Hokusai’s rice farmers

The Artdog Image of Interest 

Throughout September, the Artdog Images of Interest will highlight pieces of artwork by respected masters from around the world, that highlight the value of labor.

This woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai dates to about 1835-6, and is the first of an incomplete series based on the poems collected in a famous anthology, A Hundred Poems by a Hundred Poets, collected by Fujiwara no Teika in 1235. 

The poem that inspired the print is attributed to Emperor Tenchi Tenno, in which he “expresses empathy for his hard-working subjects.”

One might debate how much empathy an emperor could have for a rice farmer, but the value of the farmers’ labor to the Japanese economy and culture, both in Tenchi’s time and later, is hard to overestimate. They not only fed his empire; in the Emperor’s role as a Shinto priest, many of his duties “revolved around rice-growing.” To this day, rice is still Japan’s staple grain.

IMAGE: The best image I could find online of this work is from MUZÉO. Many thanks to them, for publishing such a fine image. You can buy an open-edition copy that’s even better quality from them, if you like it. I also am indebted to Scholten Japanese Art, for the story behind the print.

Prepared

The Monday-morning quarterbacking has begun: even before it stops raining, people are second-guessing whether Houston and other Harvey-hit parts of Texas and the Gulf Coast were “prepared.”

Exactly how does one prepare for such an event?

It’s harder in some places than others. Houston is a sprawling metropolis of 6.5 million peoplelying no more than 125 feet above sea level, with an extensive network of bayous all through it and untold acres of impermeable pavement to concentrate the runoff. As I write this, the rain is slowing down, but Harvey is easily the wettest storm on record in the Lower 48.

Exactly 12 years ago: Hurricane Katrina flooded the I-10/I-610 interchange in northwest New Orleans and Metairie, LA. (Wikimedia/AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Niemi)

I’m sure I can’t be the only person who’s been getting an uneasy feeling of “déjà vu all over again” (thanks, Yogi!) when listening to or reading about Harvey’s devastation. We heard the same basic stories of inadequate infrastructure, inadequate shelter facilities, stretched-thin rescue services, and unequal impacts to richer and poorer communities (I’ll give you one guess who’s getting hit worse) during and after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and Hurricane Sandy in New York/New Jersey.

A washed-out bridge, and then some: Mantoloking, NJ, October 31, 2012, after Hurricane Sandy. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

CAN a city prepare adequately? While it’s politically difficult to justify expensive improvements to infrastructure or seemingly-needless restrictions on development in floodplains when conditions are calm, it is true that many cities could and should do more. For an idea about some of the ways to prepare, here’s a checklist for municipal planners, from the EPA (grab it while they’re still allowed to mention the words “climate change”!).

Massive storms, floods, droughts, fires, and other disasters may be touted in the headlines as 100-year, 50-year, or even 1,000-year events. But seriously: How many years in a row can we have “100-year” events before it begins to dawn on even the slowest among us that things are changing?

It turns out that it actually is possible to plan, build, and prepare for even rather extreme disasters, but it takes forethought. It takes community acceptance that it’s necessary.

It takes keeping our weather satellites in place. It takes governing officials who acknowledge the realities of our situation, and can’t be subverted by special interests who’d rather take a short-sighted opportunity to make a buck, or by those who think all regulations are bad.

To any who, like Grover Norquist, want to make government small enough to drown it in a bathtub, I’d like to remind you that it’s harder to make the case for that, when your bathtub’s been washed away in the latest “100-year” flood. Of course, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) is on this year’s budget-cutting list. So maybe you should just kiss that bathtub goodbye.

IMAGES: I first found the YouTube video of interspersed “before” and “flooded” views of the Buffalo Bayou in Houston on BoingBoing (the article compiles several more before-and-after images that are quite startling). According to streetreporter, who posted it on YouTube, “The still images are from unknown people shared by a French twitter user. I only made the dissolve to show perspective, which is transformative.”

Many thanks to Wikimedia, for the 2005 photo of the Hurricane Katrina flooding at the I-10/I-610 interchange in northwest New Orleans and Metairie, LA, an AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Niemi. Equal thanks go to Slate and Mario Tama of Getty Images for the photo from Hurricane Sandy.

I also thank Abode Home Group’s “Restoration” page for the Fire/Flood/Storm composite image.

Universally understood

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

I’ve heard it said that mathematics is a universal language–but only if you’ve been taught how to decode it. With the arts–especially music, dance, and visual art–no translation is required for the human heart and mind to respond. 

We’ve explored the value of the arts in education during this back-to-school season in my home country, the USA.

But I would submit that no matter when your school term starts, where you live, or how, where, or from whom you learn, if your education is untouched by the arts, it embodies only a pale shadow of the fascination, depth and lifelong relevance it could hold.

IMAGE: Many thanks once again to designer Lonnie King, for enriching this important thought from Richard Kamler with an evocative design.

To the very core

The Artdog Quote of the Week  

The educator’s struggle is often a struggle to demonstrate relevance–but nothing is more relevant to life than the parts that are too deep for words.

That’s why participation in the arts at school–be it band, choir, orchestra, art, theater, creative writing, or dance, is linked with greater student resiliency and engagement, better grades, and better attendance.

As with athletic programs that engage students in whole-body activities and help bond them with groups, school arts programs may seem like “frills,” but that is wrong.

They speak to the very core of what it is to be human, and open paths for greater, deeper learning.

IMAGE: Many thanks to designer Lonnie King for this perceptive quote, rendered as a memorable image.

Nature can teach kids about the world and themselves

The Artdog Images of Interest

Last May, I blogged in some detail about ways that kids can learn to think better and be creative by getting out into nature. That series was focused on keeping kids learning and teaching them to value nature during a summer away from school.

But just because they’re back in school now, that’s no reason for them to stop learning from nature. I’d like to hope that they benefit from classes that teach science on beaches and riversides. But if their schools can’t afford field trips, I hope they get an opportunity somewhere.

I’d like to hope they get to grow things in school-run gardens, to learn about plant life cycles and where food comes from. But if they don’t get that experience in school, I hope they get it from someone.

Maybe they’ll be sent on nature scavenger hunts. Those always make great homework projects. But if the schools are forced to teach to a different test, maybe their moms, dads, older cousins, Scout leaders or someone will take them out to find the wonder in nature, anyway.

Perhaps they’ll have a class project to observe a variety of clouds and learn to tell them apart. But if they don’t, I hope some caring adult will take the time to show them.

Perhaps their school will have a birding club, or they’ll take a trip to a zoo, aquarium, or nature preserve. Wouldn’t it be great if they could learn to observe animals with quiet respect? But if the school’s too busy drilling on grammar and math facts, perhaps an uncle, aunt, grandparent, or other trustworthy adult can help them learn the joys of such excursions.

Family is the first resource when schools are stretched too thin, but if your family can’t take on a full-fledged nature and science curriculum, remember there’s help available in faith communities and community groups. 

Importantly, there also are active youth organizations, such as Camp FireGirl Scouts, and Boy Scouts of AmericaYes, I know both Girl and Boy Scouts have been embroiled in controversy recently. But don’t let that make you lose sight of the fact that they’ve enriched the lives of several generations, and I’m here to tell you that both organizations still contain plenty of committed adults who only desire to help young people grow into knowledgeable adults. (Full disclosure: I was a Girl Scout myself, a Camp Fire summer camp counselor, my daughter was a Girl Scout who deeply loved her summer camping experiences, my son is an Eagle Scout, and I served as a Boy Scout Merit Badge counselor, so I’m not exactly unbiased about these organizations–though I’m also not blind to their flaws).

Whatever you do with your kids and wherever you do it, remember that an enduring connection with nature is a lifelong gift for your children–and a vital survival understanding for all of us.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the photo of young kids with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent observing life along a riverbank. I also want to thank the Green Corn Project Blog, for the photo of the enthusiastic class of second-grade gardeners; to Connecting Youth with Nature for the photo of the kids with magnifying glasses and Small Talk SLP via Pinterest, for the Nature Scavenger Hunt page; to InnerChildFun for the photo of the little boy with the “weather window,” and to E is for Explore! for a different variation on the “Weather Window Cloud Identifier” idea; to EDventures with Kids for the Animal Observation sheet, and to Cornell Labs’ Bird Sleuth K-12, for the photo of the budding birders with binoculars. Finally, I’d like to thank C&G News, and Harper Woods, MI Girl Scout Leader Anna Jochum for the photo of 2nd- and 3rd-Grade Brownie Scouts on a winter survival exercise, and to the Utah National Parks Council of the Boy Scouts of America for the photo of the Scout leader teaching a group of boys a little about leather tooling. I deeply appreciate all for sharing!

Disorders

This post is late, and it will have to be short. Disorders of several sorts have beset close family members in recent days, and as a result a certain level of chaos reigns. When such things happen in our personal lives, we may feel as if we’ve been run over.

Photo by Ryan M. Kelly – The Daily Progress/AP

But actually being run over is much, much worse. We have glimpsed recent new horror (including synagogue congregants, holed up in fear while Nazis marched outside in American streets) in Charlottesville, VA, where “all sides” did not contribute to the public disorder in equal measure, no matter who desperately wishes to believe otherwise.

AP Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Anger does beget anger. Confederate monuments and statues all across the country have become targets in reaction to the white supremacists in Charlottesville.

Image source: WNCN-TV video screenshot, via The Blaze.

In such an environment it’s difficult not to wonder if the world has gone mad–or if perhaps we have. Patience is hard to find. Perspective is hard to find. Just as it’s hard to keep one’s head in a mob, so it’s hard to keep one’s eyes on core values.

But that is our current national test.

IMAGES: Many thanks to CNN, photographer Ryan M. Kelly of The Daily Progress and AP for the photo of the horrific impact of a car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters in Charlottesville, to Los Angeles ABC Channel 7, Pablo Martinez Monsivais and AP for the photo of President Trump making a statement about Charlottesville, and to The Blaze and WNCN-TV for a pictorial article about the destruction of a confederate monument in Durham, North Carolina.

Valuing Creativity

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

Finding a way to value creativity in education, in the workplace, and in life, tends to ignite joy wherever it is found. Keep searching for new ways!

IMAGE:  Many thanks to Looney Math Consulting for sharing this image. It’s one of several in their excellent article, “Honoring Creativity in the Classroom.”