Don's Diary

October 19, 2001

Taking it one day at a time in South Manhattan.

I got an email today that made me suspect it was Noughth Week in Oxford. Freshers there will have started feeling the effects of too much group bonding and the reality of Monday of first week will be starting to kick in. They will have done the parties, found or failed to find a mate, filled their rooms with cigarette smoke and got a beer stain down their new going-up-to-Oxford sweater.

At the New York Academy of Art, it is simply an October Friday. Classes have been running for six weeks. The sun is shining but with Ground Zero just a few blocks away, the air is still thick with the smell of burning: electrical insulation today, I think.

Freshers' week was, as they say here, "blown away". Start-of-semester parties were put on ice because of an unfinished building, then mid-thaw they were re-frozen by the events of September 11. Nonetheless our freshers have bonded more strongly than I have ever seen. Suddenly they are considerate, supportive. Suddenly they are a community.

On this, just another working day, most students are dressed in dark T-shirts and jeans, flashing tanned or black tattooed flesh.

Thursday: Oxford
Last night the fellows in Oxford will have eaten in hall after a wine tasting following the first governing body meeting, the scientists trading conferences attended during vac, the humanities recounting trips to Norman chapels, French country markets.

On Monday, lectures will be packed with new students feeling the chill of the marble halls and the discipline of sitting still for one hour with words, soaking in the atmosphere, the portraits, the new-shaven necks, wondering who will be first to gain Chelsea's confidence. Imagine taking her home to meet the parents at Christmas.

Thursday: New York
Last night after Philip Pearlstein's lecture in our temporary home, a rather scruffy, third-floor loft in SoHo, I met with my seminar group, 15 master of fine art students from around the world who, for various reasons, have paid to learn to draw, paint and model the human figure within the confines of realism.

Our artist speaker showed slides of his lounging nudes surrounded by lots of "stuff". We talked about the smokescreen he had thrown up to obscure what he was getting from the images and what we in turn were supposed to be gaining from them. Someone suggested that his work was voyeuristic. A new word, it woke us all up.

Thursday evening
On the way home I stopped at a bar on West Broadway for a Bombay and tonic. It turned my breath to steam. The claret would have been slightly warmed at Teddy Hall.

The Starbucks on the corner of my apartment block is the local shrine. Every evening I notice the same scanned photo: smiling male twentysomething. The same notes: silver Rolex watch, silver cross on chain round neck, tattoos of a reptile on foot and big flightless bird on hip. He probably went up to college during the Lewinsky years.

Stephen Farthing is executive director of the New York Academy of Art, an emeritus fellow of St Edmund Hall and was Ruskin master of drawing at the University of Oxford.

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