On this day in the distant past, two great painters were born. The Dutch Golden Age painter Aelbert Cuyp was born in 1620. Mostly, he was a landscape painter. He does amazing things with skies: light, not the way it is, but the way it ought to be. The French portrait painter Nicolas de Largilliere was born in 1656. I don’t think that he is as good, but his work is still amazing.
The great composer Charles Ives was born in 1874. Here is Central Park in the Dark, which is one of the most important classical works of the 20th century. He wrote it in 1906, but it wasn’t performed for another four decades. And that is probably for the best. Today it sounds fine: dissonant, but fine. In fact, it reminds me of the Howard Shore’s title music for the film Existenz. But it likely would have caused riots in 1906. It is hauntingly beautiful.
Two great actors were born on this day in 1882. First there is Bela Lugosi. I’ll be honest, although I really enjoy him in Dracula and White Zombie, I much prefer Boris Karloff. The second actor is the wonderful Margaret Dumont, Groucho’s foil in many Marx Brothers’ films. She was perfect as the representative of the establishment that the brothers rebelled against. Without her, Groucho especially wouldn’t be as much fun.
Other birthdays: pianist Jelly Roll Morton (1885); discoverer of the neutron James Chadwick (1891); film director Jean-Pierre Melville (1917); baseball player Mickey Mantle (1931); actor William Christopher (81); musician Tom Petty (63); film director Danny Boyle (57); actor Viggo Mortensen (55); and musician Snoop Dogg (42).
The day, however, belongs to the great philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey who was born in 1859. Below is a nice, brief, discussion of his influence by A.G. Rud. I like that he mentions that Dewey would be skeptical of our modern focus on testing standards. What real educational reformer is not? Our modern treatment of students as though they are widgets on an assembly line really bugs me. It reminds me of a very Soviet approach to education. The approach is all about turning children into adults who will be useful to the business community. It should be about maturing children into good citizens in all the glorious diversity that the word ought to suggest.
Happy birthday John Dewey!