March 2015

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I have in my studio a little menagerie of objects. Truth: it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to see that my studio is full of collected things; much I intend to incorporate into narratives. But, this little grouping is different in that, I’ve collected these things because there is something about the character of the pieces that I enjoy. Some of the items were gifts, some were purchased and at least one is a demo from an Intro to Sculpture class I taught a couple years ago.

The latest addition is a small slip cast ceramic bottle that was gifted to me. The piece was a test for a wash application over glaze. My student was disappointed and a little puzzled when I commented on the beautiful lines created when the glaze pulled the washes. From his expression I could tell this was not the intended result. We talked a little about the fluid pull of the glaze, the broken edges of the red lines and…well, he wasn’t buying it.

This entire conversation (and every time I have it…which is often) brings to mind a memory as an undergrad sitting in the office of my sculpture professor. I showed up during office hours to collect some sage advise. I was struggling with focus – couldn’t find my voice. We talked for some time, but I only remember a moment in our discussion. He handed me a book on Larry Rivers (1923-2002, American), open to an image of Portrait of Edwin Denby.

Portrait of Edwin Denby, Larry Rivers 1953, pencil on paper

Portrait of Edwin Denby, Larry Rivers
1953, pencil on paper

My professor asked what I thought of the piece. I looked at the image for several minutes. It was fascinating. The smudges and marks and what appeared to be loose, callous line juxtaposed against refined rendered edges. When I answered my professor’s question I said, “it doesn’t look finished” (::GASP:: I know. I know! yes, those were the words that fell out of my mouth)

All these years later, I remember that meeting because of those words…my words. My response was telling. My 18 year old self didn’t get it…not yet.

I didn’t understand that the quality of the line creates the space; that the activation of the space records the process; that the process communicates. It is an understanding that one element depends on the others for an effective whole. I didn’t see it.

I was looking at the elements in linear thought, when I needed to see them as layers; building on each other to deepen understanding. It took me a couple more semesters to really get a handle on it and become intentional about communication. Art is communication.

Next week I have an incredible opportunity to teach creative communication to other-than-artists (the not-so-necessarily-visual-communicators) I’m looking forward to the discussion and watching students move from linear thought (a story line…see what I did there?) to a layered, expanded (without assumption) understanding.

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