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February 4, 2002


Remembering Mary Holmes

As a member of one of the pioneer classes at UCSC (Cowell '70), I was truly saddened to read of the death of Mary Holmes.

When I was a freshman, she taught the art history portions of the Western Civ core course, with a slide show every Wednesday morning in the lecture hall at Nat Sci 1, that took us from the caves of Lascaux to the canvases of Jackson Pollock. She was always a dynamic and interesting speaker, but her final lecture for the course was an astounding event. In the first 10 minutes, she posed the idea that when an artistic tradition begins, there is an "archaic" period when the idea behind the art is more important than the technique used to make it. Then, as techniques improve, there is a brief "classic" period when the idea and the technique are in balance. Soon, however, the technique becomes more important than the idea, and a tradition enters a "baroque" phase. Finally there is a reaction to the dominance of technique, and artists try to return to what they take to be the simplicity of the origins of the tradition, a period she termed "late archaizing."

Suddenly all sorts of things made much more sense, and instead of a series of events, there was an overall pattern. Such was her brief and insightful summary of the entire history of western art, and while obviously it does not apply in all
cases, it explained an enormous amount and could be applied in many other areas. (With true scholarly integrity, she cited the book Three Stages of
Renaissance Art
as her source.) The rest of the lecture was a slide show illustrating this idea.

I did not realize it then, but that was the most influential hour, or the most important 10 minutes, I spent in a classroom or lecture hall in my entire life. I have not looked at the things of this world the same way since. Every time I see a work of art, hear a piece of music, read a book, or see a film, I am influenced at least unconsciously, and often quite consciously, by that lecture.

I will be unable to attend the memorial service, but Friday I will be having dinner with some friends--teachers, musicians, and a photographer-- to whom I have already passed along Mary Holmes's insights. I will bring a special bottle of wine, tell them about her, and offer a tribute to her for having made the world a richer, brighter, and more explicable place.

John ('Drew') Feldmann

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