Balancing painting, parenting, crafting and book loving one day at a time...

Balancing painting, parenting, crafting and book loving one day at a time...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen and "Is there a link between science and art ability?"

This week was Science Fair week at my kid's school.  I noticed something interesting...a lot of the kids who won prizes were also good artists.  I volunteer teach art part time to the middle school students at their school.  Most of the really good artists had really good science fair projects.  I think there is this assumption that scientists are all left-brain catalogers, but really, many of them think out of the box.  At least the big time ones, like Einstein and Edison.  A science fair project can join many interests, from building, inventing, nature loving and asking questions about the world.  A good artist can put together a great board, with visual examples.  Art is also about process, just like science.  And it is messy!  It seems like science is taught off to the side these days, at least in elementary school, which is kind of sad.

Because my kids have had great teachers, they've embraced science at school.  Both of them won science fair awards, my daughter won 1st last year, my son won 2nd this year.  My husband and I are NOT sciencey-y at all.  Sure, we love nature, the outdoors, and birding and gardening....but I'm really not sure where they get it from.  I'm artistic and bookish, and my husband loves math, music and sports.  I'm son wants to be an environmentalist.  We need more environmentalists in this world.

In any case, I think the art teachers should talk to the science teachers and talk about how drawing and putting your ideas down on paper should be ENCOURAGED, not discouraged.  Doodling, mistakes and general overall MESSINESS, is how some of the world's greatest scientists made their discoveries.  The discovery of penicillin (mold growth) happened because Alexander Fleming left his petri dish out by the window (in his messiness) and mold grew and voila!  penicillin was discovered.  And let's not even get started on the state of Einstein's hair!

Who doesn't love a science fair project like:  "Which anti-gas remedies decrease gas production?"  Or "Can bubblegum improve your memory?" What curious kid hasn't wondered about the effect of caffeine on plants?  I'd like to water my plants with coffee and see what happens!  And where else in school do you get the chance to build a trebuchet and launch stuff from it, or a hovercraft and get GRADED for it?  These were all actual science fair projects at my kids school this year.  Sadly, these types of events are being erased, downsized, eliminated at even the best schools. 

And now onto Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.   I've refrained from reading what others have thought about it, so as not to inform my opinion.  Well, I was excited when I started the book, but a little exhausted upon finishing it.  It is over 500 pages, which was a little too long.  I read his other book, The Corrections quite a long time ago, so my memory has faded.  But what I do remember is his characters.  In both books, they are generally unlikable.  Maybe this is the "modern novel" for you. 

The novel follows a woman, Patty, who came of age at the tail end of the 70's.  We meet her in high school, follow her through college and meet the two men she loves and then onto her subsequent marriage to one of them.  The conflict that arises from her decision follows her throughout her life.  But this is not the real story of this book.  The book is more about our times, and the characters give voice to the author's ideas and opinions about the world.  Politics, environmentalism, living in a meaningful way....all of these ideas are exemplified by the characters.  One character is an obscure rock star who ironically becomes big later in life.  One character emblifies the progress women made in sports, but sadly, this does not help her much in life.  Another character takes the idea of entrepreneurship in a newly freed Eastern Europe to it's not-so surprising conclusion.  Another character's story explores the uneasy relationship between government, the environment and big business. 

The book was interesting but I got a little bogged down at times by the author's almost too obvious tries to make his characters mouthpieces for his ideals.  Overall, it's worth a read, and you will recognize "types" from people you know throughout the book.

My next book is Great House by Nicole Krauss, a much different read about a novelist writing at a young Chilean poet's desk she inherited that has a mysterious power over those who possess it.  She also wrote The History of Love, a good book that came out a few years ago.

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