Monday, August 4, 2008

Value by example

I was intrigued by this article in the NY Times. It seems one man has come upon the idea that value might be suggested by the repeated use of the images in textbooks.

There are of course many ways to determine value, and all of them I think fail to be satisfactory. Actually the very question feels fishy to me. But this is not to say that his study is without its merit. It is, I think, wise for those of us in academia to keep track of the canon, to see what notions of quality we're reinforcing through examples and facts. And it's also good to see how these examples change (I wonder, for instance, if the author weights examples at all based on readership or currentness of textbook). But it's also wise to note that a textbook should strive for more than simply reproducing the most valuable images. They should encapsulate what the history is showing, they should be diverse, and they should be clear and engaging.

Picasso will turn up more in a textbook more than Matisse simply because the man changed his style more frequently. It would be unwise to fill the pages with multiple examples of one sort at the expense of another, but so too would it be wise to dismiss Matisse's influence, or even value if you want to call it that, from this standpoint.

In the Listen textbook we use with the nonmajors, they select Haydn's Symphony 95. It's not, in my opinion, his most clever or engaging, nor his most beautiful, nor his most performed. But it does the job, possibly better than the alternatives. And there we may come to see the value in this work.


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