Friday, June 22, 2007

Portrait painting, the Monitor & DDT

Since doing the final edit of a long article for The Objective Standard is taking most of my energy, I decided that rather than writing a blog entry I'd refer you to three excellent articles I've recently read: 1. Zinsser, William. 'Two Men and a Portrait." Smithsonian Magazine, April 2007. Unlike many artists, portrait-painter Buechner can describe with clarity and precision what he is doing and why. Of course, in this article he has the able assistance of his subject, William Zinsser, author of the indispensable handbook On Writing Well. From Buechner's comments while deciding on a pose: "The shape of the head and the way we carry it on our shoulders are the essential elements in recognizability. You'd recognize me from the back, a block away, by my silhouette." In the printed Smithsonian, six photos show the progress of the painting from compositional sketch to finished portrait; unfortunately they're not included in the online version (copyright issues?). 2. Harold Holzer, "The Monitor Makes Port," American Heritage 58:2 (April/May 2007). Describes the significance of the Battle of the Ironclads and the raising of Ericsson's Monitor in more detail than I was able to fit into Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan, Essay 2. Parts of the Monitor are now on display in Newport News, near the site of the Monitor-Merrimac battle. The article ends with a list of important American ships that are open to tourists. 3. Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink and The Tipping Point), "Annals of Public Health: The Mosquito Killer," The New Yorker 7/2/2001. An excellent 10-page survey of the discovery and history of DDT (1930s to 1960s), focusing on Fred Soper and his public health initiatives. Excerpts: "In 1946, before the campaign started, there were seventy-five thousand malaria cases on the island [of Sardinia]. In 1951, after the campaign finished, there were nine." "All the things that we find sinister about DDT today - the fact that it killed everything it touched, and kept on killing everything it touched - was precisely what made it so inspiring at the time." "To Soper the world was neither perfect nor beautiful, and the question of what man could do to nature was less critical than what nature, unimpeded, could do to man." Toward the end of the article is a brief mention of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring; her comments on the absence of birdsong are tellingly contrasted with the description of a silent Egyptian village ravaged by malaria.

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