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Andrew East

a combination of an art blog, which examines themes displayed in the Modern Art era, and another dedicated to the IB Theory of Knowledge

Theory of Knowledge In Real Life

        Although this isn’t a concept that we have explored in the IB Theory of Knowledge class, there is a subject that has been dancing through my mind recently which I feel is quite relative to the fundamental concept of the course: the ways in which we internalize and express knowledge. I’ve always been the person who wishes to thoroughly articulate complex and wondrous ideas into words yet I often fall short of doing so because words are (essentially) futile devices*.

        I have engulfed myself recently into a lot of literature which encapsulates the Transcendentalist ideas of spirituality, natural sublimity, and mysticism from a human perspective. Through exploring these higher-level ideas, I became in touch with the spiritual part of myself and the introspective outlook on the world that I have always possessed but never been able to fully recognize- until reading the works of Whitman and Dillard, who explore concepts that aren’t so founded in the physical state. I have found, especially after reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in our IB World Literature class, that it is extremely difficult to write about themes such as these because our language is limited and it doesn’t allow us to authentically express the complexities of the human psyche.

        The “Metaphors We Live By” activity that we did last semester demonstrates how many of our terms and linguistics are rooted in physical actions; words that are emblematic of wisdom, such as “insight” and “enlightenment”, pertain to physical vision and we are raised to think within the constraints of that terminology. Metaphors in language are not bad per se but once they are used to substitute for explaining larger concepts, it limits us from thinking in a realm other than the corporeal.

        For me, trying to find the exact words to express the transcendent quality of Annie Dillard’s writing is akin to chasing after butterflies with a net full of holes. I am trying to grasp the words with which I can portray the ethereal nature that Dillard, Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau often flirt with in their writing, yet words fail and leave me frustrated with my thoughts, thoughts that are unable to be accurately expressed. Is it because I’m too young to understand this nuanced style of literature? Am I overthinking these things? Or perhaps I just need some sleep. 

        It is moments like these that make me appreciate poetry more than prose. In poetry, the words don’t always make sense but the reader still understands and can even have a better understanding of it. Poets utilize the auras and the connotations of words to communicate a new language of their own invention; they defy the limits of language and, in the process, create a work of art. Nikki Giovanni, for example, includes in her poems irrational phrases like “lyric you in lilacs” and still conveys her message but with a type of mystical beauty. Even with Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poems like “Jabberwocky”, which we read in class, the listener can somewhat comprehend his absurd lexicons through the nature of the sounds and inflections.

        What I still question, however, with any form of literature is if there are words that are more fruitful than others or better in the context of the work- which leads back to these fundamental questions: how do we conceptualize and define things that are unable to be defined through certain mediums? What are the limitations and mental models that come with language as a way of knowing? To what extent is language subjective? I have been asking myself this over and over the previous couple of months and I accept that I may never find the solution that I’m looking for, if there even is one. Perhaps I should instead spend more time on appreciating the beauty of the “butterflies” instead of trying to perfect how they are translated into a medium that is already inherently flawed.


*reference to my favorite modern musician and love of my life aka Sufjan Stevens

 

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Imagining A Class Without Grades

I personally believe that the best attitude one can have while enrolled in the IB Diploma program is to be focused on performance, passion, and participation. Schools like Carrollton High heavily depend upon grading systems and state-designed curriculums to assess a student’s performance in the classroom. Even though it is easier and more organized to grade this way, assessments using rubrics may accidentally prompt students to develop a minimalist work ethic and to focus only on activities that directly impact their over-all score for the class. So what happens when the teacher eliminates these assessments and the students are accountable for evaluating themselves through their participation?

I hypothesize that when Mr. Brewer will implement this new grading system into our IB Theory of Knowledge course, we will feel more independent because it’s now our responsibility to evaluate ourselves, but I think we will respond to this differently. Some IBers will find freedom in not being dictated by the traditional number system while others like me will find stress in knowing that our grades are determined by the impressions we give.

I’m very hard on myself when I turn in blogs a few days late, which I should be because there isn’t any space in IB-land for a slacker, but I’m also a perfectionist when it comes to assignments so I don’t know where the line is drawn when good becomes good enough. Perhaps a solution to this would be for me to seek guidance from Mr. Brewer but also discover how I can make IB Theory of Knowledge work for me.

Invisibilia Reflection: “High Voltage”

There is a very compelling question which arose in the 37 minutes of this Invisibilia podcast, entitled High Voltage (Emotions Part II): Is it possible to discover an emotion? Have you ever felt something so powerful and innate but it doesn’t exist in between the margins of happiness, anger, sadness, etc? Perhaps the “palette” of human expression is more diverse and some cultures experience others more often because of their circumstance.

Anthropologist Renato Rosaldo was faced with these revelations during his stay in the Philippines where he integrated himself and his family into two indigenous tribes and studied their culture, language, and lifestyles. However, Rosaldo didn’t expect his study to expose him to another layer of emotions he never thought existed- all because of one word: “legut”. The Ilongot tribe often used this to describe a feeling of chaos, absurdity, discord, or “high voltage” (as Rosaldo best likes to explain it).  They are a tribe prone to head-hunting expeditions where they march into the Carabello Mountains and decapitate a person and howl after they feel the sensation of legut.

It’s a word Rosaldo never knew how to define and he initially believed it meant “progressive” or “powerful” based on examples of legut he found in the village but he never was able to discover the bizarre feeling embodied in that word until tragedy struck a few years later after his departure.

He and his wife Shelly moved to a village of a northern Filipino tribe known as the Infagul. One morning, while Rosaldo was staying behind with his two young sons, Shelly went hiking with Infagul women among the rain forest’s rice terraces where she fell off a 65-foot cliff. Devastated as the anthropologist was after his wife’s tragic death, he returned to California and resumed the life he lived before researching the Ilongot and Infagul tribes. Rosaldo explains that, unbeknownst to him, “the seed of an alien emotion he’d never experienced before began to grow inside him”.

Rosaldo was driving through Palo Alto one sunny day, however, and felt a powerful sensation he inherently knew was legut. And he started to howl. It was an emotion he felt possess his entire body and consciousness and this howling gave him insight to the world of invisibilia. Because he was able to conceptualize legut, he discovered this new and wild form of human expression as well as a cure for his grieving. Fortunately, Rosaldo didn’t feel the desire to go “head-hunting” but what is so compelling about his experience is that it demonstrates how our conception of things as diverse and varied as human emotion is possible for how we express them.

Whenever I am excited, for example, positive thoughts float through my mind like bubbles and they make my perspective more optimistic and my actions more productive or influential. But when I was fourteen years old, I experienced a series of depersonalization and derealization episodes during a depressive state that lasted for months. I had no idea what I could do because I felt  n u m b  everywhere. It wasn’t sadness or even anxiety because those emotions including the rest of them felt entirely exhumed from my psyche. I knew nothing of how to react to the emptiness I felt and the way I recovered from it was through expressing it to a psychiatrist.

Like the howling of Renato Rosaldo, expressing our emotions in sometimes peculiar ways is essential to our recovery and reconstructing the concepts that we use to define our emotions.

My Personal Geography and Me

Visual reflections of reality, or maps, are not strangers to mankind. The astronomers use them to identify the constellations of the night sky and sailors have maps to navigate themselves through the seven seas. Sly politicians use them to manipulate electoral districts, architects design baseball stadiums with them, while some of us (like me) utilize maps to find the quickest route to the local CVS Pharmacy. Maps appear in our day-to-day routine and some may encompass wider concepts. But how can someone use a map to exhibit one aspect of their “individual existence”? This is what I discovered this past week in my Theory of Knowledge class when I became a cartographer and created my own geography in the form of a self-portrait (which is pictured above).

I chose to paint myself as a continent with land monuments that represent vulnerable parts of my personality. At the top of the picture, my hair flows in the shape of a wave like how it does in real life. The wildness and density of it prompted me to nickname this part of me as the “Sea of Hopes and Dreams” because I have many aspirations in life which have carried me in many directions. For example, I once considered becoming a psychologist for people who have survived traumatic experiences and then I convinced myself that I’d rather be a modern language teacher, and now, I’ve decided to pursue a career in International Affairs. Like the ocean, my dreams are constantly changing but I have the power to choose my final destination.

The split on the left side alludes to the underground city below Paris, otherwise known as Lutetia, which was built by the Romans in 200 A.D. I chose this to symbolize the personality I had when I was a child: highly optimistic, outgoing, and confident. I still carry these traits in me. Yet with time, I grew accustomed to being a teenager in today’s world. I believe I’ve had to bury the joyful spirit of young Andrew after recognizing how harsh reality can be…

My two eyes are replaced with the map symbol for a roundabout. The left is known as the “eye of fear” while the right is the “eye of wonder”; both are instruments on how I internalize knowledge. I have a curiosity for the things I cannot explain or understand, which encourages me to search for an answer, but I am simultaneously stuck with fear of the unknown. Sometimes, I’m scared thinking what the answer would be and how I will have no choice but to accept it. I believe in Christianity as well as I acknowledge that there may not be a life after this one but my inevitable death terrifies me.

I used color mapping to pinpoint the places on my cheeks, or “fields of embarrassment”, where I blush the most when I’m embarrassed or I think I said something stupid in class. One of the problems I face as a student is talking in front of people, particularly the intelligent kids who are in the I.B. program with me. Even though I enjoy expressing myself, I am anxious of how others perceive me and if I’m approved by their standards. Whenever I stutter or can’t find the right words to say, I blush a lot and end up thinking about that situation for weeks and weeks until those weeks become years.

The “effects of perfectionism” are expressed through the bags under my eyes, showing how my personality can impact my physical state. I have an unending yearning for things to be ideal and with school projects, I often sacrifice things like my sleep to satisfy my perfectionist nature. There are two dots on my face, however, which I labeled to reflect my Italian heritage, and thus, my family’s cultural background of the Mediterranean. This is important to me as it has bestowed upon me a sense of identity and place in the world.

Lastly, the “border of introversion” surrounds my main continent at a distance.  This is a visual representation of my relationship with others and my environment. Even though I’ve been gifted with loving friends and family members, I don’t think anyone has gotten so close to know me completely and authentically. Maybe that will change with time or maybe I will always have an introverted side for protection and independence.

 


 

There were several “personal geographies” from my classmates in Mr. Brewer’s TOK that I thought were counter intuitive and definitely embodied the spirit of our lesson: critically thinking about the potential for maps to reflect and create reality. Kamiya Wyatt’s “Heart Map”, in particular, made me smile but it was something new and interesting for me to analyze. She created a Pangea of the things she holds in her heart, such as “family”, “friends”, “God”, and “education”. I loved how all are connected through a network of streams and bodies of water, showing that Kamiya’s principles relate to each other. She used the sizes of the islands to symbolize how much she let them impact her- something I didn’t think of when creating my self-portrait. Ours contrasted differently but I think both shared the basic structures of our personalities which were demonstrated in a compelling way.

Taking on the Role of Teacher: A Reflection

A week and a half ago, me and four friends taught our IB Theory of Knowledge class as apart of the Ways of Knowing unit. We were assigned the topic of sense perception and thus, went into deep research on the five senses- hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. Our PowerPoint included extended notes with little videos in between so that the information we wished to convey was fully grasped by our intended audience- the class. Teaching almost twenty kids for 90 minutes seemed like a chance for catastrophe. After all, we are teenagers and lecturing children seems like a job reserved only for adults. Despite my initial dread when walking through the door of Mr. Brewer’s room that afternoon, I came to realize how prepared and effective we were in presenting our W.O.K. project.

The curiosity that was expressed by the other IB Diploma students encouraged us to be more confident and thus, the rest of the class period went by with ease. Our demonstrations of how the senses are necessary to obtain knowledge but can also deceive us provoked many class discussions, especially when we listened to the several examples of auditory illusions and mentioned the power of other senses when one is impaired. These brought up first-hand experiences from kids, which developed into higher-level questions in the spirit of the Theory of Knowledge. Even though the class would sometimes talk out of turn or rampant ideas were being thrown across the room at once, it was fantastic for me to witness the wheels start to turn in everyone’s minds.

Some parts of the lesson which we didn’t expect to stimulate interest did, like the socio-geographic affects on people’s sense perception. And others we were certain would succeed did not, such as our evaluation of empiricist philosophy. This was a new experience for us in expecting the unexpected. I believe that tying all of the senses together in a conclusion could’ve helped the students to reflect upon what they learned from our presentation. However, I don’t think that our discussion questions at the end were bad either because it conveyed a general sense of ambiguity for sense perception. These were just experiments that were to be done through trial-and-error because we now know what is and isn’t effective for our audience.

Communication was a key factor in making this experience successful. What I believe diminishes education in a classroom environment is the lack of interaction between teachers and students. After every lesson in our PowerPoint, we sought out to clarify any misunderstandings and make sure that everyone was on their feet. And because we are all the same age, there was not a difference in power dynamics and we were able to listen relate with each other on the same level of authority. This entire ordeal was valuable for me because teaching the class improved my confidence, strive to educate others, and my view of how important teamwork can be.

 

 

This I Believe

As an American teenager, I’ve succumbed to the consumer culture of feverishly buying something and disposing of it just as fast when I believe it’s broken and worthless. I was walking to my car with a friend a few weeks ago and after our feet collided, the stitching on one of my flip-flops snapped. They were only $30 and had been worn for a year so my immediate instinct was to throw the shoes away. Coming from a middle-class household with good stability, I’m privileged enough to have other pairs of shoes to wear throughout my high school year. I left the broken sandals on the stairs when I got home. Maybe it was the memories I had with them over the previous summer which stopped me from sacrificing them to the trash bin. But the next day, my grandfather came by and offered to stitch and reattach the straps.

I remember a story he told me about living in Pennsylvania as a young boy. My grandfather’s family was predominantly German-Italian and lived in tiny row houses in South Philly. They, like other families in the city, were dependent on their local tailor and shoemaker. If one of them were to rip the zipper on the pants worn for Sunday mass, they could simply walk across the street to a tailor who’d repair it and they were able to wear them again. In that lifestyle without many options and without much money, you didn’t give up on the things you had because of a small rip or tear. You learned to appreciate what you were given and customize it in times of struggle.

There is a useful message to be taught from this- one we should use to approach our behavior on the things (and people) we view as unfixable… We can make an effort to practice patience, leniency, and optimism- even if this means you are taking a risk by funneling hope into something that isn’t secure. For me, this is a struggle I’ve never noticed. I am often too quick or too confident in marking things and people as incompetent for their faults; by me and others not showing the compassion they may rightfully deserve, we abandon their potential to improve and thus, everything that could be done for society is incomplete. Because of our indifference.

My grandfather fixed my shoes and left them in my room, which I found upon arriving home from school last week. I saw the new adjustments yet they seemed like new. I may not trust them enough to wear to school again but my sandals, like people, have limits but they also proper value for certain circumstances. By being productive and accepting of the “unacceptable”, you may refrain from making an irreversible decision that’s manageable. This could benefit our relations with one another and also minimize our materialistic behaviors which are detrimental to us and the environment.

Thus, I believe in the power of customizing the world around me with what I’ve been given. I believe in the capability of broken shoes and flat tires and old tablecloths; and in the inner-integrity of drug addicts and the homeless. And I believe in forgiving people without reason; for what kind of world is one that cannot be proactive?

 

The Theory of Knowing What We Know

We as humans are life-forms who have become quite skilled at surviving on a rock in the middle of nowhere for thousands and thousands of years. Thus, the philosophers of generations before us have collected many questions- most of which were solved through rationality and the pursuit of science. Others still remain unexplained today, such as identifying what swims in the deepest abysses of our oceans and pinpointing who or what created the universe. And what if all the concepts we currently believe with steadfast confidence are simply illusions? This ambiguity abandons us in a grey-area of the mind that is both frustrating and is able to spark much interest.

To say that I “think” something doesn’t necessarily guarantee my credibility. Knowing something with 100% certainty is to successfully defend it as being a reliable and unquestionable doctrine. At one time, ancient mythology was known to mankind as an accepted reasoning for what caused the weather and creation. This means there is a fine, fine line between believing and knowing information, and we often argue our theory as the truth, despite its legitimacy. It may sound ridiculous for you to distrust what seems definite like questioning whether the sun will rise tomorrow from the east. However, to acquire a broad insight into knowledge and our world, you must seek out the relatively impossible- or what we deem as impossible…

Everything that is “known” can be debated with far-fetched, alternative possibilities, which may make you feel sometimes like you’re in “Inception” with Leonardo DiCaprio. Obviously, humans came to exist by natural child birth, the world wasn’t invented five minutes go, and a falling tree in the woods will most definitely make a sound. But there is strength and there is beauty in admitting we do not (and cannot) know the answers to everything, no matter how much effort we put forth into discovering them. Only through open-mindedness, flexibility, and resilience can humans thrive in a setting like our world, which exists off of pure mystery.

A true inquirer accepts his or her short-comings, but they flourish each day with their attentive awareness of the people, societies, and all other elements around them. Because even though information is fickle and humans are limited, we must accept that for what it is. Even Albert Einstein, arguably the smartest man who ever lived and the inventor of the theory of relativity, once said “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination“.

Jean Delville (1867-1953)

Beauty is one of the manifestations of the Absolute Being. Emanating from the harmonious rays of the Divine plan, it crosses the intellectual plane to shine once again across the natural plane, where it darkens into matter.

A powerful but rare characteristic of modern artists is to adapt their own fundamentals into art forms, and so well that observers are dazzled by the creations, for it’s coherent that they’re motivated by a deep, spiritual connection. Belgian theosophist Jean Delville’s work is very symbolic in the way that his paintings are a reflection of stories from the New Testament and Greco-Roman mythology. Like a series of visual oratorios, dozens of these paintings were produced in his lifespan during the Idealist movement. The theory of idealism emphasizes that humans are limited in their perception of reality because reality is fictitious in itself. Knowing the dogma behind Delville, his artwork becomes an exploration of the central cosmos and entities outside of humanity as they are harmonized with themes of divinity and the ethereal.

The two depictions above of Heaven (in “L’homme-dieu”) and Hell (in “Les trésors de satan”) are relatively similar in placement but are contrasting in every other element. Because of how Jesus and Satan are formatted at the same coordinates on the paintings, one can make a clear analysis with Biblical knowledge that both are mirror images of each other yet take on opposite ambiances of character. Delville is playing the role of God in how he has set up Christ and the Devil to be authoritarian roles in the paintings but both divide into two paths like in the stories: Lucifer yearning for the possession of power and Jesus in the quest to sacrifice his strength for God. It is a yin-yang connection and this is visible by the artist’s manipulation of color. Pale shades of eggshell and cyan are indicated for holiness. Embers of green and mahogany in the coral-reef/oceanic setting formulate Hell’s ruin. Followers in the first are lying in mercy for humility and the damned of the second are in a frenzy of lust and immorality. Could these individuals below them be symbolic for the contradictory themes connected to Jesus Christ and the Devil?

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Another iconic depiction of symbolism is in his painting, entitled “Prometheus”. This refers to a tale in ancient Greek mythology where Prometheus was a god who created mankind out of clay and then stole the fire of Mount Olympus to provide for the mortals. In the painting above, his figure is shown dashing with the light of creation. Similar to Jean Delville, Prometheus represents the spirit of an inventor and is productive yet prideful of his creations.

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However, while there is creation, there must be the presence of death in everything and the artist is very raw in his representation of it. In the painting “La Mort”, a personified entity of death is seen cloaked with blood-stained rags and the face of a vampire. A clock reigns over It’s head like a crown as to say that Death is the ultimate emperor of time. This piece of art is destined to give me nightmares tonight.

Otto Dix (1891-1969)

I have to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths for life for myself; it’s for that reason that I went to war, and for that reason I volunteered.

The painter Otto Dix stands out in the art world through his enrollment in fighting for the Central Powers of World War I. From his legacy, Dix’s works were intended to reflect a grotesque, macabre version of society in the 1900’s German Empire. With an intent to contradict the general preference of people that art should be “pretty” and “appealing” (perhaps to balance out the time’s gloomy atmosphere), he exposes the ugly side of life, where beauty is commonly artificial. 

 

Above are three separate paintings which include ghastly characters expressed through his artistic lens. These images of normal people are twisted so that the sailor becomes diabolically sinister, make-up on the women inflames their skin, bones are visibly weak, and the figures’ eyes show the extent of their cynical demeanors and disfigurement. All characters that appear in his work are shown to be similarly unflattering except for one painting, which is a portrait of his wife (shown below).bf08ecb9602db53cf41636607a9239ee (1)

 

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Above is a portrait from Otto Dix entitled “Kriegsverletzter”, or “war-wounded”, which shows a man who’s face is half-destroyed. What leads me to an analysis of this painting is the title itself. We all know that war doesn’t just cause physical damage but harms the human psyche as well and steals a part of that person. Maybe “Kriegsverletzter” is showing the emotional erosion of a man after battle. Or it displays the face of a friend who later is killed and haunts the painter with his moribund state. 


In this, a soldier lies in painful agony- hand clenched at his heart, arm twisted, and eyes of shock- in a trench of some sort. As we are already told, Dix saw many things in the span of his enlistment and though we don’t know for sure if “Die Kunst des Krieges” (“The Art of War”) was a glimpse of what horror he witnessed, we can imagine. 

Though we weren’t in Dix’s position, the drawings he produced are enough to transport us back into the wastelands of WWI and the seedy ports of Germany. And it is the mystery of their backgrounds that make them even more haunting. 

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