class vividly.


Drawing 1. First class.

Lots of year 1 students.

The prof reads the curriculum rules.

One of the rules says that tolerance … and no disrespect of veterans.

One of girls asks why anyone would spit on a veteran.

One of students said that Vietnam Veterans were dishonored and spat on when they returned. He was too young to have first-hand experience, but maybe had family who served. Or maybe military history is a male thing. Prof further explained.

Girl was totally stunned.

She looked over at me.

Maybe she thought I served.


Day 1. Student comes over and introduces himself. I explained that i was not prof just a very old student who was probably older than the prof.


I am at least 3 generations older than all of the students. And maybe 2 than the prof


Mid-term Break

It is mid-term break (week 8) and I am enrolled in and doing 3 classes.

I am starting to suffer creative overload. The workload is fine but I am finding that my perfectionism is starting to take its toll.

I am in creativity overload. I was lying in bed last night trying to decide how to phrase the proposal project for Writing for Artists. There is a quality carryover from each class. Whereas once upon a time, I would have considered that writing a proposal was about the proposal, I now see the creativity as not just being the proposal but also the writing of it. I have put myself into the situation that I now have a professional standard that I need to achieve when I write, a professionalism. It has also become an art experience.

I and got a C as a min-term grade for the drawing class because I did not do all of the set exercises. My portfolio is actually more of a set of experiments in creating art taking the assigned exercises and applying them to art. But I achieved my goal in drawing which was to create art. I may restart the portfolio and do the exercises to add quality into my work.

I am now starting to see writing in sculptural terms. When we shared a studio, Michael Buzacott used to say in the studio that in sculpture you must be able to take the sculpture and visually revolve it in the mind to see all aspects of it. In Creative Nonfiction class the other night, Professor Scott Berg said the exact thing about writing.

I am now starting to see the paper as blank space into which I place words just as sculpture is form placed in space.

The readings for Writing for Artists are sort of inane. This course is seriously lacking in artistic passion. After reading Wechsler’s “Vermeer in Bosnia” over the fall / spring break, they are insignificant. Wechsler places art in the context of war crimes. I am now reading John Berger. His essays about drawing are brilliant. I got up last night and read the article about the cave paintings of Chauvet. I was reading about the silence of the cave in the silence of the night. How spoiled can you be?

Although the term has been a major load, I am actually really pleased with the point I have reached. I sort of feel that I should focus more on art as opposed to writing classes, but I really enjoy the creative process of writing. It is not limited by the physical restrictions of sculpture.


A Found Lost Occasional Thought – a thought from April 2018, found today March, 2019

Today is April 21, and I am not in class. The computer classes at GMU were just too trivial and disorganized to warrant the time spent. Unclutter time. Unclutter effort. Focus on what is of value.

I am tidying up my library. I almost got to 2000 books. I am removing books like Drawings of the Renaissance. I now just have books: the drawings of Michelangelo, the drawings of Veronese, the drawings of Tintoretto. On Thursday, at the GM (Fairfax County) library, I bought a book called the Drawings of Bernini. The library is now empty as I sort, eliminate and reshelf. The emptiness is beautiful. This is the goal for this room. Unclutter. Focus on empty space. See what I have. Focus on what I really enjoy.

The cat decided to pee on the books in the living room that had been removed from the library. Unclutter the living room. Focus on getting the library finished. Focus on paying attention to the cat. Focus on making a bed in the library, so the cat can get company while I tidy the library.

Over the winter, the two plants on the front steps died. What a relief to be able to plant something new or just have free steps. As plants die, they are not replaced with the same, but a new type if at all. I live in zone 7. No more plants for below zone 7 which are precarious. No more zone 7 plants which will die every unseasonably cold winter. Unclutter that unpredictable, non-guaranteed return. Focus on what will grow and belongs.

The garage still needs to be tidied. It is almost warm enough to work in the garage and my term paper is in. Unclutter unused bit of wood that save to be used one day, but never will be. Focus on getting a usable workspace.

Term paper in. A lot of work that was consuming for a couple of weeks. Everything was on suspension. Paper in. Unclutter my writing space of reference texts and notes. Focus for next week’s peer review, checking the references and getting it published. Focus on moving the paper towards publication. Then focus on what was started before.

It is now spring. At GMU on Wednesday night. Where did all of these young students come from? Maybe it is that in spring clothing, so there were always young people beneath these winter clothing that made bodies anonymous. Maybe it’s just that getting towards the end of term and unlike the older students, the younger ones have now feel the need to focus. Unclutter my mind and enjoy being old. Young clans of self-referential pretty girls in their own world, walking around campus more to be seen than to be there. Unclutter thoughts of my youth; never pretty or idle. Focus on my age.

Found my deChirico autobiography. Started it two trips ago to Italy. Not a profound novel but just a nice journey. Unclutter any potential new books. Focus on finishing what I was reading and enjoying.

It’s Saturday. Unclutter last week. Focus on Today. Prepare my focus for next week. Go into town to look at the galleries. Focus on what I love to do.

I saw retirement as a time when I would do everything that had been on hold. It has become a time of reduction. Uncluttering and reduction. A time to redirect my life by removing excessive clutter. A time to focus on a life ahead. Unclutter. Focus. A new beginning.

I take off socks and find hole in bottom. Common occurrence. Sock drawer overfull. Trash deceased socks to unclutter drawer. One drawer of socks to go in one drawer. Focus on clothing that useable.

Closet full. Retired. Remove surplus work shirts. Unclutter by discarding excess work shirts, but how much is excess. Unclutter remaining no longer needed clothing. Unclutter clothing that no longer fits. Focus on what I wear now for what i am. Focus on what i need going forward.

Lots of focuses. Unclutter focus. Focus on one focus.



Back to School Week

Last week was back to school week.

Well actually it was about 7 weeks ago, but 3 classes has totally dominated my life.


Monday started with my first class: Pompeii. Wednesday was Pompeii again, then Forms of Nonfiction (graduate) and then Creative Nonfiction (previously the undergraduate Forms of Nonfiction class).

It is one real load, but let’s see how I go. (Now I know)


The classes are very different in demographic and presentation. Pompeii is pure lecture with a class of 40 mixed history and art history students. Forms of Nonfiction is only 8 students, most of whom are graduate English students. Creative Nonfiction is about 13 English undergrad students with a couple doing requirements for admission to the grad MFA program.


The first English class is very much seminar whereas the second is a mix of lecture and discussion.

There was only one writing assignment last week and that was for forms of nonfiction. It was called first memories, which appears to be a standard assignment. The writing follows.


Class project: Narrative about a traumatic event:

On the day that the image appeared on the TV, I was sitting watching TV with my mother. It was not the first time that we had seen such images.

A small girl is running towards the camera. She is naked and screaming in fear and pain. Behind her is a black cloud of napalm rising into the air. Her face shows the fear of what has happened.

He is standing in a plaza. A Vietnamese police officer has a pistol placed to his head. The man is identified as a member of the View Cong. His face shows the fear of what is to happen.

But now, as my mother and I watch TV, we see the image. I can’t remember if it is a photo or a movie of a Vietnamese mother cradling the body of a dead child. “I did not think they felt pain”, my mother said.

Vietnam had started as a war in a distant land against an unknown evil. But as time progressed, the image had changed. It had now become a war against terrified people who were just like those who were terrifying them. We now saw the terror of what we were doing to others.


Forms of Nonfiction will require one main term writing exercise. I may actually write on Pompeii. I will write this as a narrative of visiting Pompeii and add in the historical information that I have learnt. (That was a good idea. Pity I forgot about it, but the new idea is better).



For Creative Nonfiction, my term writing will be a review of the silver show at ISAW in New York. A lot will be written before the show with refinement after I see the show. There is also one extra short assignment to be done in a different style. I will do an experimental style writing and I will write a dual narrative with a forward narrative as the main theme, and a reverse narrative running through it. In the start will be the beginning of the primary narrative and the end of the reverse narrative. The essay will end with the opposite.


The official name of the Pompeii class is Design of Cities: Ancient Pompeii: A Window on Ancient Roman Art and Society. For the Pompeii class, we have 3 class exams and one project. The class project is to design a city. I will use overlay sheets to do a design of a city in an historical evolutionary manner. We have to work as teams, but for the submission, I may split off.

Last week a neighbor on next door asked for short essays on countries we had visited. I sent two that are also attached below.





My memory of Mali is of hard working and ingenious people working for little financial reward. Even though working against the odds, they possessed a sense of optimism about the future.


When I visited Mali in the early ‘90’s, the Malians had just completed their first democratic election. After French rule, the country had become virtually a dictatorship. This had just been toppled by the military who had sponsored and supported the election. Their fascination with democracy was so great that the nation’s top radio program in was the Clinton impeachment trial.


In Mopti, every morning I would sit on the wall outside the hotel and watch the Malians drive cars into the Niger River and wash them there. I suppose if you can’t get the water to the car, you just take the car to the water.


In Bamako, there is a market commonly called the recycling market. Scrap metal from car doors was imported from the Ivory Coast and shaped into trunks. Two types of trunks are produced here: ones from car doors, the others from old oil drums. One of the former type is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I returned home with such a trunk. My trunk was made by someone with 6 fingers on each hand who used gasoline to thin a twig which he used as a brush. As he worked, he licking the brush to provide a point.


In Djenne, I bought some model of cars and trucks made from soda cans. At the conclusion of the transaction, I asked why the boy was dividing the toys into two piles. The boy explained that some of the toys were made by his friend and he was working out how to split the money from the sale.


In Bandiagara, which is the region of the Dogon people, boys recycle worn out flip flops to make models of Dogon dancers which they sell to tourists by the side of the road.


The work ethic and honesty always staggered me.

I realized the real level of poverty when the only way to get change for a sales transaction was to ask a beggar.




New Guinea


When I was in New Guinea, I really wanted to see some rock paintings (pictographs) having seen many in Australia.


Because the business partner of the hotel manager was local to the Wahgi Valley area, he offered to serve as my guide and fellow explorer. The Wahgi Valley sits between the eastern and western New Guinea highlands.


After some travel, we actually located a set of paintings of figures on an exposed rock face beside the road. Unfortunately my guide did not know their meaning.


While there, a group of youths from a neighboring village (and another ethnic group) approached us and stated they knew where we could find more.  I should have been skeptical when the answer to every question about these as yet unseen paintings was a definitive yes.


With them, we left the road and walked for what seemed like for miles on end. When we finally rested, my guide overheard the youths say that they planned to rob us. We started back to the road in a rush.


As we rushed back to the car, my guide warned me that we were in real danger. I replied that we were now safe as they had what they wanted. They had ripped the wallet out of my back pocket. This was the last time I ever travelled with my wallet there.


When we got back to the car, my guide felt safe to tell me that they had planned to rob us, kill us and throw our bodies over a cliff.


I believe having a local guide was what saved my life. They knew full well that they could kill me with impunity, but that any violence towards him would have been met with swift retaliation from his family.


When I returned to the hotel, I was told that one of the village groups of the area, the mud men, had recently attacked the police station in retaliation for one of their members being wounded by a local police officer whom he had attacked.


In New Guinea, local law enforcement exists pure and simple as retaliation.



Term Break

Only 3 weeks (whoops 7 days) ‘til back to school.


The break started with good intention: the goal of finishing my term paper about the relationship between Jackson Pollock and Tintoretto to make it publisher ready.

Thomas Hart Benton had taught Pollock about Tintoretto, and I used him as a surrogate for the more elusive Tintoretto. But Benton’s character came through so strongly that the presence of Tintoretto got lost. This was inevitable given the strength of Benton’s character. I therefore needed to make Benton invisible but still show his influence.

I had tied Pollock’s move to larger scale works to his interest in the Mexican Muralists, especially Orozco. I knew that the Orozco’s mural that Pollock most admired, the one at Pomona College, was derived from El Greco’s painting of San Sebastian. However, the connection between painting composition learn from Tintoretto and the lesson of scale from Orozco was rather disjoint. What I needed was a means of tying Pollock, Tintoretto and Orozco (or large scale work) together without the strong emphasis on Benton.

In the break, I found the magical connection between Tintoretto and Orozco’s painting at Pomona College.

El Greco’s painting of San Sebastian on which the Pomona mural is based, was thought to be derived from a similar painting by Tintoretto. Although it was painted after Tintoretto painted his painting, there is a strong connection between Tintoretto and El Greco. For Pollock, the problem in studying Tintoretto is the absence of monumental works in the USA. Hence the lessons of Tintoretto’s ‘grand design’ that Pollock learn from Benton would not have been visible in the works he saw, but it would have been present in the mural by Orozco.  The mural at Pomona provided in essence a monumental El Greco, and by association, a monumental Tintoretto.

So, I have resolved the outstanding research problem. I just need to state it succinctly in writing.


As a continuation of what I had learnt during the last term, I read “How to Write Faster” by Liz Hayes. This goes a lot deeper than what was covered in class and has some really useful examples, including to write the first draft in narrative form, and not to focus on the details (e.g. spelling and style) in the earlier drafts as these may not even make it into the final version. By reading other books about writing, I am also discovering that being a good writer does not necessarily make one a good writer about the art of writing.


I lost my writing momentum when I started to catch up on my backlog of Minerva, Ancient Warfare, Ancient History and History Today magazines. This is not a major problem because my interest in writing originated when I noticed how in these magazines, good writers not only write well but have a clarity of thought. My goal in studying writing was to develop in myself this clarity of thought. For me writing is a means and not an end. However, treating it merely as a means will never let me get the full value from it.


Luckily, I did get to read one of my bucket list books: Venice and Vitruvius by Margaret D’Evelyn. Interestingly, at the start of the book, she emphasizes how architects in the Renaissance advocated that being a good architect was not enough; being able to write well about it was essential. Unfortunately, the book does not follow their example. The book is a major chore to read but full of amazing information. The writing does not do the research justice. It reinforced for me the importance of good writing. The Review is below.


Now, I am reading Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia by Gregory Aldrete. My aim is to complete the Pompeii class text before the start of class. I have also completed the Great Courses class on Experiencing Rome by Tuck. This and other Great Courses truly great courses. I have also browsed a lot of books apart from the texts so that I know where to get details. The book I wanted most was Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space by Laurence and Newsome. Although only just published in the USA, this was previously published in England, and the GMU library had a copy.  This is a great resource for class. It actually contradicts some of the basic assumptions about Pompeii, such as the idea that you can track traffic in Pompeii by the depth of the cart rut marks in the stones. They state that the marks were more likely caused by the vehicles doing the excavation and are not historic. This is a really provocative statement.

I still have not made scones or done any cooking.


Yesterday morning, I booked Amtrak to New York to look at the Boscoreale frescoes at the Met and see the show on Roman silver at ISAW. There was only a four week window to see both these and the Delacroix mega show at the met.  The show includes my two favorite Delacroix paintings: the Mount of Olives and Medea. I saw Medea in Lille in the 80’s and again at the Met several years later. As the show at the Met included studies and drawings for the work, the evolution of the image could be observed. The Medea is an amazing painting.


Oh well back to school soon. Three classes is a hell of a load for an old guy. Will be interesting to see how my knowledge of history stacks up against student knowledge. But I have cheated. I have already done my homework.



Amazing content but clarity of presentation is lacking.


Venice and Vitruvius is an amazing piece of research which leaves no stone unturned.


Part 1 deals with the history of architectural books and is the distillation of her thesis. As such, it is polished and tightly focused.


Part 2 is the bulk of the book and examines Daniele Barbaro’s view of Venice as being and becoming Vitruvius’s ideal city. In this area, the book has an immense amount of research. Not only does it deal with Barbaro’s commentaries on Vitruvius but also tracks the various versions of the book and the reasons for the changes.


The study of the evolution of the commentaries is fascinating. That Barbaro’s commentaries could be less descriptions once Palladio added his illustrations shows an interesting symbiosis between the two. Palladio’s removal of references to Alberti is an interesting insight into Palladio as a person. The evolution of Barbaro’s commentaries would have created a very powerful isolated study, especially if demonstrated through the collaboration of Palladio and Barbaro in Venice’s architecture. It is easy to see Barbaro as simply a humanitarian patron, but the book only just hints at him as an architect in his own right, although he did not see himself in that role. However, the other authors mentioned could have been better addressed as a separate part after or associated with the first part. Isolating the story of Barbaro and Palladio would have created a fantastic story.


The overall structure of Part 2 is that each chapter deals with a structural component of a building. The building component structure is not strong enough to carry the book.

The weakness of this structure is demonstrated by the fact that the last chapter is the first to address caissons, which are a basic foundation element. This should have been addressed in the first chapter which dealt with building foundations.


Several sections start with a single sentence as a narrative description of Venice and what it is like to walk around Venice, but then the thread ends. This an opportunity missed as she obviously has a good understanding of Venice. Elsewhere, the reason for the haphazard layout of ‘streets’ in Venice is well explained. Repeatedly, we travel back to Piazza San Marco and walk along the waterfront looking at San Giorgio Maggiore, but these passages are not contiguous and therefore do not build on the experience. The view from Piazza San Marco across to San Giorgio Maggiore is probably one of the most beautiful vistas in Venice, along with the vista to its right to Il Redentore. Both churches are by Palladio and although mention of them is sprinkled throughout the narrative, they warrant focused attention. A rich (almost personal) descriptive narrative would have enforced the primary narrative. This would have exhibited the love and understanding of the special arrangement of Venice that the author obviously possesses.




The book examines the evolution of Scuola Grande di San Rocco in detail. I felt this was a misplaced focus and may have been better served by just consolidating the sections on the Piazza San Marco or a Palladio building.


There is some information which should have been omitted. For example, the similarity between the placement of Palladio’s Villa Rotunda within the landscape and that of the emperor’s box in an amphitheater is phenomenal and an eye-opener. However, Villa Rotunda is not in Venice proper and not relevant to the point at hand.


In summary, the book would have been better structured into more than two parts. There is so much discussed that each individual topic: Barbaro and Vitruvius, Venice and Vitruvius, components of buildings, the vistas of Venice, the passageways of Venice and the Piazzas deserved a separate focus that would have been provided by isolation.


There are some issues in the use of voice in the writing. The writing style of Vitruvius and Palladio creeps into the author’s narrative. This and the use of passive voice makes the quotations and the author’s comments merge. Direct voice on the part of the author would have made the points more clearly and worked as a powerfully voiced commentary.



Despite the issues of readability due to a weakness in structure, the book is well worth reading. The content is amazing. I think that its best use may be as a reference book on specific Renaissance aesthetics topics as opposed to a book to give an understanding of Venice or Vitruvius.





Feeling the Pain


Two weeks ago, I handed in my English term assignment.

I am finally in class as opposed to being a part of it.

The work load has hit.

I am back at school, as opposed to going back to school.


There is a computer expression that you never know a topic until you feel the pain. I felt the pain. Feeling the pain is great. You power through it to a new level.


No more computer classes apart from the one at Nova that I wanted to do in the first place.

No horticulture classes unless tightly focused. The ridiculous price of the texts helped to decide this.

I need to focus.


Everyone was already in the classroom when i arrived. They are talking but I am not part of it and really cannot join the conversation as I have no idea of the subject. I still feel that I am not part of the group but to use a cliché: I am not here to make friends. However, I have a common interest with the other students. And that is writing.


I am here to learn writing.

The end goal is writing and not the learning.


Last week, we had a peer review of the paper.

The feedback was great.

I expected it to be too art focused for the rest of the group, but this was the case.

Students focused on the characters in the paper but not what they were saying. I need to my characters more transparent. It was interesting that some students wanted more of one thing, others wanted less of it. I think a more cohesive focus of the paper will solve that. I wanted to have multiple interpretations and levels of the work, but I think there needs to be one very obvious message and several more subtle ones. I need to state the main point and leave the others open.

Now I revise. More pain, but it is necessary pain.


GMU TechAdvantage: A+Classes Begin

It is always interesting to compare the demographics of two professions, and looking at the demographics of university classes is no different.

Last weekend, I started the A+ course at George Mason Professional and Executive Campus in Arlington. The school offers a series of continuing education classes under the label of TechAdvantage. For my first course, classes will be both Saturday and Sunday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm every second weekend. It will be 5 days long. It was also possible to do courses in a less concentrated evening form, but I wanted to take courses in a weekend format as I thought I’d be in class with more dedicated students.

The A+ course is a prep for the CompTIA 220-901 and 220-902 exams to gain CompTIA A+ Certification. As such, it is an entry level computing class suitable for those who want to assume a help-desk role. This class can then be followed by classes to gain Cisco Certified Network Associate Certification in networking or CompTIA Security+ SY0-501 Certification in security. Both are more advanced entry level certifications into the computer industry.


The most obvious difference between this and GMU writing classes is the students.

My GMU writing class consists of about 14 students. The common theme is that they are all professionals in the field of English. They are either undergraduates specializing in English, or English graduate students working in their field while they complete their master’s degree. For variety, there is one older geographer now admitted to the MFA. There is also an older woman who has spent her life teaching English. We are all English majors, since to attend graduate level classes I was required to be admitted as a graduate student in the English department. There is a mix of full-time and part-time students.

The Tech Advantage class is about 12 students. There is nothing that could even be contrived as a common profession. There are two fitness trainers looking for a change of career, one GMU graduate in criminology trying to get some career leverage, and a couple of people who have or are currently working help desk. There is only woman in the class, whereas GMU writing class is predominantly women with only three males. The sole woman is trying to transition from HR. There is also one guy who wants to learn something about computing so as he said, he can stop having to wait on the help desk for assistance. He appears to be the only one with no interest in a career in computing. Again, I am the odd duck, as I have no real goal apart from personal interest for taking the class. I am at the end of my computing career.


The TechAdvantage students are all professionals looking at transition to another profession, unlike the GMU Writing class which consists of people in their first profession.

I have found that GMU computing classes are a lot easier than writing classes. I have a lot of prior knowledge of computing, even though my knowledge is “past the use by date”. But that is not the reason that it is easier.

Writing is unbounded. It is like most creative subjects. It requires a very personal commitment, necessitating a lot of giving of the personal self. There is no end point for each exercise because one knows that they can always do better; it is an obsession.

The computer classes are bounded. We disassembled a computer on Sunday and reassembled it. It did not require any inner searching and once done, it was done.

After a weekend doing tech classes, I am nowhere near as tired as I am after 3 hours of writing classes. Writing is a sort of exhilarating exhaustion. I think I prefer it.

Vignette 4: On Writing and Sculpture

In art, we talk about the importance of process, but we only have an end result despite our best attempts to show our process.

In writing, the process is actually the piece.


When you create a sculpture you can always pull it together at the end.

You cannot do this in writing. In writing, all of your process is visible and a final conclusion is just not enough.