This blog stemmed from a class I was taught at UCLA, which I designed and called The Art of Living and Dying Well in the Renaissance. When I first thought of this subject, I had a vague notion of discussing life in the 15th and 16th centuries — the home of my imagination – through artworks produced and used during that time. As I began to research and put together the course, different stages of life, ambitions and anxieties of men and women in the Renaissance, and objects they employed from birth to childhood, marriage to maturity, death and beyond — came into sharper focus for me. I also realized that my students probably did not know very much about the past, so to engage their interest and empathy I would need to draw parallels between their experiences and those of people in the past. I would need to make a distant era come alive for them in clear, exciting, and understandable ways.
It worked! The students loved the course, frequently commented on the commonalities between what they knew and what their predecessors 500 years ago underwent, and could relate to why people then commissioned and used various artifacts at various junctures of their lives. (Their biggest compliment came on Valentine’s Day when a number of students said they were happy to have the midterm from their favorite class fall on that date.)
I have previously taught many years ago and loved it then. I subsequently devoted a decade to writing books about art, history, interesting cultural figures, and even exotic animals that have been used as gifts or symbols of power and knowledge from antiquity to the modern era (beginning in 3rd-century B.C. Alexandria and ending at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.). A decade of thinking intensively about the past and its different aspects, and making it alive and fascinating for my readers has enormously deepened and expanded my own understanding of the Renaissance. (I had first fallen in love with this period as a child and returned to it repeatedly in my books.) I brought this accumulated knowledge, passion, and creative thinking to my UCLA class. My confidence in what I knew, and my love for it animated my teaching and gave it depth, resonance, and sense of fun.
While teaching my own course I also happened to take an evening class on new media marketing, to bring myself into the 21st century, since my nose has been so persistently buried in the past. I wanted to learn about this revolutionary world and to see how it can enrich mine. A major component of the class was a project of our own choosing that would utilize the tools and skills of social media. As I pondered what I could choose as my subject, it occurred to me that a blog on the Art of Living and Dying Well would be an exciting and stimulating creation. It would utilize all the expertise I posses myself, my joy in sharing it with others, the books and exhibitions I come across, and conversations I engage in with people from various walks of life — people who would make guests appearances in my blog. These people would bringing their knowledge — of medicine, religion, aging, luxury artifacts, and other related subjects — to the discussion of what constitutes living well (now vs. the Renaissance), the choices we make for the present and the future, the values we try to adhere to or attain. And so this blog was born.