Back to School, 2014

I am back in the art studio again, beneath the sophomore residence hall Loyola, down the hall from the Public Safety office.

I brought a box of painting supplies, scratchboard, paper, and other tools.

The room in which I prefer to work is behind another, more conventional room with stools and a table. The actual studio is dark since there are no windows, and the sound of the air conditioner (or whatever it is) is rather loud. There are four cubby-like stations on either side of a big table that takes up most of the space. This table is attached to the floor. There’s a lot of odd things in the room. I found a first aid kit, an old-style camera, and two books that were printed over a hundred years ago. As you can imagine, they aren’t in perfect shape, but they’ve held together rather well. I’ve seen them lying around before, I’ve just never touched them. One is green and the other is red. The green one is called: “Oh Dear Dear!” which is full of (as far as I can tell) short interconnected stories, at least one of which involves the dangers of chicken pox. The phrase “Oh dear, dear!” when an adult character gets worried appears multiple times. It reminded me of some antiquated language I’d forgotten about, such as “you ought to…” which I intend to inject into my daily speech pattern in order to make things interesting (or at least to confuse any non-native English speakers for my own amusement). I’ll likely revisit the books again for that purpose alone. I tend to pace a lot in the studio, just letting ideas wash over me, often while listening to music.

Rowing practice is of course back in action, although the brutally cold conditions of 6:30am outdoor rowing won’t come for another four weeks. There are moments when I wish this sport was nothing but a kind of fitness club. You get off the erg and feel like you just wrestled a grizzly bear. You finish a workout in a boat however, and then you still have to paddle all the way back to the dock and feel the cold water fall down from the boat down your arms to mix with the cold sweat-soaked layers of under armour. But in the end, the diversity of sensations probably makes it all worthwhile. I still sometimes smell muddy football fields and experience nostalgia about high school football, despite not actually having enjoyed that overall experience much. Maybe I’ll be like that German soldier in that World War I movie who takes out his sketchbook to draw a nearby bird before being shot in the head….only in my case I’ll be an old man leaning over the edge of a dock, wanted to row a boat one more time, and slipping and falling into a freezing polluted river, being carried softly into the next world…

I’m finally taking Sculpture this semester, though it didn’t meet until the Monday after MLK Day, and it was cancelled again today due to “inclement weather conditions.” I guess this just means I’ll be able to focus more heavily on the writing portions. Generally when I write about contemporary artists (or modern artists for that matter) I try to find a way in which their Artist Statements are particularly nihilistic or nonsensical and criticize them excessively for it. The rare exception is when the artist has a more traditional point of view, rooted in some transcendent belief, be it religious or merely philosophically intriguing. But it’s good to know where you fit in your world. I guess if you want to make the right choice, you may as well learn about all the choices. In the class we’re going to be (eventually…) beginning with plaster sculptures of biomorphic forms (i.e. forms inspired by nature, usually combinations of different shapes appearing in nature).

Another class I’m taking is Art History of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. We started learning about bMohenjo Daro, about whom I previously knew nothing. Apparently they had a written language which has never been deciphered, seen on little tablets they would wear around their necks so that people could properly identify products while trading. They were apparently one of the first civilizations to build gridded cities, and the first to make sculptures that ‘properly’ took into account the human figure. I’m sure there’s more to that, but I won’t think too hard about that for now.

Number three is the infamous Senior Seminar course, which is essentially what I took last year, but with a different professor, and I’m continuing my work. I’m using the exact same materials as before, but I’m looking to be more confidant in what I want to do. Part of that is being more deliberate in making abstract forms, and part of it will be to defend my work where others feel like it’s too archetypal or something like that. I do intend to be more prolific.

Last week we had a visiting artist named Doug Beube come to campus. I had the opportunity to see him three times: once in a private meeting during which he looked at my past work and talked to me about it, once when he came to my sculpture class, and again during a talk he gave in the library where he showed a slideshow of his work while speaking about the evolution of his thoughts. The Mirror has an article about his visit, and I even get a quote at the end. It’s true; this guy can look at anything and see an idea immediately. He looked at my drawing of a tree from a year ago and saw the shapes of two faces, as well as the body of a woman, in my rocks and snow. While he was talking to my sculpture class, he looked at a girl and said that since she was a person of color, the rope-like quality of a part of her sweater reminded him of the history of slavery in the Americas. He brought with him an example of a dictionary book he had cut up, which was twisted around itself. When held up and untwisted, it takes the shape of a “W.” He calls it “W’s Twisted Words” and says it was inspired by President Bush’s tendency to fumble with his words. He had told me to “make thousands of these” referring to my scratchboard drawings, and I don’t think he meant it as hyperbole. I may just take his advice.

Numero quatro es: James Joyce. By the end of the semester we will have read Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses. We will tragically not be able to read Finnegans Wake since the semester lasts for 4 months, not 4 years. We did take about 20 minutes to read 2 pages of the book, and apparently the idea is that the whole book is in an imaginary dream-like language, in which every word has 3-4 meanings. There’s no reading too far into Joyce, as far as I can tell. I did have the delight of reading Dubliners in high school, but as with pretty much every work of literature, it was introduced too early for me to appreciate it. (Side note: high schools should introduce philosophy before introducing Shakespeare and so forth. Students who return to literary classics generally do so of their own volition, and have to overcome the resistance they’ve built up to revisiting something they’ve already internalized as challenging and more effort than it’s worth. Meanwhile, philosophy is easier to grasp as long as it is taught appropriately to level of ability). The professor for this class requires us to ‘Tweet’ our two favorite lines each week, and then explain them in class, which I think is a good idea. Everyone’s favorite line from the last assignment was from the short story “Araby;” “But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires” (Joyce, 23). Every introverted literary nerd can probably relate to that statement, and in a course like this one, that includes most of the class.

Lastly, Advanced Writing Portfolio! This is a new course, and is a mixture of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry writing. We each get to choose what we write, and then we spend most of the time workshopping each other’s work. What makes it slightly challenging is that the members of the class have had various training in the different genres, so non-poets have trouble commenting on poems, whereas the non-prose-writers don’t know as much about prose. After never having written a poem before a year ago (unless you count haiku), I am now in the “Poet” camp. I only wish this class could meet more than twice a week. It’s nice having people review your work and share their thoughts, and likewise the other students have improved so much that their poems and stories are highly entertaining to read. In case your wondering, I can’t share these poems until after the course is over, lest outside comments interfere with the workshop process.

So that’s it so far, except for a few enjoyable social gatherings about which I have little to say on the internet 😉 I’m sure I’ll have more to say as the Spring springs forward.

And early spring laughed: ‘It’s time!’
Behind the Black Road, behind the Great Meadow –
My great-grandfather and great-great, great-great –
Everybody follows Time, like a plough.

Behind a field there’s a field, behind a field – a field and a field
Behind the Black Road, behind the Great Meadow,
They are already in a mist – like a mist –
Everybody already follows Time, like a plough.

What heavy steps Eternity has!
Behind the Black Road, behind the Great Meadow.
So free and young –
Is it true that I already follow Time, like a plough?!

What I will plough? What field will I sow?
Behind the Black Road, behind the Great Meadow
Is it true that I’m in a mist too – like a mist –
And I already follow Time, like a plough?..

[Lina Kostenko, 1980]

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