Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wasting time on the beach

Leslie and I took a walk by the Atlantic Ocean in the late afternoon.

Describing the ocean light at dusk in late fall does not work well. J.M.W. Turner made a career out of painting light, and cultured people stand in front of his paintings furrowing brows. The Metropolitan Museum of Art even offers a Teacher's Institute.
Discover great works of art with curators and Museum educators from the convenience of home before experiencing them in person. These blended online and onsite workshops include both asynchronous interaction (threaded discussion, collaborative wiki projects, blogging) and synchronous, real-time webinars that bring you in contact with Museum staff as well as with other teachers from a variety of geographic areas.

You even get a certificate when you're done.
This is called professional development.

Those of us on the beach meandered, fished, smoked, took pictures, stole a few shells, skimmed stones, chased beach foam, played with dogs, and stood around doing a whole lot of nothing.
This is called wasting time.

During millions upon millions of years of wasting time, the sea's waves never stopped; life crawled out of its depths and passed through this same edge that dances at our feet. Humans eventually evolved from their tiny, wet predecessors--most of our ancestors stayed behind.

A few came out, didn't like it, and returned to the sea--whales still have "finger" bones, still nurse their babies, but no longer waste time.

Only humans can "waste" time. I know I do. Every moment I spend reading about what the ocean feels like when I can be standing in it is wasted time.

(Sharing experiences that I cannot know through my own senses is a different matter. Writing down instructions on how to make tools, prepare food, build a roof, these are all useful. Telling stories, too, sharing what we know about each other is a human act. Singing, dancing, playing the harmonica, all useful for sharing who we are.)

We teach our children how to waste time efficiently, for profit, for prestige. We even use that as an excuse for how we treat them--"you want that diploma so you don't have to flip burgers." We take them to art museums to help them develop a taste for high culture (and test their urine to make sure they're not part of the culture of high).

I am, of course, being a horse's arse (again)--there is tremendous value in exposing children to the finer arts. I just don't want us to lose sight of the bigger picture, the one even Turner could not capture.

So now a plug for those of us who want to teach our kids how to waste time outside classroom walls. The New Jersey Division of Fish sand Wildlife has announced a grant program to get kids fishing--the "Physh Ed" Grants Initiative:
These grants provide up to $2,500 to certified teachers to help establish a fishing and/or boating education program in their school. Our partnership provides a researched based curriculum, hands-on training, equipment discounts, and ongoing guidance from the Foundation staff and its partners.
Ah, another reason why I love living in New Jersey.....

The child in the picture is Gerald Ford, a few years before he was President. Photo from the Gerald R. Ford Library via the National Archives.
The painting is Sunset, by JMW Turner.


Ima Pissdov said... the picture of Ford.....and about wasting time. Thank god we can do it.
My son lives in Union City and works at Museum of Natural History in NYC....a graduate of Pratt.

Douglass Montrose-Graem said...

You are ALL
coridially invited to visit for a FEAST of Turners.

The Turner Museum

doyle said...

Dear Ima and Douglass,

Thank you both for showing a lot of class. My wife darn near brained me for this post. She did, indeed, marry a clodhopper.

I hope to meet your son someday--I love the American Museum of Natural History, despite my pettiness.

@Mr. Montrose-Graem,
Thank you for coming by. I read your personal website, and am truly humbled to have someone of your stature drop by here.

My wife is a HUGE Turner fan, and is fuming that I used him ("of all people") to make a silly point. She was the one who noted that yesterday's sky was Turneresque. She also noted that Turner was an artist, not a photographer, and that he transcends what we see (or something to that effect--she's usually right, and I am smarting enough to consider deleting this post).

Kate Tabor said...

Well, it's true - I have my students stare at paintings, though not Turner as he (sadly) was British. I ask that they look at the ways people respond to their landscape through time; so Church, Durant, Eakins, and Homer through Hopper, Wood and Bearden. Compare this to the way people respond to their world in literature. Then I ask them to make some connections. Check out our museum at
Here's a standout curator:

But your point isn't silly. We do need to experience our own landscapes. As Emerson would say: "We will walk with our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds."