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One must agree with W. J. T. Mitchell (“Dinos R Us,” February/98) when he says it is impossible to take into account all the dinosaur images during their 150 years of public life. However, I must certainly object when he says that the dinosaur image “was not part of most American children’s experience before World War II.” This leaves out my favorite image: Dinny, the pal of the popular comic strip caveman, Alley Oop. In the days before television, the daily comic strip was a strong influence on young minds.

In fact, it was through the controversy that arose over Alley Oop that I first learned that dinosaurs and cavemen did not really live at the same time. I still wonder.

John E. Trowbridge, DB’53

Deming, New Mexico

Originality counts…

Jessica Abel (“Chicagophile”) is perfect. I have never enjoyed something new and original as much, and I salute her. Can’t wait for her first book!

James T. Dillon, AM’71, PhD’78

Riverside, California

…but not in spelling

Regarding the “Chicagophile” cartoon (February/98): “TOMMORROW”??? Perhaps you should install a spellchecker for Ms. Abel, then insist that she use it.

Richard E. Koeneman, AB’64

Lincolnshire, Illinois

Oil and water

I enjoyed reading Wayne Booth’s article, “Overtures,” in the February/98 issue. As the pace of our lives seems to accelerate with each passing year, I strongly agree that the pursuit of excellence by a devoted amateur offers a wonderful opportunity to reduce stress, renew our minds, and have a little fun as well. By the way, Charles Cooke, a professional writer and aspiring dedicated “amateur” pianist, makes a similar argument for developing a life hobby in his delightful book Playing the Piano for Pleasure (Simon and Schuster, 1941).

One minor quibble: the introduction to Booth’s piece rhetorically asks, “Why did Winston Churchill take up watercolors?” Actually, he was an advocate of oil painting. In Painting as a Pastime, Churchill writes: “‘La peinture à l’huile Est bien difficile Mais c’est beaucoup plus beau Que la peinture à l’eau.’ “I write no word in disparagement of water-colours,” he continues. “But there really is nothing like oils. You have a medium at your disposal which offers real power, if you only can find out how to use it….And always remember you can scrape it all away.”

Edwin O. Bradley, MBA’80

Buffalo Grove, Illinois

The joy of strings

My wife and I learned stringed instruments in our 30s, then played with a ragtag chamber music group for 10 years. Parts of Wayne Booth’s article exactly reflect our own experiences and feelings: “joyful friendship, spiritual ecstasy, gratitude for life’s mysterious unearned gifts….”

The article is marvelous, and I’m sure the book will be too. Booth has found a way of raising issues that are difficult to raise in a meaningful and intelligible way, and that rarely get discussed beyond a superficial level. For example, he cites Winston Churchill’s idea that painting has value because it refreshes a person for “more important things.” Booth is critical: “…the time Churchill spent painting was as important, as maybe sometimes even more important than, many of the hours he spent deciding on war strategies and election moves.” And he quotes Chesterton: “…life exists for the love of painting or other beautiful things.” But suppose Churchill were to reply that he derived from the practice of politics the very things Booth derives from the practice of playing music. There is a tendency to feel that music, art, and other goods must be the ends of life because they are intrinsically so good. I think that even Booth’s view allows politics to be just as valuable as painting or playing music.

Jack W. Meiland, AB’54, AB’56, AM’57, PhD’62

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Professionals do it for love too

Wayne C. Booth drove me to despair with his determinedly rigid separation between “amateur” and “professional” in “Overtures.” Of course, the implication is that amateur is mediocre and professional is superior. Professionals “own” music; amateurs are mere pretenders or interlopers. The two are separated from each other by the principle of perfectionism: Professionals are perfect; amateurs make mistakes. The world of music is neatly divided in two.

If amateurs are doomed to mediocrity, it’s not clear why amateurs practice music at all. Saying that they do it “for love” seems to beg the question: Professionals don’t?

The art of music lies mortally ill, wounded by commercialism, convention, technology, and a lack of fresh blood. Modernism made its vicious attack and then obligingly died, leaving new music without direction and purpose. “Professionals” keep music locked in a death grip; composers are afraid and defensive. This is no time for the so-called “amateur” to be timid. It is time for him or her to take music back and say: “Music is mine. It was meant for me. I will make of it whatever I want it to be!”

Barry B. Taxman, AM’50

Berkeley, California

Amateur ethics

Wayne Booth’s article about amateur pursuits reminded me of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. In ethics, it is a mystery how the action itself, rather than a product of it, can be the end for the sake of which we act. Could Aristotle’s answer be relevant to Booth’s question too?

Aristotle says that we act for the sake of the beautiful (or noble: to kalon), which seems to mean that we act in order to become beautiful ourselves. Could it be that, paradoxically, part of the worth of amateur pursuits is that they remind us how beautiful actions can be undertaken for their own sake, i.e., that to live a virtuously happy life is not simply to act out of reverence for moral law but to act nobly and beautifully? Did Churchill unfairly denigrate his own amateur pursuit because he sensed the inferiority of painting to the virtuous actions that constituted his task as a statesman? Perhaps Churchill’s station as a statesman was a strained and paradoxical one, in which the fundamentally amateurish pursuit of happiness and virtue took on the trappings of a profession. When he reminds us how music has worth independent of its products or effects, Booth reminds us also of what virtue, happiness, indeed a good life, are all about.

Jonathan B. Beere, AB’95

Princeton, New Jersey

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