A classroom/school Lecture
Echoes Across Time: It's All Old Kingdom to Me; Emily Teeter
As archeologist Howard Carter reflected on the vast treasure of the newly uncovered tomb of Tutankhamen, he noted that in the main antechamber a double compound bow rested upon an elaborately decorated couch. The bow “terminated at either end in the carved figure of a captive,” Carter writes, “arranged that their necks served as notches for the string” (Carter, The Tomb of Tutankhamen 48). Carter adds, “that every time the king used the bow he bow-strung a brace of captives” (Carter 48).
In an age in which wartime aggression and physical violence is scorned and Social Justice and Democracy is taught, the Egyptian depiction of hostility is troubling, and a number of educational theories are used to “read” the pieces.
Oriental Institute Collection
Photo by RJ Molyneux-Davis, July 2009
bell hooks maintains that academia’s tradition of “studying and learning other people’s work in order to find our own theories and defend them were and are being constantly challenged” (47). She adds that Judith Simmer-Brown offers an alternate approach in which students are not forced “into holding theories and sold concepts but rather to actually encourage the process, the inquiry involved, and the times of not knowing—with all the uncertainties that go along with that” (47-8). The purpose of proposing this approach to education is to call to question the extant theories, yet the number of books and articles hooks has published stands as an ironic testament to her ideology (theories); by continuing to write, has she not developed her own theories, thereby encouraging educators to adopt her own individual approach to education?
Yes, one could argue that the old way is different than her approach, but if analyzed closely, it is essentially the same process: students are introduced to a number of ideas (“studying and learning other people’s work” vs. “inquiry”). The next step, according to hooks’ evaluation of the traditional model, is to encourage students to establish their own theories. hooks argues that the newer educational model will engender “times of not knowing,” and her reader then can’t help but note the irony that she is in the very act of teaching, filling the void of “uncertainties” with her own ideas.
hooks expresses frustration with students who “come close to graduation—and then sabotage themselves” (49), then notes that the process of education is ongoing, something that should be carried on throughout life. Herein lies the dilemma for me: what does that process entail?
Empty vessels. As educators, are we to fill them? Or are students truly empty vessels? If they are actively engaged in the learning process, even if they are not “empty,” they are at least looking to, at some level, be filled. With what?
As Emily Teeter from the University of Chicago took the lectern at AIC’s Fullerton Hall on March 22, 2012, she noted that for her, an historian, speaking at the Institute always posed a challenge because she was to talk about the process of art making rather than the art. Often, in spite of Barthes’ theory of the death of the artist, art and the process of making are inextricably bound: history, culture, society and artist meet in a single work of art, which serves as a mirror to the society in which it was created as well as reflecting the manifold ways in which the society has shaped the artist. Moreover, it serves as a mirror to the society which views it: like the not-empty vessel known as student, the society viewing the work brings to the mirrored image the background, the experiences, the cultures which shape their daily perception of the world.
AIC welcomes Institute members and leisure museum goers to participate in the “Echo Effect: A Season of Lectures and Performances” that are presented as “an examination of…how works of art are adapted, reproduced, interpreted, and transformed over the centuries” (Art Institute of Chicago brochure). The curator of ancient Egyptian art at the Institute notes that in the Echo Effect series, Tweeter’s lecture will cover the largest span of art history of any of the other lectures, noting that for over 3500 years, Egyptian art remained consistently the same. Tweeter switches quickly from image to image, noting similarities in frescoes and sculptures dating anywhere from 3500 BCE to 46 CE. She notes that the continuity is not symptomatic of lack of imagination, but, like the Egyptian creation myth, is a unified creative expression rising from an undifferentiated mass in the same way that the first gods were raised from a primordial swamp-like mass. Egyptian art was meant to repeat the first act of creation in which “one came from many, many from one.”
The concept of time for the Eyptians, Tweet explains, was twofold: cyclical (Neheh), which is represented in daily rising of the sun to predictable season changes and linear (Djet) which is the eternal cosmological balance of the universe, an order maintained by gods and king. Society itself is maintained through a cosmological force outside of the concept of individual. Tweet notes that for the Egyptians, the god Maat provided a sense of right (justice) that kept order over chaos, so when the king was depicted walloping (Tweet’s word choice) an enemy in Egyptian art, it is a symbol of cosmic order, not just a king exerting power over his enemies and maintaining a kingdom’s borders. The king and the gods (society) pull together to sustain an eternal sense of cosmological order.
In our western world in which democratic ideals, individual expression, and uncertainty are embraced, the Egyptian stasis seems foreign, as stagnant, one may argue, as the swampland from which the Egyptian gods themselves were said to rise. It is easy for artist today to scorn representational style of the Masters, wanting to be able to create something fresh, something new, something that represents self. The sense of individual permeates all art, and no single style (unless it hints of the older, more traditional concept of beauty) holds a higher status than another. Yet, ironically, as artists today create what they consider to be individual expressions of artistic creativity, as students are encouraged to embrace the uncertainty of not formulating their own theories, as writers are encouraged to reject old styles for new, the same University that employees art historian Tweet has recently revealed that the neurological composition of our brain, determined by the DNA pattern we were given at birth determines at least 60% of the time what we will choose, what we will produce, what action we will take when faced with a choice. The recently published article concludes “four scientists [out of six] on the panel denied the existence of free will, arguing that human behavior is governed by the brain, which is itself controlled by each person's genetic blueprint” (http://news.yahoo.com/free-illusion-scientists-philosophers-forced-differ-210401902.html). Perhaps we are not as individualistic as we would like to think.
In the Egyptian society in which cosmological balance was preserved by gods and kings, what role did the individual play? Tweet notes that individual identity, agency, if you will, was paramount in Egyptian culture and was granted to all who were part of the society. When an individual’s name, regardless of income or social status was written or when a likeness of an individual was painted, drawn or carved in clay, wood, or stone, the individual was granted a place in the linear, eternal (Djet) sense of time even after the cyclical, temporal (Neheh) time has ceased.
Eternal life, assured through artistic and written word: the mirror of society that will be viewed not just during the moment it was created, but throughout time.
A sense of place and time. A way of bringing order from chaos. Purgation of uncertainty. That is why artist creates, viewer sees, and student learns. Cosmological order: creating something out of nothing to echo across time.