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Object Lesson
The Color Wizard

The year is 1962, and painter Josef Albers (1888–1976) is at work in the basement studio of his home near the Yale Golf Course. But Albers, who chaired the design department at the School of Art from 1950 to 1958 and created and taught the influential Interaction of  Color course, doesn’t use an easel. Instead, he hunches over a table, on which sits a 48-inch square of masonite coated with six coats of gesso. Among the hundreds of tubes of oil paint stacked nearby, he has selected three that will provide the hues for Homage to the Square: Astonished, the latest painting in a series he began in 1949. On the board, several nested squares have been penciled in. Albers now takes a palette knife and begins to spread paint from a tube of Shiva Chapin Neutral Grey Number 1 in the center square, “schmearing,” as he liked to say, from the edge of the line toward the center.


Object Lesson

We know which tube was used because Albers, the consummate color theoretician, wrote each name on the back of the panel. The choice of hues was arrived at through trial and error on small swatches of paper in order to see how they influenced each other. Using unmixed color was a way to ensure that the different effects stimulated by a hue in different situations were the result of colors interacting and not how they were blended. After one gazes at this painting for a few seconds, the grey seems to become more purplish and lighter, as it pushes the neighboring border of Blockx Barium Yellow to an alternately darker and brighter yellow. The Blockx Cadmium Yellow Light in the outer area moves the Barium toward purple, thus creating the illusion of astonishing auras of purple light hovering between the painting and the mind’s eye.

Albers’s procedures for creating these paintings, as radically minimalist as any, yielded thousands of variations that mesmerize, amaze, provoke, and delight. Simple and modest means were used to transform material on a flat surface into perceptions that seem to pulsate. The mind is engaged through the magic of color alchemy.

Albers is best known for his teaching methods, but his chromatic wizardry in paint is today increasingly appreciated and honored by museums and collectors. Albers often referred to his paintings as if they were his children, each with a different personality. The subtlety and loving care devoted to each are a testament to his desire to share and teach as clearly and convincingly as possible how active color can be. He titled his work Homage to the Square, but surely color is the protagonist and the hero. The square is merely the messenger.


It Is He, Y’all

Ben Yagoda '75 has trouble picking up the phone. How, exactly, to respond when someone asks: “Is Ben there?” “This is he” may be technically correct but, as Yagoda writes, “fatally stuffy." Michael Agger '95 recently called Yagoda to discuss these sorts of grammatical questions, which are the subject of his playful new book When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, For Better And/Or Worse.

MA: When did you realize that you had the soul of a grammarian?

BY: Er, that’s not exactly right. In college, I became interested not so much in grammar but in the way people talk and the terms they use to express attitude and class. I remember a lot of tsk-tsk-ing—literally—when the “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” ad appeared. And, when I started freelance writing, the first piece I did for Newsweek was about the word “cute.” This was 1978 and Saturday Night Fever had just come out and John Travolta was constantly described as cute, which, of course, was later replaced by “hot." Now my teenage daughters tell me that “Awww” with an upward lilt at the end signifies cute. This new “Awww” just made an appearance on The O.C.

MA: Where do you look for new words and new usages?

BY: A top source for this book is Google. Online writing is not edited. It’s the way that people want to express themselves whether they know the rules or not.

MA: What mistakes do you see the most often?

BY: Spell-check errors are becoming more common. The past tense of the word lead recently appeared as “lead” in the New York Times and a “baited” breath made it into Esquire. I should mention that I don’t stand around with my arms crossed waiting for people to make mistakes. Right and wrong is not interesting. The trick is to use language artfully.

MA: Hopefully, this question won’t annoy you.

BY: People argue about “hopefully,” but there was no word that people meant “hopefully” to mean—I am doing something in a hopeful manner—so how can you blame them? Whereas “presently" annoys me, since there was a good word already: “currently.”

MA: Let’s discuss the “y'all" controversy.

BY: The debate is whether “you all" or “y'all” can be used in the singular. Some Southerners claim that a “y'all" addressed to one person is an invention of Yankee screenwriters. Yet there are other Southerners who say they do use it that way. It’s unresolved.

MA: How about, like, the use of “like"?

BY: I defend it. I took the contrarian view. “Let’s meet at, like, five o'clock” is different from “Let's meet at five o'clock.” The first suggests an approximate time and befits a teenager. In a similar way, “I was like ‘What are you talking about?’ and he was like …” is different from “he said” because it means “he said something to the effect that.” It’s not a direct quote.

MA: What’s your take on e-mail?

BY: I am not a big fan of the e. e. cummings style (or the e. e-mail). Uppercase letters are useful. Some people surprise you. They are not professional writers but they are virtuosos of the e-mail form.

MA: How are you answering the phone these days?

BY: I just say “Hello.” And “This is Ben.” But my daughter and I watch The Simpsons, a show that is always experimenting with language. They used a phrase that I have adopted to greet members of my family, and sometimes my dog: “What up, my bully?”


Love Story

About Alice
Calvin Trillin ’57

Random House, $14.95

There are some memoirs of a beloved's death and dying that are touching, lyrical, almost gushing, like John Bayley’s Elegy for Iris, his memoir of his marriage to the brilliant Iris Murdoch. Others—Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking comes to mind—are bleakly moving, austerely demanding.

About Alice is neither—any more than Calvin Trillin '57 (whose work I adore) is Didion (whose work I admire). Trillin’s little book (78 pages) is instead a valentine, damp with tears but not with treacle. It recounts a marriage, beginning with the night Calvin met Alice Stewart '61MA at a party in 1963. “My first impression was that she looked more alive than anyone I’d ever seen.” Trillin writes. “She seemed to glow.”

Everyone I know who reads Calvin Trillin wants to know him.

Alice was wearing a hat—“a white hat, cocked a bit to the side”—when he noticed her across the room and asked the party’s host (Victor Navasky '59LLB, future editor of The Nation), “Who's that cute little Jewish girl over by the punch bowl?” In later years, however, Alice was very clear that “I’d made up that story and that, furthermore, there wasn’t any punch bowl.” (She also insisted that “she'd never owned a hat of the sort I described.”)

They didn’t get to talk at any length until a second party a couple of weeks later, but they do agree on the details of that meeting. Alice was captivated, although she would say much later, “You have never again been as funny as you were that night.”

To which Trillin replied, “You mean I peaked in December of 1963?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Alice.

This is an ode of just the kind you'd expect from Trillin: witty, warm-hearted, gently self-deprecating, and so authentic, he makes a liar out of the man who said that wanting to know a writer because you like his prose is like wanting to know a chicken because you like the eggs. Everyone I know who reads Calvin Trillin wants to know him, and everyone who does know him gets a smug and happy look when they discuss him: He's just like that, they say, very funny, very nice.

Alice was “an incorrigible, even ridiculous optimist.”

Trillin and Alice married in 1965. Thirteen years after they met, Alice was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was not a smoker, although her parents had been when she was growing up. Her doctors gave her only a ten percent chance of survival.

Alice, “an incorrigible, even ridiculous optimist,” didn’t accept the prognosis and neither did Trillin. “I thought I could protect her,” he writes. “I somehow thought I could keep her alive because I wouldn’t accept the possibility that she was going to die.”

Trillin had more than the usual reasons for wanting to believe in what he called the “talisman of will.” He and Alice had two young daughters, and “I couldn’t imagine trusting anyone else to be involved in raising our girls,” he writes. “I not only thought they needed to know everything of importance that Alice knew; I also thought, I suppose, that she was the only person who knew it.”

Somehow, she beat the odds—for a long time. So there is a story to tell of a smart and funny man who loved his less famous, equally smart, and sharp-witted wife. (Their daughters, Abigail ’90 and Sarah ’93, appear mostly at the margins, and Trillin hints that their relationships with their mother were a bit more fraught than that between the adoring husband and his lovely wife and perceptive muse.) They had a pretty great life. They made each other laugh. Alice was his first and best reader and he wrote, as he says plainly, to impress her.

Alice was also a television producer and writer whose shows on the visual and performing arts appeared on PBS, and whose essays were published in the New Yorker. Her best known work was a small book called Dear Bruno, the core of which was a letter she wrote to Bruno Navasky in 1979 when he was 12 and learned he had cancer. Alice likened the unfairness of the disease to “having a flower pot drop on your head while you are walking down the street. It really isn’t your fault, and there isn’t much you can do about it except try to get the flower pot off your head and go on walking.”

It is impossible to fault this book in any way.

If she had faults, they were small and justifiable—a little vain about her blonde hair and youthful good looks, a tiny bit princessy about her comfort, kind of bossy in the most helpful and genuinely interested way—at least in Trillin’s eyes. But in the spring of 2001, Alice’s heart began to fail, the result of damage from the radiation that cured her cancer. She lived long enough to toast Abigail at her wedding reception—Sarah had already married—and died on September 11.

“You could say that she died of the treatment rather than the disease,” writes Trillin. “Presumably, though, it was also the treatment that, against horrifying odds, gave her 25 years of life. I know what Alice … would have said about a deal that allowed her to see her girls growing up: 'Twenty-five years! I’m so lucky!' I try to think of it in those terms, too. Some days I can and some days I can’t.”

It is impossible to fault this book in any way. Why shouldn’t this good, smart, funny man write a lovely and loving tribute to the wife whose absence he feels so keenly? It could have been longer, more filled with telling, even searing, detail, focused on the complexities of marital life, on the tears and fissures caused by illness and worry. It could have been a bigger book, but it could not be bigger-hearted. If what your world needs is more open-handed love and another vote for the possibility of a long and happy marriage, this little book will make your world a better place.


In Print

Gaining: The Truth about Life after Eating Disorders
Warner Books, $24.99
Aimee Liu '75

“At 13, I’d declared war on appetite and adopted discipline, abstinence, and self-punishment as my guiding principles,” writes Liu, who goes on to describe her recovery from and relapse into anorexia. In this cautionary book, which combines memoir, interviews with fellow sufferers, and an analysis of research on eating disorders, the author shows that anorexia and bulimia, like many addictions, are rarely gone for good.


Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet’s Life
Columbia University Press, $34.95
Scott Donaldson '50

When he died in 1935, Edwin Arlington Robinson was lauded as this nation's preeminent poet, but today, few people know his work. (Mention “Richard Cory,” Robinson’s stinging indictment of materialism, and most will think of the song by Simon and Garfunkel.) Literary biographer Donaldson offers a fascinating look at a writer who once claimed that he had “no life to speak of.”


Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound after Career Disasters
Harvard Business School Press, $29.95
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the Lester Crown Professor of Management Practice, and Andrew Ward

In the song “That’s Life,” Frank Sinatra croons about “riding high in April” and being “shot down in May.” So it has gone for top business executives such as Donald Trump, Steve Jobs, Jack Bogle, and Martha Stewart. The authors learned how leaders recover from career setbacks, and they provide a five-step process to help anyone “get back in the race.”


Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels
University of California Press, $21.95
Rachel Sherman, assistant professor of sociology

In a five-star hotel, where a room may cost more than $1,000 a night, there is a huge income disparity between guests and workers. But in this enlightening study, Sherman, who spent several months working a variety of hotel jobs, discovered that there is surprisingly little resentment of the pampered by the personnel who treat them, as one guest said, “better than your mother.”


Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t
Harper San Francisco, $24.95
Stephen Prothero '82

“When it comes to understanding the Islamic tradition, most Americans are kindergartners at best,” writes Prothero, who chairs the religion department at Boston University. Nor are they particularly well versed in any of the other major religions. Prothero examines the consequences of religious illiteracy, tells readers what they ought to know, and argues for making religion the fourth R in the curriculum.


Josef Albers: To Open Eyes: The Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, and Yale
Phaidon Press, $75
Frederick A. Horowitz '60, '62BFA, and Brenda Danilowitz

“Make the result of teaching a feeling of growing,” said painter Josef Albers. As a professor and dean of the School of Art during the 1950s and '60s, Albers had a profound influence on American art. In a handsome book illustrated with artwork and photos of Albers in action, the authors explore an extraordinary career.


Louis I. Kahn: Beyond Time and Style: A Life in Architecture
W. W. Norton, $60
Carter Wiseman '68

Most students of twentieth-century architecture would place Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Mies van der Rohe at the pinnacle of their profession. To that triumvirate, says Carter Wiseman '68, add Louis I. Kahn.

In an authoritative and beautifully illustrated book, Wiseman, a lecturer at the School of Architecture and former editor of this magazine, offers a multidimensional biography of Kahn. Wiseman mined the architect’s personal papers and conducted interviews with more than 100 of Kahn’s associates around the world to assemble an unflinching portrait of a “deeply complex” man. The architect fathered children with three women, only one of whom was his wife. (Despite Kahn’s affairs, they remained married.) He was “mesmerizing” as a teacher at the Yale School of Architecture, and he was a “down-to-earth practitioner” who enjoyed the give-and-take process of collaboration with clients.

The cornerstone of this book is the author’s in-depth examination of how several of Kahn’s most successful buildings were created. Among these are the Yale Art Gallery and Center for British Art—the bookends of the architect’s career—as well as the Salk Institute, the Government Center in Bangladesh, and the Kimbell Art Museum. These structures, says Wiseman, exemplify Kahn’s “genius for architectural form, space, materials, and light.”


More Books by Yale Authors

Brian Adams 1991BS, 1995MD
Sports Dermatology
Springer, $49.95

Saul Austerlitz 2001
Money for Nothing: A History of the Music Video from the Beatles to the White Stripes
Continuum, $24.95

Bruce Berger 1961: photographs by Miguel Angel de la Cueva
Oasis of Stone: Visions of Baja Sur
Sunbelt Publications, $49.95

Christina H. Bost Seaton 2001 and Cordell Parvin
Say Ciao to Chow Mein: Conquering Career Burnout
Brown Books Publishing Group, $21.95

Allan C. Bowling 1981, 1988MD, 1988PhD
Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis
Demos Medical Publishing, $24.95

Louis Daniel Brodsky 1963
A Transcendental Almanac: Poems of Nature
Time Being Books, $14.95

Josh Chafetz 2007JD
Democracy’s Privileged Few: Legislative Privilege and Democratic Norms in the British and American Constitutions
Yale Unversity Press, $55

Dagan Coppock 2004MD, Stephanie Brown Clark, and Neeta Jain, Editors
Body Language: Poems of the Medical Training Experience
BOA Editions, $21.95

David Damrosch 1975, 1980PhD
The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh
Henry Holt, $26

Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr. 1956, 1960MD
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure
Avery/Penguin, $24.95

Heather Ewing 1990
The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian
Bloomsbury, $29.95

Tracy Fessenden 1984
Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature
Princeton University Press, $35

Midge Goldberg 1986
Flume Ride
David Robert Books, $17

Oscar González 1993, 1993MA
Central America in My Heart/Centroamerica en el corazon
Bilingual Review Press, $14

Steven Laurence Kaplan 1974PhD
Good Bread is Back: A Contemporary History of French Bread, the Way It Is Made, and the People Who Make It
Duke University Press, $27.95

Matthew Klein 1993, 1998JD
Con Ed
Warner Books, $23.99

Henry W. Lawrence 1968
City Trees: A Historical Geography from the Renaissance through the Nineteenth Century
University of Virginia Press, $75

Dinah Lenney 1978
Bigger than Life: A Murder, A Memoir
University of Nebraska Press, $24.95

Elli Louka 1989LLM
International Environmental Law: Fairness, Effectiveness, and World Order
Cambridge University Press, $49

John MacKay, Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Inscription and Modernity: From Wordsworth to Mandelstam
Indiana University Press, $34.95

Christian W. McMillen 2004PhD
Making Indian Law: The Hualapai Land Case and the Birth of Ethnohistory
Yale Unversity Press, $38

Laura Morelli 1998PhD
Made in the Southwest: A Shopper’s Guide to the Region's Best Native American, Hispanic, and Western Craft Traditions
Rizzoli/Universe, $24.95

Julia K. Murray 1974, 1974MA
Mirror of Morality: Chinese Narrative Illustration and Confucian Ideology
University of Hawaii Press, $55

Scott Newstok, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities, Editor
Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare
Parlor Press, $32

Sherwin Nuland 1955MD
The Art of Aging: A Doctor’s Prescription for Well-Being
Random House, $24.95

Robert Dale Parker 1980PhD, Editor
The Sound the Stars Make Rushing through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft
University of Pennsylvania Press, $34.95

James Prosek 1997
The Day My Mother Left
Simon and Schuster, $15.99

Catherine Sanok 1992
Her Life Historical: Exemplarity and Female Saints' Lives in Late Medieval England
University of Pennsylvania Press, $55

Andre Schiffrin 1957
A Political Education: Coming of Age in Paris and New York
Melville House Publishing, $24.95

Andrew M. Schocket 1990
Founding Corporate Power in Early National Philadelphia
Northern Illinois University Press, $42

Maxim D. Shrayer 1995PhD, Editor
An Anthology of Jewish-Russian Literature: Two Centuries of Dual Identity in Prose and Poetry (Two Volumes)
M. E. Sharpe, $225

John Fabian Witt 1994, 1998MA, 1999JD
Patriots and Cosmopolitans: The Untold Stories of Five Patriots and Critics
Harvard University Press, $29.95

Ben Yagoda 1975
When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse
Broadway Books, $21.95

Jonas Zdanys 1972
Virtual Artists Collective, $15







large art

Fair Minded

World’s fairs feed fantasies. They forecast the future. They sometimes change the landscape, as did Paris’s Exposition Universelle in 1889 with its Eiffel Tower. They have showcased such dazzling innovations as electricity, videophones, and Wonder Bread.

World’s fairs still occur every few years, though they seemed to peak in both popularity and political metaphor back in the 1930s, when their images of almost unimaginable new ways of living were followed by a less agreeably unimaginable world war. The United States in 1939 boasted world’s fairs on both coasts, in New York and San Francisco (left, honoring the Golden Gate Bridge).

“World's Fairs and the Landscapes of the Modern Metropolis,” an exhibition at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library through March 30, brightly broadcasts such blissful optimism. The upbeat march of progress is apparent in the posters and other ephemera drawn from the Alfred Heller Collection of World's Fairs, which the library recently acquired.






Howard Hodgkin: 1992–2007
Center for British Art

(203) 432-2800

British painter Howard Hodgkin (b. 1932) is renowned for his use of bold forms and bright colors, as well as a multiple layering of paint that often extends onto the frames, emphasizing the idea of the whole painting as an object. This 15-year retrospective comprises some 50 paintings.

A Batik Bible: The Vision of Hanna Cheriyan Varghese
Institute of Sacred Music

(203) 432-5180

Familiar images from the Bible, depicted on batik-dyed and painted cloth, are the work of Malay artist Hanna Cheriyan Varghese, the 2006–2007 artist-in-residence at the Overseas Ministries Center in New Haven.

Yale Symphony Orchestra
Woolsey Hall

(203) 562-5666

Toshiyuki Shimada conducts the YSO in a program that includes Mozart, Hindemith, Ginastera, and Beethoven. With soloist Ashley Jackson, harp. For tickets call the Shubert Theater at the number above.

At the Turn of the Centuries: The Influence of Early 20th Century Book Arts on Contemporary Artists' Books
Arts of the Book Collection

(203) 432-1712

An exhibition of books and book arts highlights the work of avant-garde artists and writers from the turn of the twentieth century and details their influence on post-war artists and writers. A symposium on April 13 in conjunction with the Whitney Humanities Center will feature prominent book artists and book arts scholars.


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