Interviewsand Articles


The Precision of the Artist: Introduction, Newsletter #8

by Richard Whittaker, Jul 27, 2008



Here’s more material for those who want some meat on the bones.
Let’s start with Milford Zornes:
     “Milford is ninety-seven. He’s giving a painting workshop Saturday,” the man said. It was the first time I’d been in the gallery. I'd asked about a certain painting. It was one that Zornes had done. The gallery owner got to talking about Zornes. He said, “Milford’s blind.” It got my attention. 
     “How’s he going to give a painting workshop?” I asked. 
     “Well, Milford is quite a character,” the man said, as if that explained something.
     So meet Milford Zornes, a real treasure, a find, a man I was lucky enough to meet and interview that same afternoon. He lived a life of his own. Art, he said, “is the recognition of truth beyond fact and fiction.” Not the words of an academic. I can imagine Milford as being like a Woody Guthrie of watercolor painting.
     And making apparently a great leap, meet Ed Johnson, Ph. D., revered molecular biologist. (Milford taught for a few years at Pomona College. Ed Johnson was an undergrad there.) Then, at Yale, Johnson was Nobel Laureate Paul Greengard’s first grad student. We talked in New Mexico last year. At one point in our conversation, Johnson quoted Vladimir Nabokov on “the passion of the scientist and the precision of the artist.” He paused. Had I been listening? Not the passion. He'd said, "the precision of the artist."  And soon he was talking about beauty. “To put it analytically, you look at your piece of data and you decide whether or not you think that looks pretty.” It was hard for his fellow researchers to drag him away from his electron microscope, he told me, where he spends hour after hour transfixed by hidden beauty made visible. But, he said, “I really think that when you’re talking about a mystery that excites scientists, philosophers and artists alike, the field right now would be consciousness.”
     And for those of you who liked Philosophy 101, our audio interview is with the extraordinary Peter Kingsley. Does the term “pre-Socratic” mean anything to you? If it does—and you haven’t yet read Kingsley—this will be an exciting discovery for you. Host Michael Lerner draws out Kingsley on Parmenides, Empedocles and the radically new understanding of what they were really trying to say 2500 years ago, things that have a fundamental relevance for us today. 
    Besides these three interviews, we have two more pieces. Let me put it in statistical terms. They both land several standard deviations from the mean—in the good direction—like the rest of the content here.
Chuck St. John describes an uncanny experience that changed his life. It happened, of all places, as he stood naked in front of the toilet early one morning relieving his bladder. “I finished, and turned toward the door of the bathroom, very aware of my nakedness, the cool of the air, the weight of my body on my feet, the feel of the bare floor on the soles of my feet—all sharply distinct.  ‘Strange.’ I said to myself, ‘How did I get here?’ It was as if I had awakened from a long sleep.”
Welcome to issue #8.
—Richard Whittaker

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.  


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