Less than the Least

« February 2010 | Main | April 2010 »

March 2010 Archives

March 7, 2010

Art and Markets--Skeel

Through a quirk of scheduling, I was in Amsterdam a week ago for a corporate law conference and (after a brief return home) am now in Milan and Rome for nine days with the twelve students in my Globalization of Corporate Governance seminar.   The combination of corporate law conferences and side trips to several of the world’s great art museums has gotten me thinking—however ill-informedly—about the relationship between markets and art.

In my seedtime, we always assumed that great artists invariably resisted the commercial tendencies of their time.  But after a couple of hours with Rembrandt’s paintings of wealthy burghers (like this one, The Sampling Officials (1662)) from 17th Century Holland in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, or the Medici commissioned paintings in the Brera here in Milan, it seems clear that art-as-resistance is not a universal tendency. In 17th century Holland and Renaissance Italy, markets and art blossomed in tandem.
It may be that artistic trends alternate between fellowship with and resistance to markets. But I’m more inclined to suspect that markets and art invariably move in roughly parallel directions. The fragmentation of the art world in the past several decades may, for example, echo the destabilizing effects of globalization and rapid innovation in the financial markets.  Perhaps this means that we will see a period of neotraditionalism both in art and in corporate and financial life once the current crisis passes.

March 8, 2010

Church in Milan--Skeel

Yesterday I found myself in an Italian language service in Milan. The church—the Chiesa Cristiana, which doubles as Milan Bible Church in the afternoon-- was a thirty minute walk through nondescript neighborhoods (a reminder that Milan was heavily bombed during World War II) from my hotel. I ended up in the Italian language service because of the timing of the services—certainly not because of proficiency in Italian, which is still years away.

The church was downstairs in a little apartment complex with a small courtyard. A man stood by the door to let people in, which seemed a reminder of how small a minority evangelicals are in Italy. The room was painted a bright, deep yellow, with little posters of passages from John (e.g., “I am the life …”) on the walls.
The wonderfully lively service made me see contemporary worship songs projected on a screen in a new light. The general familiarity of praise songs, and the simplicity of the words, enabled me to join in the worship to an extent that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Even I understood lines like “Cantero del tuo amor/per sempre” (I will sing of your love always). It reminded me of the argument that the Catholic church has always made for paintings and other art in the church—that it made it possible for ordinary people to understand the richness of the Bible in an era when few could read.

March 12, 2010

Santa Maria delle Grazie--Skeel

As she described Santa Maria delle Grazie, the Milan church that houses da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” our tour guide said she so much preferred the name in Italian to its English translation—Saint Mary of Thanks—that she would stick with the Italian henceforth. “Grazie” does seem a prettier word than “thanks,” but I also wondered later if the connection in Italian between thanks (grazie) and grace (grazia; and graces is grazie) also figured in the preference. Grace and thanks are not the same thing, of course, but they are inextricably connected: our thanks are a response to God’s grace. Although I would locate the grace in the work of Christ, rather than Mary, I love the idea that a church “delle Grazie” might refer (if I’m not confused about the Italian) both to God’s manifold grace (or graces) in Christ, and to the thanks of his people, the body of Christ—as expressed generation after generation in the joyous worship in the church.

March 15, 2010

Rome Will be Rome--Skeel

When in Rome, I make a bee-line for the three great Caravaggio paintings of St. Matthew in San Luigi dei Francesi, just east of Piazza Navona. Standing in front of the paintings a few days ago—transfixed by the look of utter certainty on Christ’s scruffy features as he points a narrow finger toward Matthew in The Calling of Matthew [here]-- I realized that it was a good thing that none of my traveling companions had come with me. My gushing would have been unbearable. It occurred to me that this might make a nice topic for a blog post.

And then Rome intervened. The next day we watched six or eight trams go by in the other direction as we started out from our hotel in Trastevere, and none in our direction. The tram finally came after I had given up and had run across the street to try to catch a bus.
Last night as I made my way to Piazza del Popolo, which houses another great Caravaggio church, I was slowed by a wave of humanity coursing slowly down Via del Corso. This wasn’t a transportation strike—that was two days earlier—it was an enormous protest against Prime Minister Berlusconi. (A very cheerful protest, I should add. The middle aged Italians carrying signs reminded me of the protestors at a Tea Party rally). I made it nearly to the Piazza before finally giving up.
These frustrations alternate with the happy accidents that inevitably accompany them. One of the students on our trip get separated from us as we wandered around the edges of the Forum looking for Perilli’s Rome office, and happened upon a restaurant where she and her husband had eaten during their honeymoon six years ago. After several frustrating shopping expeditions, I finally found a birthday gift for my wife, whose birthday I missed because of the hard time I was doing in Rome. (We’ll see soon if she likes it too …)
I think heaven will be a little like Rome: full of aesthetic splendor and moments of pure, unexpected joy—just without the frustrations which, in a fallen world, provide the sharp, Caravaggian contrasts of dark and light that make the joys of Rome so arresting.

March 18, 2010

Cancer Update--Stuntz

Last week, the docs ordered another set of films; earlier this week, I heard the results. One of my tumors – the one on my liver – is growing again. This means the combination of chemo drugs I was on for the last seven-plus months are no longer working. So my oncologist put me on a new chemo regimen, which, so far, is about as nasty as the one it replaced.

This is not terrible news, but it isn’t good news either. As I understand the situation, there are three plausible chemo regimens for someone in my circumstances, not counting any clinical trials out there. One of those regimens has now proved ineffective. When—realistically, it isn’t “if”—the same thing happens with respect to the other two, I’ll likely be near the end of cancer treatment; palliative care will be all that’s left, and the cancer will take its course. Plainly, I’m not there yet, and hope I won’t be there for awhile. But I’m a step closer.
All of which leaves me a little sad. Not surprised: I’ve done better for longer than I had any right to expect, and I think better than my oncologist expected. But still sad. Life on chemo is often unpleasant, but there is still a surprising degree of pleasure and dignity and joy. I love those things, and as anyone in my shoes would, I want more of them. And yet . . .
More and more, I’ve come to see my cancer’s natural progression as containing within it great gifts. Cancer steals life, but the theft is slow and happens in stages. None of it catches me by surprise, for which I’m thankful. I’m even more thankful to have the opportunity to finish some work and, especially, to do things for my spouse and our kids that I might not have done had I expected to live a long time yet. Life feels more precious than it did before, yet I don’t feel the need to cling to it as much as I did before. Whatever happens with the course of my treatment—maybe the next set of films will be better; maybe not—I’ll be fine. God is good.

March 20, 2010

Bill Stuntz Conference at Harvard March 26-27--Skeel

Harvard will be hosting a conference honoring Bill next weekend.  The conference will consist of four panels of speakers on Friday and Saturday, the first three on criminal law and procedure and the last on Bill's life and work generally.  The line-up is extraordinary (here's the Harvard announcement and here's a fuller description from Orin Kerr, one of many terrific speakers who will be there), and it promises to be a memorable event.  It's open to anyone who would like to attend.

March 21, 2010

Obama and Berlusconi--Skeel

A week ago, at the end of a nine day trip to Italy, I waded through a vast protest in against Prime Minister Berlusconi. At a reception that evening, an Italian former student explained that, after Berlusconi’s minions missed the filing deadlines for regional elections, he simply had a law passed to change the rules. For my former student and millions of Italians, this was the final straw. Many of the protestors carried signs saying “Basta”—that is, Enough.

I first heard about the “deem and pass” strategy the Democrats were originally planning to use to pass healthcare the next day, when I returned to the U.S. I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between President Obama’s willingness to cut procedural corners and Berlusconi’s.  Overall, the differences between the two are far more pronounced than the similarities. Through his control of many of the main television stations and newspapers and through threats to others, Berlusconi has largely stifled the Italian media.  In the U.S., the media is much more wide open.   In addition, Berlusconi’s battle seems entirely personal at this point—an effort to cling to power—whereas Obama is fighting for a reform he campaigned on and is obviously committed to.
But here, as in Italy, assuming that citizens will overlook procedural manipulations because of an underlying confidence in their leader is a dangerous strategy.  It may work once, but even considering these kinds of tactics in the coming debates over financial reform and other legislative issues could have devastating consequences for Americans’ already shaky confidence in government.

March 22, 2010

Live Link for Stuntz Conference--Skeel

For those of you who can't make it to Cambridge this weekend for the conference but would like to tune in to some or all of it, I'm told that there will be a streaming video here.

March 24, 2010

Caravaggio at Rome's Quirinale--Skeel

The Caravaggio exhibition at the Quirinale in Rome is one of those rare exhibitions that would justify a special trip. I’m tempted to try to go back (though I readily concede that I’m always tempted to go back to Rome). Caravaggio died young and didn’t leave a huge number of paintings, so the exhibition isn’t large by blockbuster standards: ten rooms, often with one or two paintings per room. But it is a rare opportunity to see the full sweep of Caravaggio’s career in a single setting.

What a strange, disturbing, irresistible career it was. Four hundred years later, Caravaggio still resists being put in an art historical box. He managed to paint some of the most magnificent Biblical paintings we have, while also leaving disturbing images of sexually charged young boys—both of which are well represented in the show.
Caravaggio’s paintings are not flawless in the way, say, a Raphael painting sometimes seems flawless. Often the objects are oddly small in scale in comparison to the figures. In “Card Sharps” [here], the dice at the lower left seem microscopic by comparison to the scale of the figures. But paintings are often so arresting, and so psychologically rich, that the distortions seem trivial. (And it may be that art historians even have clever explanations for them).
The exhibition includes the original version of “The Conversion of Paul,” which hangs in Santa Maria del Popolo, a fifteen minute walk from the Quirinale. For some reason, the original version was rejected. It’s not quite as dramatic as Caravaggio’s second effort, but it too is a remarkable painting. I assume art historians have an explanation for the rejection—the only thing I could imagine is that perhaps Paul’s bare chest seemed inappropriate for the chapel for which it was intended.
Caravaggio seemed to have a thing for John the Baptist: he presented John in a variety of different poses, most of which are far removed from the Biblical portrayal of John. John is often languid and effeminate, with a hint of sexuality. Perhaps this reflected the interests of Caravaggio’s patrons. My favorite of portrayal of John is this one, which looks an awful lot like a psychedelic rock singer from the 1960s—someone who might have performed at Woodstock. (Extra credit if you name the singer he most resembles).
It’s hard to imagine a better day than one that begins with the St. Matthew paintings in San Luigi dei Francesi and the Madonna of the Pilgrims nearby, includes several hours at the Quirinale, and concludes with a visit to The Conversion of Paul and “The Martydom of St. Peter” at Santa Maria del Popolo. But if you’re thinking about doing this, buy your tickets in advance on the internet. It took me three tries to get in: I was thwarted once by the huge crowds, and a second time when I tried to slip in at the end of the evening (there were no crowds, but I was turned away because I hadn’t reserved a ticket in advance). 

March 27, 2010

Stuntz Celebration--Skeel

As hard as it was for Bill to endure the fuss, the celebration at Harvard Law School was, by my lights at least, unforgettable. The papers from the first three panels featured most of the nation’s leading criminal law and criminal procedure scholars, and hopefully will be published as a book. A recurring theme, made by very different scholars in very different ways, was the extent to which Bill’s work has transformed criminal law and criminal procedure scholarship.

The final panel was more pervasively personal.  One example of the stories, from remarks by Ken Abraham, a colleague of Bill’s when he was at the University of Virginia: when Bill was up for tenure at Virginia, two colleagues (one of whom was Pam Karlan, another panelist) got their hands on the stationary used by the central administration, and sent Bill a letter. Although the administration had received Bill’s tenure materials, the letter said, they unfortunately would need to carefully parse each one of his articles. The process would probably take at least six years. Bill fell for the ruse.
We didn’t give Bill an opportunity for rebuttal, but he presented the sketch of a new paper on the initial panel.
As soon as we have a DVD of the proceedings, I’ll post a link for anyone who’s interested.