It’s amazing how much you learn just by listening around the edges to people who are deeply informed and passionate about a subject. I learned a lot about Frida Kahlo yesterday at SFMOMA’s colloquium, "Kahlo in America: Three Cities — Detroit, New York, San Francisco." And I also learned- or rather was reminded because I already knew- about the appalling communication skills of academics.
The ego on display was only exceeded by the disregard for their audience. One woman’s presentation consisted of her reading aloud a journal article, including a lengthy and stupefying literature review. Throughout this literature review she showed only one slide. SFMOMA + art historian and only one slide! If she got around to her own scholarship and any other slides, I’m not sure. I was asleep.
Another guy, who monopolized not only the Q&A of his “conversation” segment but those of all the others, showed a video. Of himself. Talking. The only difference was in the video we could see his pores.
Another one of the “conversationalists” (those charged with leading the Q&A with the three speakers) asked what might have been a question if it had not been embedded in the longest run-on sentence uttered in the history of that beautiful auditorium, “Would you say blah blah, because of the long history of blah blah, that in spite of the fact that blah blah, and in light of the research that blah blah, - you get the idea.
The host of the event made a remark about radicals in San Francisco and New York, and then sniffed that he doubted that there were radicals in Detroit. Ha, ha, ha. Those Midwestern rustics are sooo amusing. How do you know, have you been to Detroit?
Yet still I stayed. Listening to the hubris and critical tropes (Protestantism and capitalism- Again?) was the price I paid for being in the company of people steeped in a subject that interests me. In their zeal they forgot their manners. That’s OK. These folks were loveable even if they couldn’t communicate their way out of a paper bag.