Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats: the University & the World

1. Louis Sullivan points out to the pupil the mind-numbing consequences of his university education: Having received the conventional college education, you were not taught to observe what was going on in the great world in which your university was engulfed and sealed up tight. In consequence your mind was hermatically closed by your so-called teachers, after they had put into it whatever product of the past they thought it should contain. And thus, like any other sample of canned goods, you remain quietly on the shelf where you were put. Naturally you do not know what a man of unfettered observation and fair average intelligence might soon have learned to grasp.

2. It is somewhat the fashion, in modern thought, to make simple things complicated, to artificialize natural things, and envelope all in a web of words and recherché reasons; to assume, too much, that man lives in a world apart, and that his brain operates separated from life around him. You are not prepared or fitted, by your prior training, to follow, at once, our investigation which will seem deep and abstruse to you, but which in fact is plain as a pikestaff.

3. Every building, every work, you see is the image of man that created it. Man is the cause and the building his offspring. The bricks, stones and steel you see came together in place by an impulse that was mental, not physical and that impulse came from a man. The more the man departed from the normal, the more diseased and degenerate his mind, the more perverted and degenerate the building–which is nothing but his image.

4. The normal, healthy working of the mind is so rare in our art and our culture, and the degeneracy of mind so widespread in it that we must, in self-preservation, searchingly look through the diseased buildings to the affected mind, it’s parent, and then through the affected mind grasp the affected social fabric of which it is a strand. By this light, the study of architecture becomes the study of epistemology, of psychology, and of sociology.

5. Every building tells its story, tells it plainly. With what startling clearness it speaks to an attentive ear, how palpable is the visage to an open eye, it may take you some time to see. But it is all there, waiting for you; just as every great truth has waited through the centuries for the man with eyes to see.

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3 Responses to Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats: the University & the World

  1. Jack, you can find all about the inspirations of Sullivan in his “Autobiography of an Idea”. Richard, while the academics are willfully lost, many of their young victims or would be victims are salvageable–and it is to them that both Sullivan and Rand speak.

  2. Jack Gardner says:

    Very enlightening: intellectually courageous seeing this man “keep his head, when all about him were losing theirs” (as Kipling might say). I wonder what were his inspirations, if any besides himself?

  3. Richard Bramwell says:

    Unfortunately, words that are lost on the very minds to which it refers. The inherent form of the argument reduces it to a variation of preaching to the choir. As you surely know, that’s one reason why Rand wrote The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, rather than become an academic philosopher. Her philosophy is spreading rapidly, but will it grow faster than the reproduction rate of non-Objectivists producing intellectually paralyzed minds at public schools.

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