Tag: feature post

Penone Momentousness

PenoneA colleague of ours had the opportunity last week to attend the opening events for Italian artist Giuseppe Penone’s outdoor exhibition in New York’s Madison Square Garden, and offered the following observation.

Giuseppe Penone joins the ranks of prominent sculptors (Sol Le Witt, Jessica Stockholder, Mark di Suvero, and Leo Villareal, among others) to have shown their work in the urban oasis of Madison Square Park, as part of the contemporary art program Mad Sq. Art. Three of Penone’s signature tree sculptures are currently planted in the center of the park, on view through February 9, 2014. Cast from bronze, and so eloquently lifelike that you might miss them, the twisting, bending branches of Penone’s trees behave, on second glance, strangely. They reach for the ground, clasp one another’s limbs like hands, and cradle impossible objects: giant stone boulders taken from the river near Penone’s Italian home.

On a recent night, onlookers circled the sculptures’ trunks, painted a realistic flat gray, with glints of polished bronze showing through, touching their surfaces to check that the bark was metal and not wood. A look up, toward the sky, reveals the pale boulders clustered in the three trees’ branches, backlit by the spire of the Empire State Building.

After looking at some of the striking images of the installation available online, we were inspired to return to the equally striking publication on Penone that Yale University Press recently distributed for our colleagues in Belgium, Mercatorfonds.  This book begins with a long and thoughtful interview between Penone and art historian Benjamin Buchloh, and we are pleased to share with you the following excerpt that addresses Penone’s attraction to, and artistic approach to, the tree form.

B[uchloh]: For example, your work with trees is almost the opposite of a readymade.  You start with the industrial object and you return, through a process of re-naturalization, to the natural object.  It’s interesting to see how that goes against industrial order.  To recover what, exactly?  What do you want to recover?  Nature?  An origin?  An essence?

P[enone]: You could say an origin.  What fascinated me was the idea of recovering things in time.  It’s partly the fascination that archaeology can have, when the find things in layers of sediment, layers of history.  It’s a work that doesn’t simply emerge from an analysis and ideas about art, it’s also something instinctive.  I’d supposed that wood would give me the unbelievable possibility of going back through the time of the tree to rediscover its form at a particular moment of its existence.  I did have to think about the form, choosing to reveal just a part of the tree to make the work comprehensible – if I’d liberated the tree completely I’d have obtained a natural form, but not a sculpture.

B: For the beam, can you choose any old beam?

P: No, I have to choose a beam that seems to contain the centre of the tree within it, otherwise I have only fragments, pieces.

B: And how long did it take when you did it the first time, do you remember?

P: Three or four days for the first one, which was very small.

B: And did you do it by hand, or with an electric tool?

P: By hand.

B: That’s like an inversion of [Constantin] Brancusi’s process.  For Brancusi, it was liberating the essence of the material by making the surface more and more perfect.  Making marble look like the essence of marble, wood like the essence of wood, making the surface as perfect as possible.  You, on the other hand, remove material to return to the origin, the essence of the material.

P: In a way, in order to exist and become language, expression, comprehensible, a work needs to be demonstrative.  If Brancusci’s work didn’t show perfection, it wouldn’t be comprehensible.  In my case perfect work would mean freeing the tree completely from the mass of wood in which it’s encased, but then that perfection wouldn’t demonstrate the work.  To do that I retain part of the material from which the tree emerges.

B: And to reconstruct the origin along a temporal axis?  It’s a kind of backward movement, a regression perhaps, or reflection.  Its’ a kind of hidden agenda that you introduce into the work, it’s not an active, progressive, return to the source, rebuild a foundation, an essential truth…

P: No, it’s not about that at all.  No, in this case I rediscover a form that is natural, and there’s a kind of amazement, a surprise that’s provided by the material itself.  I did it for the reasons I mentioned before in relation to my work on the growth of trees.  My interest in trees, in their form, is of course an interest in nature in general, but it isn’t necessarily idealizing nature.  I make a work by following the material, using the possibilities of the material.  Deep down I’m saying something about sculpture, I’m not saying something else and illustrating it with a sculpture or an action.  And it’s more or less the same for all the work I do.  I try wherever possible to find a kind of archetype of the possible form of the material, because an archetype is about connections, a form that is synthetic, and synthesis is one of the most important elements in the creation of a work, because it’s a small space that has to contain so many things, so there has to be a great deal of synthesis to get to a work that is strong, and durable in time.  Otherwise it becomes a description and you add more and more… Sculpture in particular needs this, painting a big less, but sculpture needs a very strict synthesis.  You can also obtain synthesis as a consequence of action, of the working process itself.  And if you can find the logic of the material in the material itself, it’s easier to find the right form for its use.  I couldn’t reproduce the tree we were talking about in plaster or resin.  It would be meaningless.  It’s an interest in the material itself, and the material itself justifies the work.  What I’m saying may seem contradictory in the sense that I have also made trees in bronze.  But there’s another motive that impelled me to make that work, and that was to understand the technique of molten bronze casting.  Bronze casting is a technique based on falling, the force of gravity.  To obtain the object you want in bronze, you build a network of channels around the wax model, which takes the bronze to the entire surface of the sculpture and allows the air to escape.  These channels have the structure of a tree.  Trees escape the force of gravity.  A similar structure is made to create the form of the cast, which is obtained by falling.  These two things – the force of gravity and escaping the force of gravity – are totally identical forms.  For example, I was very moved by [Antoni] Gaudí’s study for the Sagrada Familia, where he hung ropes in space and attached weights to them to study the curves of his vaults.  Furthermore, bronze is a material, a technique that was invented at a time when human beings saw reality as animate.  I think it changed the way of seeing things to be able to create a material made by man.  Before that, they used stone.  So what was done there wasn’t innocent, I think it was something that affected the entire system of ideas about nature.  That couldn’t have happened without a ritualization of the process.  It’s an invention that gave its name to a period of human history, the ‘Bronze Age’.  And the melting process, with the furnaces like a womb, has something in common with the alchemical idea of transforming materials.  And all that was done at a time when there was a great respect for trees, for example, for all the nature that surrounded human beings.  Creating that supply structure for sculpture – I think, it’s my supposition – must have been a very considered thing.  And bronze acquires a colour that imitates vegetation very closely.  If you put a bronze sculpture outside, it oxidizes in the rain, the sun, it takes on very natural colours, similar to vegetation.  I’m very interested in this mimesis for the reasons I’ve just mentioned.

Excerpted from Giuseppe Penone: Forty Years of Creation. Copyright © 2013 by Mercatorfonds. All rights reserved.

Surrendering to The Allure of the Archives : The Joys of Historical Research

Whether it’s summer or winter, you freeze. Your hands grow stiff as you try to decipher the document, and very touch of its parchment or rag paper stains your fingers with cold dust. The writing, no matter how meticulous, how regular, is barely legible to untrained eyes. It sits before you on the reading room table, most often a worn-out looking bundle tied together with a cloth ribbon, its corners eaten away by time and rodents.

Allure of the ArchivesAnyone who has spent some time in an archive room will immediately understand the tension and thrill with which Arlette Farge describes her experience of handling age-old documents. Farge, Director of Research in Modern History at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, first published Le Goût de l’archive in 1989. It has since become a classic in the field of historiography, and is here translated by Thomas Scott-Railton in The Allure of the Archives, a captivating account of historical research and personal discovery.

As Farge was combing through the judicial records of eighteenth-century France, she was struck by the extraordinarily intimate portrayal of the lives of the poor in pre-Revolutionary France, especially women. When she looked at the words on the pages, she saw people: “The archive shines a light on the people of the city and their many faces, picking out individuals from the crowd, and casting silhouettes on the city walls.” The Allure of the Archives is Farge’s effort to share this exhilaration of uncovering hidden secrets with her readers, whether they be professional researchers to whom such pleasures are familiar, or history buffs curious to find out more about this craft.

To read The Allure of the Archives is to be invited into Farge’s experience in the archive rooms. We follow her through the process of getting a reader’s card, locating the correct office, finding the best seat, and walking up to the inventory shelves. We are there, with her, in the “inventory rooms with researchers poring over the card files, clacking the wooden drawers closed,” or in the “reading room, distracted momentarily by a neighbor’s cough or an archivist’s ringing phone, and yet totally caught up in our quest.” From between two pieces of paper, Farge slips a cloth out, covered in elegant handwriting, and we begin to read over her shoulder:

It’s a letter, the work of a prisoner in the Bastille, many years into a long sentence. He is writing his wife a pleading and affectionate letter. His dirty clothes were being sent to the laundry, and he took advantage of the occasion to sneak out a message. Nervous about the outcome, he begs to laundrywoman to please stitch a tiny blue cross on a pair of his cleaned stockings. This sign would reassure him that his cloth note reached his wife. That this piece of cloth now sits in the prison archives says of itself that no small blue cross was ever stitched into the prisoner’s cleaned stockings …

In this sensitive review from the Los Angeles Review of Books, Michael Moore describes the valuable insights offered by Farge’s book:

In this elegant and captivating (and admirably translated) account, a book that can fittingly be read alongside Marc Bloch’s classic The Historian’s Craft, we gain an appreciation of historical research as a calling, an obsession, and an insight into how our ideas about the past might be shaped, not by our need for a likely story, but by our pressing desires to study the past and to think about the dead, desires which forces us into a halting and strange conversation with old remnants, old paper, and words captured out of time.

Indeed, as we read Farge’s lyrical reflections on the challenges of interpreting and writing history, we are pulled into that “roaming voyage through the world of others,” and compelled to think about our own relation with the past.

In Conversation with Susan Sontag: A Window to 1970s Gender Politics

A writer, novelist, filmmaker, and activist, Susan Sontag was an engaged intellectual for whom thinking was a form of feeling and feeling a form of thinking. One of the most influential critics of her generation, she was widely admired by many women and something of a contested figure within the LGBTQ communities, in addition to achieving international celebrity status. Unlike many writers, Sontag was not shy of interviews. She valued the opportunity for talk in any setting, as a way of collecting and focusing her thoughts. Her interview with Jonathan Cott for Rolling Stone, only one-third of which was published in 1979, showed Sontag’s intellectual clarity and conversational confidence at the height of her career. Their wide-ranging conversation covered sexuality, gender issues, illness, aging, and political theory, among other topics. Now, the full 12-hour interview is available to the public in Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview.

Some aspects of Cott and Sontag’s discussion of feminism may be familiar to a modern audience. Sontag acknowledges the continued importance of the feminist movement, but expresses frustration with the way that it segregated women and their artistic and intellectual work.

(Sontag on de-segregationist feminism, original recording)

In this interview, Sontag dwells on the double standard in societal expectations of male and female sexuality. For Sontag, sexual attraction was ideally bound up with an intellectual affinity with one’s beloved.

(Sontag on the double standards for sexuality, original recording)

Here, Cott and Sontag address gender differences as they talk about the writing of Jan Morris, one of the first and most prominent writers to undergo a sex change. Sontag reveals a remarkably open attitude towards gender construction, one that many readers will find exemplary.

(Sontag on gender construction, original recording)

Raphael Lemkin: The Unsung Hero Who Gave Genocide Its Name

Guilt without guilt is more destructive to us than justified guilt, because in the first case catharsis is impossible.

Totally UnofficialHe was the man who coined the term “genocide” and dedicated his entire life to making it illegal — but most people still don’t know his name. Raphael Lemkin, a Holocaust survivor, successfully campaigned in the 40s for the United Nations to approve the Genocide Convention, which establishes genocide as an international crime and emphasizes the punishment of the perpetrators. And yet for the better half of the past century, he has been largely ignored by the general public. Published here for the very first time, more than fifty years after his death, is Lemkin’s own account of his life.

Part history and part memoir, Totally Unofficial, edited by Donna-Lee Frieze, intertwines the momentous events of World War II with the intimate thoughts of a Polish Jewish refugee, who could only watch helplessly from America as his entire family was killed in the Holocaust, and who then threw himself into an all-consuming, self-punishing quest to fight the worst of all crimes against humanity.

Born in 1900, Lemkin was just six when he received news about a pogrom in the city of Bialystok, a few miles away from his family farm. There, anti-Semitic mobs had cut open the stomachs of their victims and stuffed them with feathers from pillows and comforters. He took an intellectual interest in the persecution of minority groups as soon as he learned to read, devouring books about the destruction of the Christians by Nero; of Carthage, the Huguenots, the Catholics in Japan. These readings left an indelible mark on his young conscience, as he renders sensitively in his introduction:

My conscience protested when I read that the Huguenots in Lyon were roasted alive by being compelled to sit with naked bodies on heated irons. The Moors were deported on boats. While on deck they were stripped of their clothes and exposed for hours to the sun, which finally killed them. Why should the sun, which brought life to our farm and reddened the cherries on our trees, be turned into a murderer?

Later in his youth, when he was a law student at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, he was similarly affected by the case of Shalom Schwarzbard, a Jewish tailor who had shot the Ukrainian minister of war, Symon Petliura. Petliura was responsible for the massacres that had taken the lives of Schwarzbard’s parents. Schwarzbard was eventually acquitted on the grounds of insanity, but Lemkin deplored the legal framework in which the decision had been made. The man had avenged hundreds of thousands of innocents with this assassination, but he had had to take the law into his own hands to do so. Why did the perpetrators of genocide have to be punished by vigilantes, and why could the court condemn only the latter?

When the Nazis invaded Poland, Lemkin was forced to flee to Sweden, and then to the United States, where he obtained a visa based on his appointment at Duke University. One morning in June 1941, he opened a well-worn envelope which had been traveling for more than two months. Written on a scrap of paper were a few simple words from his parents: “We are well and happy that the letter will find you in America.” Something within Lemkin told him that this was his parents’ final goodbye, and for days he could not chase away this heavy feeling:

Several days later, when the North Carolina night was paling, I woke, covered with deep sweat. I had had a dream in which my mother’s face came close to me. I didn’t see her body, just her face, with her hair combed low on her forehead. Her eyes smiled through a thick mist of sorrow, as if she knew a secret I did not. I stretched my hand toward her face, to caress it, but she moved back from my touch, fading gradually, and I awoke.

Several years later, he learned that his parents’ home had been burned to the ground, and that they had been sent to the gas chambers.

In a sensitive and penetrating review in The New Republic, Michael Ignatieff examines the obsessional quality of Lemkin’s devotion to his cause. Lemkin never married, had few friends, and left stable jobs to pursue his campaign to promote the Genocide Convention. In 1959, he died alone, with neither money nor friends. “He appears,” Ignatieff writes, “to have been on of Kafka’s hunger artists, those moving, self-punishing creatures who cut themselves off from the world, preyed upon by a guilt they cannot name, making their misery into their life’s work.” Towards the end of the book, Lemkin recounts an exchange with—who else—himself, as he considers the enormity of the project he has undertaken. In his mind, the sacrifice for the survival of future generations was always one that had to be made, and one that he took on in full knowledge that it would, ironically, lead to his own demise.

But this fight will finally destroy you, yourself. So what? Whoever fights for an ideal must risk his life.

Svetlana Alpers: A Life Spent Looking

“This is not art history, and it is not criticism, nor is it some mixture of the two. It is not, in other words, what people expect me to be doing.”—Svetlana Alpers, Roof Life, “1 Beginning”

Svetlana Alpers is one of the most influential art historians of her generation. She has covered the Dutch Golden age painters and other Old Masters with a discerning eye that, as her new book Roof Life reveals, has been trained through an almost religious dedication to observation. The book’s enigmatic title refers to what one discovers looking out from high windows with distant and distinctive views. It is about looking as a way of being. In some moments, the intensity with which Alpers looks out at the world is self-consciously reminiscent Hitchcock’s Rear Window. At others, her observation is turned fixedly inward, detailing the history of her father and grandparents in their journey through the difficulties of early 1900s Europe. Alpers’ book of vignettes from a life dedicated to observation pieces together into a compelling self-portrait.

“Back in the 1970’s I wrote, in a rather earnest tone, about taking time to look. Art History was on my mind: ‘With such a profusion of objects and cultures, with old hierarchies crumbling, how does one justify such an occupation as looking? It is a daunting question.’

The question still stands as I look out from high windows. But so does the interest of looking: the strangeness and the distance of things that the eye takes in.” —Svetlana Alpers, Roof Life, “2 Roof Life”

Anyone who has attempted to draw a still life has experienced the intensity of the gaze required to truly understand what one is looking at. Through the example of Alpers’ life spent looking, the reader is also given a representation of that state of mind experienced during deep observation. Her compulsion to look out from high windows is almost contagious, urging the viewer to let their own eyes wander to the nearest window.


Stay tuned for an excerpt from Roof Life

David Lesch: The Westerner Who Knows Assad

Watch David Lesch on C-SPAN2′s Book TV

Around a year ago, David Lesch settled on a subtitle for his new book on the ever-changing Syria. He called it Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad. He admits to realizing, midway through the publishing process that Assad may not have fallen by the time the book went to press, writing:

But I have gone with this title for another reason: whether or not he remains in power, Bashar al-Assad, in my mind, has already fallen… This is the judgment of someone who got to know Bashar al-Assad fairly well and, at one point, has high hopes of him… Even if the event is more metaphorical than real, however, he has fallen in my estimation.


Through the on-going saga of the Syrian Civil War and the escalating powers of the discovery that Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, Lesch could not have been more apt in choosing his title. Once a shining beacon of hope for his country, Assad now stands at the center of a global emergency.

David Lesch probably knows Bashar al-Assad better than any other Westerner, having had unique access to the leader over the span of many years. After Lesch published his first book on the man, Assad insisted they continue to meet. And yet, as Lesch divulged in a recent NPR interview, he is disappointed but not surprised by the recent news developments. He said:

And so, I think, you know, for many of us inside and outside Syria were hoping that Bashar al-Assad would change the authoritarian system. And what I think ended up happening is the authoritarian system changed him. And I saw this on an incremental basis as time went on and when I met him, that I think he really started to believe the sycophants that normally surround an authoritarian leader that praise him out a daily basis. And I think it’s human nature that after a while you start to believe that praise.

And I think after surviving these major challenges to his regime after putting, you know, his people in power and becoming more comfortable with power, that he really started to develop a sense of triumphalism that he could survive anything; that it was his destiny to rule Syria and bring Syria into the limelight, you know, regionally and even internationally.

Perhaps it because the beginning of his rule seemed so hopeful – so progressive and pro-Western – that the global community is so shocked by the reports coming from Syria. And yet Lesch’s book does seem to claim that much of this failure can be blamed on the broken and narrow political world Assad inherited.

Lesch discusses the Obama administration’s hesitation to act, short of some unforeseen, dramatic event; now, the event has happened: the videos of citizens, children, writhing in pain at the hands of a chemical attack have been shown to the American public. President Obama drew a red line, which has now been crossed; the world is left waiting to see if a diplomatic solution can be reached. Syria has applied to become a member of the global anti-chemical weapons treaty, but the “clock is ticking,” says the New York Times. Until then, the threat of US force has not been eliminated.

While it remains to be seen how the United States and the rest of the world will move forward in the coming days, Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad, available as a paperback, provides a solid account of the complicated events that shaped Assad and the decisions of his rule.

Letters from the Western Front

“Write as often as you can. I long for letters now.”
—Private Peter McGregor

Life, Death, and Growing Up on the Western FrontIn 1989, historian Anthony Fletcher found an old tin trunk among his grandmother’s possessions. In it were 243 letters, sent by his grandfather Major Reggie Trench to his wife Clare during World War I. They lay beside 35 other letters that Reggie had written to his mother—after he died in battle in 1918, she had painstakingly traced his pencilled words in ink. As he delved into these carefully-preserved memories, Fletcher realized that letters provided an alternative avenue of research into WWI that hadn’t yet been fully explored. Life, Death and Growing Up on the Western Front is the result of that fateful discovery.

Written in the midst of chaotic circumstances and addressed to the closest confidantes, letters provide an incredibly intimate glimpse into the thoughts of soldiers during the war. “They have an immediacy unlike any other source,” Fletcher writes. In Life, Death and Growing Up on the Western Front, he focuses on the letters of eighteen men whose writings vividly reveal the emotional experience of being on the battlefield. These soldiers vary widely in age, social background, profession and rank but together, their letters become a powerful lens for some of the most important aspects of the war experience: the patriotic idealism, trauma and shell shock, social hierarchy among soldiers, the ebb and flow of morale, and attitudes toward the enemy.

Some of the letter-writers seemed able to keep their spirits up throughout the war, perhaps most dramatically exemplified by Julian Grenfell, who found the experience to be an endlessly energizing source of identity and purpose. “I adore war,” he wrote, “it is like a big picnic without the objectlessness of a picnic. I have never been so well and so happy.” But others, such as the eighteen-year-old Alec Reader, struggled to find meaning in the many day-to-day horrors of the battlefield. These difficulties were compounded by the dilemma of what to reveal, and what to conceal in their letters back home. On one hand, they wanted their letters to be a source of reassurance for their loved ones; on the other, they craved a cathartic outlet:

Providing honest matter-of-fact accounts of performance yet making light of the worst aspects of trench warfare, soldiers were walking a tightrope. Emotions slipped out: hints of the strain they were under marked the most thoughtfully constructed letters. For there was sometimes a desperate wish and need to tell.

Alec Reader, for example, finally allowed himself to be fully honest on 4 May 1916 when he wrote, “I have seen men killed and wounded and have had to carry a mortally wounded man to the dressing station on a stretcher … the poor chap was dying fast and knew it. It was awful … war is a rotten game.” But then a few days later, he was racked with guilt about what he had written: “don’t take any notice as we all have our rotten moments.”

On the other hand, letters could also serve as a coping mechanism for these men, by offering them the indulgence of nostalgia. Fletcher explains,

“Men found the more stressful their situation became the greater their need for their homes as a heaven. Nostalgia distracted soldiers from the tedium of trench routine. At times it offered escape from anxieties that threatened to become intolerable. Emotional survival could be purchased by drawing upon the power of distant love.”

So it was in this spirit that Robert Hermon teased his wife, Ethel, about her initial reluctance to accept his proposal, referring to the “day when you nearly chucked away a damned good bargain,” and that Alec Reader trivially asked his mother if she remembered “the way I used to spread the butter and jam?”

By bringing together these letters and revealing the broader truths that they convey, Fletcher gives us a unique view of history that abounds in empathy. ”Interpretation of the Great War,” he concludes, “has gone through many phases since 1918. I have sought to add another layer to it in this book by a precise focus on a particular kind of source material … My stories of living and dying, of shellfire in the front line and football and concerts behind it, have sought to capture the struggle as a few men lived it. I see telling these personal stories as a contribution to the long and continuing historical project of coming to terms with four of the most momentous years in our national history.”

New Haven Atlas of Street Art

Several weeks ago, our recently released Interaction of Color iPad app caught the attention of veteran New Haven street artist BiP, a self-professed Albers fan. Of course we had to let BiP know, too, about our brand new print publication The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti, by Rafael Schacter, and as we did, we realized something: there is a huge range of stunning street art right in Yale University Press’s own back yard! The Yale ARTbooks blog asked an adventurous intern to sally forth and learn more. This is what she – and we – found: a collection of pieces that we think reflect a sense of optimism and play, adding a colorful punch to New Haven’s urban surroundings. Whether created as public art installations by established artists like Josef Albers himself, or painted by the notoriously secretive BiP, these works harmonize with each other in interesting and unexpected ways.

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A Conversation with Rachel Adams on Raising Henry and a Book Giveaway

Rachel Adams, credit Eileen Barroso

Rachel Adams, credit Eileen Barroso

Publishing this month, Rachel Adams‘s Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery gives a deeply moving and honest account of welcoming a baby born with Down syndrome. Adams, a professor of English and American studies, is also director of the Future of Disability Studies Project at Columbia University. In the interview below, she reveals more of the experiences that inspired her writing and openly addresses the challenges that we face as a society to support children and adults with disabilities, even as our progressive thinking makes further claims for its inclusivity. Goodreads members can enter to win a copy of the book from now until September 30!

Yale University Press: What motivated you to write Raising Henry?  Who do you hope your readers will be?

Rachel Adams: I’m a literary critic by training, and when my son Henry was born I immediately turned to literature to try to understand my circumstances. I was dismayed by the lack of reliable, informative reading material about raising a child with Down syndrome, as well as the quantity of misinformation I found in mainstream pregnancy guides and childrearing books. The most heartening read was Michael Berube’s wonderful book—Life as We Know It: A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child—about the first years in the life of his son Jamie, who has Down syndrome. Berube presents an ideal combination of information, critique, and narrative. His book doesn’t discount fears but gives hope and a better understanding of the challenges.

Much as I loved Berube’s book, I saw the need for a story told from a mother’s perspective and one that would also address some of the social, political, and scientific changes in the 15 years since Berube had published his book. At first I wrote for myself alone, jotting down notes about my observations and experiences that I hadn’t seen represented elsewhere. Once I started to share my writing, I was gratified by the warm and receptive responses of my readers. I realized that this was a story other people wanted to read and talk about.

I had written several academic books, but Raising Henry came from a very different place.  My views were informed by research, but I was speaking about my life experiences and that allowed me to connect with readers in a very different and deeply satisfying way. I very much hope my book will be read by other parents, including those who don’t have children with Down syndrome. I also hope it will be read by doctors and other healthcare professionals, who often have regrettably little understanding of what it is like to raise a child with a genetic disability. Finally, I hope it will be read by teachers and educators and will be assigned to students who are planning careers in education, medicine, or public policy.


YUP: Can you tell us some positive things you have discovered or experienced as the mother of a disabled child?

RA: The most important thing to know is that being the mother of a disabled child brings with it the same experiences of joy, satisfaction, and frustration as being the parent of any other child. The best lesson I’ve learned from Henry is that the world is full of people who have devoted their lives and careers to helping others. Those people had been largely invisible to me until Henry gave them a reason to offer their help to us. My list includes doctors and other healthcare professionals, social workers, teachers, therapists, service coordinators, caregivers, and many, many others who have given their time and energy to helping Henry develop to his full potential and to secure the happiness and health of our family. Although there are many problems with our current healthcare and social welfare systems in this country, we shouldn’t lose sight of the incredible resources that are available to support those with a family member who is disabled.


Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and DiscoveryYUP: The most challenging part of raising a child with Down syndrome?

RA: We are a family of overachievers, and I’ve always been driven by the desire for perfection.  Having a child with Down syndrome caused me to readjust my ideas about merit, accomplishment, and perfection, and to question a society that equates intelligence and autonomy with personhood. This isn’t to say we don’t have high expectations for Henry, and that we don’t value his intellect and the things he has accomplished. But he does things at his own pace and in his own way, and it has been valuable for me to find different ways of appreciating who he is and what he can do.

Henry has also caused me to question the value our society places on independence. In a liberal democracy, personhood is equated with autonomy and self-reliance. Having a child who is disabled forces you to realize the ways we are all dependent on one another, and to appreciate the networks of support that are available to those who need extra help. Before Henry was born, I never wanted to accept help from anyone. Now, I take any help that is offered to me and that, in turn, has made me a more generous and giving person.


YUP: What changes do you hope to see in the medical establishment and educational system with regard to treatment and services offered for people with disabilities? What changes in the world at large?

RA: Having a child with Down syndrome is not a tragedy, and I would like to see doctors receive better training to help prospective parents make decisions about what they hope to get out of having children, and what it might mean to have a person with a disability in the family. Knowing something about the lives of people with genetic disabilities should be required training for all obstetricians, midwives, and pediatric specialists. How can doctors reliably counsel women about prenatal genetic testing if they have no knowledge about what it would be like to have a child with a genetic disability?

As our educational system becomes more inclusive, I look forward to educators learning that children with Down syndrome are as varied in personality and ability as other children. Too often, teachers and school admissions officers assume that a diagnosis tells them all they need to know about a child. Down syndrome becomes an excuse to lower expectations and close off options. Yet many children with Down syndrome are capable of accomplishing a great deal, academically, if they are given the right resources and accommodations. I would like to see an educational system that is better at accommodating the needs of many different kinds of learners so that all children will have the opportunity to succeed and develop to their full potential.

People with disabilities are more visible and have more opportunities than ever before. The self-advocacy movement is teaching people with intellectual disabilities to speak for themselves and to take charge of their own lives. I am heartened at the ongoing push to move people with intellectual disabilities out of institutions and group homes, and to give them opportunities to become members of the community. We need to be sure the resources are there to provide them with adequate support to live according to their full potential.

Henry receives the first finished copy of Raising Henry

Henry receives the first finished copy of Raising Henry

YUP: Do you have advice to offer families who are raising a child with a disability?

RA: Regardless of disability, your child is first and foremost a child, with the same need for love, stimulation, and care as other children. Take the help that is offered to you—we live in a society that still offers tremendous resources for the families of children with disabilities, but often only to those who know to ask. Embark on a program of lifelong education, where you become the foremost expert in your child’s needs. You are your child’s best advocate and you must never let other people—no matter what credentials and training they may have—tell you they know what’s best. At the same time, don’t forget that you are not a full-time teacher, doctor, or social worker for your child. Remember to enjoy your child and allow him or her to be a part of your family!


YUP: What political, social, or medical issues relating to disability concern you most?

RA: Whenever it comes time for belt-tightening, services for the poor and for people with disabilities (often one and the same) are almost always the first to be cut. Our society provides some of the best and most extensive supports for people with disabilities at all stages of life. But those resources are fragile and constantly endangered, so we need to do our utmost to preserve them by being active constituents and advocates.

In terms of medical care, I would like to see more attention on improving quality of life for people with genetic disabilities than in trying to develop genetic tests to eradicate them. The funding for improved genetic testing is grossly disproportionate to funding to improve cognitive function in people with Down syndrome. If genetic disabilities come to be seen as preventable conditions, that will adversely affect the resources available to support people with disabilities and their families.

The trend in the United States has been toward inclusive education, giving children with disabilities the right to learn in the least restrictive environment, often alongside their non-disabled peers. This is a very important development that benefits everyone: children with disabilities learn social and academic skills through the modeling of their peers, while those who are not disabled learn about diversity and tolerance. Genuine inclusion is hard work that requires talented and well-trained teachers. The perpetual underfunding of public education makes it more likely that inclusion will be done inadequately, teaching the wrong lessons to everyone involved.  In order to preserve the very real benefits of inclusive education, we need to be sure our teachers are adequately trained and compensated for the work that they do.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Raising Henry by Rachel Adams

Raising Henry

by Rachel Adams

Giveaway ends September 30, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Yale ARTbooks Museum Exhibitions On View, August 28, 2013

In the past year, we published exhibition catalogs accompanying an impressive list of museum exhibition. Below you will find the complete listing of these exhibitions, many of which are still on view. How many have you had the chance to see?

Art Institute of Chicago
  Abelardo Morell: The Universe Next DoorBy Elizabeth Siegel; With contributions by Brett Abbott and Paul MartineauOn View:


  Impression, Fashion, and ModernityEdited by Gloria GroomOn View:


Dallas Museum of Art
  Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. KennedyEssays by Olivier Meslay, Scott Grant Barker, David Lubin, and Alexander Nemerov; Illustrated chronology by Nicola LongfordOn View:


The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  The Civil War And American ArtBy Eleanor Jones HarveyOn View:


  Photography And The American Civil WarBy Jeff RosenheimOn View:


National Gallery, London
  Michael Landy: Saints AliveBy Colin Wiggins; With Richard Cork and Jennifer SliwkaOn View:


  Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and LeisureBy Marjorie E. WiesemanOn View:


Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
Winslow Homer: The Clark CollectionBy Marc Simpson; With contributions by Dan Cohen, James A. Ganz, Rebecca Goldstein, Alexis Goodin, Sarah Hammond, Susannah Maurer, Kathleen M. Morris, James Baetjer Pilgrim, and Richard RandOn View:


Whitney Museum of American Art
  Hopper DrawingBy Carter E. Foster; With contributions by Daniel S. Palmer, Nicholas Robbins, Kimia Shahi, and Mark W. TurnerOn View:


CaixaForum Madrid
  Seduced by Art: Photography Past and PresentBy Hope Kingsley; With a contribution by Christopher RiopelleOn View:


The Cleveland Museum of Art
  Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and VideoEdited by Kathryn E. Delmez; With essays by Kathryn E. Delmez, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Franklin Sirmans, Robert Storr, and Deborah WillisOn View:


Colonial Williamsburg Foundation at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum
  Painters and Paintings in the Early American SouthBy Carolyn J. WeekleyOn View:


Corcoran Gallery of Art
  War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its AftermathBy Anne Wilkes Tucker and Will Michels, with Natalie Zelt; With contributions by Liam Kennedy, Hilary Roberts, John Stauffer, Bodo von Dewitz, Jeff Hunt, and Natalie ZeldinOn View:


De Young Museum, San Francisco
  Richard Diebenkorn: By Timothy Anglin Burgard, Steven A. Nash, and Emma AckerOn View:


Hammer Museum, LA
  Forrest Bess: Seeing Things InvisibleBy Clare Elliott; With a contribution by Robert GoberComing Soon:


Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle
The Photographs of Ray K. MetzkerBy Keith F. DavisComing Soon:


Institut Neerlandais, Paris
  Hieronymus Cock: The Renaissance in PrintEdited by Joris van Grieken, Ger Luijten, and Jan Van der StockComing Soon:


Mint Museum, Charlotte
  New Eyes on America: The Genius of Richard Caton WoodvilleEdited by Joy Peterson Heyrman; With contributions by Marie-Stéphanie Delamaire, Eric Gordon, Seth Rockman, and Jochen WierichOn View:


Parrish Art Museum
  Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, DubuffetBy Klaus Ottmann and Dorothy Kosinski; With essays by Klaus Ottmann and Alicia G. Longwell, a text by Jean Dubuffet, and contributions by Elizabeth Steele, Sylvia Albro, Scott Homolka, and Chantal BernickyOn View:


Pushkin Museum, Moscow
  Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and DesignEdited by Tim Barringer, Jason Rosenfeld, and Alison Smith; With essays by Elizabeth Prettejohn and Diane WaggonerOn View:


Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
  Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil SketchBy Andrew Wilton; With contributions by Katherine Bourguignon and Christopher RiopelleOn View:


Van Gogh Museum
  Van Gogh at WorkBy Marije Vellekoop; With contributions by Nienke Bakker, Maite van Dijk, Muriel Geldof, Ella Hendriks, and Birgit ReisslandOn View:


  Van Gogh’s Studio PracticeEdited by Marije Vellekoop, Muriel Geldof, Ella Hendriks, Leo Jansen, and Alberto de TagleOn View: