One Man’s Art

I have cried over books, movies, and music that touched me. I have shed tears for memories of women I have loved. But I think Jacob Collins’s 21 is the first painting that moved me to cry (“A Brush with the Past,” Spring 2007 on page 17). How can an artist infuse so much life into objects hanging on a wall and basking in warm light? And that look in the candlemaker’s eye, his long ear, and resolute mouth? I am beyond awestruck. There is nothing else to say except, “Thank you, Jacob.”
Todd L. Platek ’79BUS
Berkeley Heights, NJ

I had already seen the piece on Jacob Collins in the New York Times in January (“Art Above and Below, With Life in the Middle”) and knew something of the movement of painters who want to return to the glories of the past — and not just any past, but the past of the 19th-century Academy. Margaret Moorman’s piece is excellent, and her reference to the ringing of the cell phone in the old-world studio was great. Collins is certainly very skilled and your reproductions do full justice to the work. However, I have my doubts about the enterprise, especially one that is so devoted to repeating something that had lost much of its energy even when it was at its zenith. I am equally uncomfortable with Pound’s hysterical insistence that the artist must endlessly “make it new.” But competing with the past by imitating it is an even more limiting business. Reading the article, I kept thinking of an artist who comes from an almost equally distinguished lineage, the painter Lucien Freud, and how he has confronted the problem of working from the human figure.
Joseph Ablow
Brookline, MA

Your recent article on Jacob Collins is a mystery. With all the impressive graduates Columbia’s MFA program produces year after year, such as Dana Schutz ’02SOA, Guy Ben-Ner ’03SOA, or Banks Violette ’00SOA, who cover the walls of prestigious galleries and museums, focusing on Collins seems to come with an ulterior motive.
We get it. He knows how to paint and loves to apply his skills to the canvas while loftily invoking the Great Masters.

It’s one thing to embrace draftsmanship with an unequivocal ability to draw and paint; it’s another to mindlessly replicate life, especially in the course of our era, where neoclassical training is lesson number one at any art school. What matters today is the 20th century art historical discourse that Collins clearly disregards. His ostrichlike approach to art is aloof and disaffected at best and, I’m afraid, quite ignorant at worst.
Perhaps you would have been better off writing about his wife, Ann Brashares ’89BC.
Yulia Fishkin ’03BC, ’06GSAS
Brooklyn, NY

The Spring 2007 cover of Columbia, which featured Jacob Collins’s painting, Anna, was quite a surprise for us and our area postal workers. The Collins article and pictures caused us to feel shock, sadness, and disdain.
There may be a proper place for classical realism, but it need not be on the front page of an internationally respected university publication. If your intent is to increase readership, then kindly place this type of reporting somewhere in the interior of your magazine.
Aside from questions, of artistic and literary standards, what moral standards does this cover convey worldwide, and what does it say about Columbia?
I hope we can expect better — soon.
James C. Ward, Jr. ’74BUS
Statesville, NC

Interpreting Iran

Gary Sick’s musings on Iran appear not to have evolved significantly since he and others advised President Carter on the Iranian Revolution in a manner that ultimately proved to be naïve, befuddled, and very dangerous to America. Sick argues unpersuasively that American actions have “made Iran what it is today,” that the U.S. should offer Iran incentives, and that we need to be most concerned about the bellicose characters in Washington who have driven Iran “into a corner,” using it to divert attention from problems elsewhere.

Yet Sick avoids the fact that Iran began its clandestine multibillion-dollar effort to obtain nuclear weapons decades before Americans ever set foot in Iraq. He ignores the pattern of broken agreements and dissimulation that characterize both Iran’s nuclear program and comments by its leaders, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who threaten not just Israel’s existence, but all of Western civilization. Sick makes no mention that, precisely because of his and others’ colossal miscalculation, Iran is now the vanguard of a worldwide totalitarian jihadist movement inspired by notions of martyrdom and conquest, which seek to defeat the forces of liberalism, tolerance, and plurality.
Allon Friedman ’89CC
Carmel, IN

Gary Sick would have readers believe that Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s call to “wipe Israel off the map” is merely a request for a “referendum in which all Palestinians and all Israelis can have a free vote and they can decide what they want.”

Unfortunately for Israel, the Iranian leadership does not share Sick’s generous interpretation of what their president means. Here is what editor Hossein Shariatmadari writes in an editorial published on July 17, 2006, in Kayhan, an Iranian daily newspaper that is affiliated with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: “The annihilation of the Zionist regime is not only a religious and national duty, but also a universal human duty, from which no Muslim or free human being can be exempt. Comprehensive support for Hamas and Hezbollah, politically, logistically, militarily, and through sending combatant forces to this front are the minimal price that the Islamic countries must pay in order to maintain their own security and independence.”

I think it wiser to take our understanding of what Iran means by its threats to Israel from Iranian political sources than from Sick’s cheerful interpretations.
Nigel Paneth ’68CC
East Lansing, MI

Gary Sick continues a theme of the Left when it’s considering statements made by Islamic leaders. These leaders may say certain things but they mean something else. That is, we must deconstruct what they say and reconstruct it to fit our Western, liberal model. So jihad means self-improvement, not religiously sanctioned war; the dhimma is an agreement of mutual accord, not a forced contract between oppressor and oppressed; and the devshirme was a method of educating youth, not kidnapping and forced conscription. President Ahmadinejad does not want to eliminate Israel; he merely wants a referendum. Sick may have read the Qur’an and the Hadith, but he would likely conclude that these texts are really a misunderstood blueprint for universal peace and tranquility.

If this passes for scholarship and erudition in our Western universities, rather than wishful thinking, then we have moved into an era of fog and shadow, with far worse to come.
Harold B. Reisman ’65SEAS, ’65GSAS
Carlsbad, CA

Oh, Brothers!

I enjoyed your Spring 2007 issue, especially the rational letters to the editor. But there was a mistake in “Blond Knockout,” the College Walk article about Joyce Brothers and Charles Van Doren. The man who refereed the comeback attempt of an ex-champ against Jack Johnson at Reno, Nevada? “Tex Rickert?” You’re wrong! You must be confusing Tex Rickard with Marv Rickert, a Chicago Cubs outfielder in the late 1940s.
Philip R. Liebson ’56CC
Wilmette, IL

Indeed the referee was named Tex Rickard, not Rickert. — Ed.

Deconstruction Job

It is now 50 years since I graduated from Columbia College, when Lionel Trilling, Mark Van Doren, Fred Dupee, Jacques Barzun, and countless other exemplars of scholarly life taught there. I suppose change is inevitable and sometimes desirable, but when did the University change its mission from education to indoctrination, from cultivation of critical thinking to dissemination of mindless cant? The appointment of Gayatri Spivak — Marxist, feminist, deconstructionist, grievance collector — as University Professor is, I believe, the last nail driven into the coffin of Columbia as an independent truth-seeking university.

This is the same Spivak who employs unreadable jargon to “deconstruct” Western literature, exposing its role in the oppression of noble third world poor peoples. Her deconstructive work seeks to blur and erase all distinctions, not just between the sexes, but between good and bad, truth and falsehood, success and failure. One distinction remains: that between the capitalist oppressors — white, Western, imperialist males — and the designated, politically correct victims. Her greatest success at erasing distinctions, however, may be in helping to transform a liberal arts university into a politically correct reeducation camp. Shame on Columbia.
Stephen Rittenberg ’57CC, ’63PS
Larchmont, NY

School Names

It would be helpful to us old-timers if you spelled out the schools instead of using abbreviations. Either some schools have been created since we attended Columbia, or maybe we never knew them. What is APP? SIPA? GSAS? JRN? The “J” is probably journalism, but surely the “RN” is not registered nurse!
Edith Frankel ’48LS
Hannawa Falls, NY

Your point is well taken, and we have included a key to these not-very-obvious abbreviations. — Ed.


Key to Abbreviations: Each of the following school affiliation abbreviations refers to the respective school's current name; for example, GSAS — for Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — is used for alumni of the Graduate Faculties, which became GSAS in 1979. The only code not associated with a particular school is HON, which designates that person the recipient of an honorary degree from the University.


Barnard College
Graduate School of Business
Columbia College
College of Dental Medicine
School of General Studies
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
Graduate School of Journalism
Jewish Theological Seminary
King's College
School of Law
School of Library Service
School of Nursing
School of Optometry
Programs in Occupational Therapy
Mailman School of Public Health
School of Pharmaceutical Sciences
College of Physicians and Surgeons
School of Continuing Education
The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
School of International and Public Affairs
School of the Arts
School of Social Work
Teachers College
Union Theological Seminary