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A Day of Genius with the Chicago Tribune

September 28, 2019 9:30 AM – 1:15 PM

schedule

9:30 AM - 10:35 AM
The Artistic Genius of Michelangelo

Tina Rivers Ryan / Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo), Formerly Columbia University

A leader of the High Renaissance of the early sixteenth century, Michelangelo Buonarroti was legendary even in his own time for his inventiveness as an artist: Giorgio Vasari, the godfather of art history, wrote that he had been endowed by God with "universal ability in every art and every profession…to the end that the world might choose him and admire him as its highest exemplar in the life, works, saintliness of character, and every action of human creatures, and that he might be acclaimed by us as a being rather divine than human."

In this talk, we will trace the arc of Michelangelo's storied life, from his upbringing by the powerful Medici family, to his glory days as architect and artist to the Popes, and his spiritual re-awakening late in life. Along the way, we will look closely at his paintings and sculptures, including the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Last Judgment, the Pietà, and the David, in order to understand the importance of his unique artistic vision. Through his works, we will come to better understand the man behind the legend--a passionate artist and competitive rival to the likes of Raphael and Bramante--whose outstanding achievements and temperament gave rise to the modern notion of the artistic "genius.”

Tina Rivers Ryan / Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo), Formerly Columbia University
An art historian by training, Dr. Tina Rivers Ryan is currently Assistant Curator of contemporary art at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. She holds a BA from Harvard, three Master's Degrees, and a PhD from Columbia, and has taught classes on art at institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Pratt Institute, and Columbia, where she was one of the top-ranked instructors of the introduction to art history, "Art Humanities: Masterpieces of Western Art." A regular critic for Artforum, her writing has also appeared in periodicals such as Art in America and Art Journal, and in catalogs published by museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Tate. As a public speaker and scholar, Dr. Ryan has delivered lectures on topics ranging from Michelangelo to Warhol in more than 50 cities internationally.

10:50 AM - 11:55 AM
The Genius (and Rivalry) of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla

Craig Wright / Yale University

When Thomas Edison died on October 18, 1931, the lights went out. In his honor, President Herbert Hoover asked Americans everywhere to turn off their Edison lightbulbs at 10 p.m. on the evening of his funeral. "Thomas Edison—Genius Inventor—Dies at 84" screamed the front-page headline in the New York Daily News. When Nikola Tesla died in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel on January 7, 1943, the lights went out for him alone. Tesla was surrounded, not by a family, but by his pet pigeons (among his eccentricities were Columbophilia and Triphilia—look at his room number). The obituary in The New York Times did not call Tesla a genius. Instead, its final paragraphs implied he was a crackpot: Tesla had conceived of a "death beam" powerful enough to annihilate an army of 1,000,000 soldiers; and he was certain of intergalactic messaging that would allow communication with Mars. The Times obituary implicitly posed this question: Was Tesla a visionary genius or a lunatic?

Edison and Tesla (Edison's one-time employee) were arch-enemies with competing visions as to how to electrically empower America. Their hostility played out in the infamous War of the Currents, which culminated in the electrocution of Topsy the circus elephant in 1903, orchestrated and filmed by Edison, but intentionally using Tesla's controversial AC current. Radio, television, robots, electric cars, self-driving cars, solar heating, the internet, and the cellphone were on the mind of one or the other of these geniuses. Which one ultimately proved to have the more accurate and enduring vision for the world? Who is in the news today and why? Come and find out the answers.

Craig Wright / Yale University
Professor Craig Wright is the Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music at Yale. Professor Wright's courses include his perennially popular introductory course "Listening to Music," his selective seminar "Exploring the Nature of Genius" and other specialized courses ranging from ancient Greek music theory to the music of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Bach and Mozart. He was awarded the International Musicological Society's Edward J. Dent Medal and the American Musicological Society's Alfred Einstein Prize and Otto Kinkeldey Award - making him one of the few individuals to hold all three honors.

12:10 PM - 1:15 PM
The Restless Genius of Benjamin Franklin

Richard Bell / University of Maryland

Franklin's genius is a puzzle. Born the tenth and youngest son of a decidedly humble family of puritan candle-makers in Boston in 1706, Franklin's rise to the front ranks of science, engineering, and invention was as unexpected as it was meteoric. Here is a man with only two years of proper schooling who later received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and St. Andrews as well as the eighteenth-century equivalent of a Nobel Prize for Physics.

Like his hero Isaac Newton, Franklin's great genius lay in optimizing, in tinkering, in improving, and in never being satisfied with the world as he knew it. In this talk we will examine many of Franklin's ideas to make life simpler, cheaper, and easier for himself and everyone else. It turns out that those ideas encompassed not only natural science and engineering—the kite experiments and the bifocals for which he is justly remembered—but also all sorts of public works, civic improvements, political trail-blazing, and fresh, new business ideas. His experimenter's instinct, his relentless drive to build a better world one small piece at a time, even encompassed innovations in medical device design, in music, in cookery, and in ventriloquism. Hardly the tortured genius, Franklin took a schoolboy's pleasure in everything he made. Experimenting was a constant source of beauty, pleasure, and amusement for him, even when things went wrong (which they did all the time).

Richard Bell / University of Maryland
Richard Bell is a Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He has served as the Mellon Fellow in American History at Cambridge University, the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society, a Mayer Fellow at the Huntington Library, as a Research Fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Abolition and Resistance at Yale University, and a Resident Fellow at the John W. Kluge at the Library of Congress. He is also a frequent lecturer and debater on the C-SPAN television network. Professor Bell is the recipient of more than a dozen teaching awards, including the 2017 University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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