Meet Cindy Nemser - art critic, theatre critic, novelist, humorist, journalist, and ardent feminist.

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

3:40 PM Posted by Cindy Nemser No comments
May3, 2012 My unpublished letter to The Editor at the New York Times This letter is a response to To Mr. Greenberg’s rejoinder letter about the value of a Liberal Arts Education No matter what profession one chooses, I do not believe it is possible to be really educated without a solid grounding in the liberal arts. However, schools can offer their students a compromise between study of the liberal arts and training for the hardscrabble world that awaits them. When I went to Brooklyn College, in 1955 everyone was required to study subjects which were part of the “core curriculum.” This dictum insured that for two years I had the opportunity to imbibe heady samplings of ancient Greek wisdom, English and European literature, Western European history, influential economic theories, great works of art, and much more. Unfortunately, for me, after my cultural days ended, I had to declare a major and ordered to take courses that would ready me for gainful employment. Not knowing there was a field called art history; I opted to be an elementary teacher. (It was one of the few choices open to women in my insular environment-- I was at Brooklyn College, not Vassar.) During the next two years, I had to endure theoretical lectures from teachers who had only taught in silk stocking environs. These courses ill prepared me for my first job in a poverty stricken neighborhood where I was totally frustrated because I couldn’t find a way to teach my pupils to read and write. These children frequently entered first grade lacking the kind of preparation that ready more privileged kids to succeed academically. I couldn’t even get them to memorize the alphabet. With the exception of the single time I was given the “1” class, I was miserable. During the six years, I spent there, I saw myself as a failure and a prisoner of a system from which there was no exit. However my early taste of the liberal arts kept my mind alert and open to new learning. I decided to pay for a Master’s degree in English and American literature at Brooklyn College’s graduate night school. It was there, basically, for high school English teachers wishing to earn more money by obtaining a higher degree. I these courses as a way of making up for the wasted years of listening to education jargon... I felt .I had not been fully educated. When I attained that degree, I could go not further at Brooklyn College. I, who had majored in art in high school, but receiving no encouragement, I gave up the idea of being a fine artist. However, I remembered the deep joy I had experienced from the single art appreciation course that was offered by the gifted Professor Milton Brown during my early college years. I began to attend lectures at the Metropolitan Museum during my free summers and I ached to learn more about the art installed there... A random request for a graduate catalog from NYU provided just the kind of learning I was looking for. But they wanted full times students, who had to pass written exams in French and German and take a comprehensive exam as well as write a thesis. They also required that I take an extra preparatory undergraduate course about art of the Renaissance. I knew I couldn’t do the work and keep on teaching. A course about the influence of Transcendentalism on American Literature had lead me to read Emerson’s essay “Self Reliance.” Emerson gave me license to leave. I remembered that he said (to paraphrase) that no one had the right to keep one from developing into the person they were meant to be. (“I shun father, mother, wife or brother when my genius calls.”) That dictum gave me the courage to change my life. I relinquished my hard won teaching license which guaranteed a steady salary and became a full time student at the world-renown Institute of Fine Arts where I earned an MA in art history. This degree was the beginning of an exhilarating career as an established art critic and ardent feminist who published and edited a revolutionary magazine, The Feminist Art Journal and a ground breaking book, Art Talk: Conversations with 15 Woman Artists that has been translated into many languages. I also wrote several other books and many articles in prestigious magazines and newspaper. Later on I even became a published novelist and then a theater critic as well as a writer on the other arts. During my career I met famous personages including Chuck Close, Louise Nevelson, Barbara Hepworth, Lee Krasner, as well as the great opera start Marilyn Horne and the playwright Charles Bush and other theater notables. It is due to grounding in the liberal arts I was able to make a meaningful contribution to society and live an exhilarating life. Cindy Nemser 41 Montgomery Place Brooklyn NY 11215 Cell phone 917—755-7257 Home Phone 718-857-9567 This is an expanded version of a letter sent to the April 29th New York Times Week in Review Section. I was disappointed not to have my letter printed, but I just couldn’t manage to say what I wanted to in 150 words. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams, I am sorry to write such a long letter. didn’t have time to write a short one.”


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