DM, one of my favorite blogging buddies, is the voice behind the always thoughtful and provocative blog, Joe Felso:Ruminations. In a posting a few weeks back, he wrote about a book by Richard Hugo, The Triggering Town, Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing. I ordered a copy without hesitating, after reading his inspiring riff about Hugo.
Now it comes with me everywhere. Biking to and from my studio, it is nestled in my backpack. I read it waiting in line at the bank and the last thing before falling asleep. I love this book.
There is something grabbing my collar and asking me to pay attention, and this book is at the heart of that pull. What that is, I’m not really sure. And to be frank, I don’t necessarily need to know, not now anyway. But a vague directional sense of where the fragrance is coming from might lead to something meaningful. Follow your nose.
For years I have found books about writing poetry more inspirational and insightful in my art practice than books written about making visual art. When younger artists have asked me for reading recommendations, my list is almost always in the literary/poetic/wisdom tradition rather than art history/theory/criticism. I am not and never have been a teacher of visual arts, so my thoughts about the state of art pedagogy are the views of a practitioner, not as a member of the “academy” (in its most catholic of meanings). But Hugo’s book is chock full of advice that is as apropos to a visual artist as it is to a poet. His approach walks between the need to be open, teachable and impressionable and having the “arrogance” (in its non-pejorative usage) to pay attention to and honor what your inner knowing is saying.
The latest issue of Modern Painters (great mag BTW) has a cover story featuring a dialogue between John Baldessari and Michael Craig-Martin called Class Dismissed: What’s gone wrong with art education. I haven’t read it yet (it’s right on the top of that tormenting and tyrannical Stack) but I will. The topic is snagging my attention in a way that I don’t think it would have six months ago. I have a vague sense that it would be useful to probe a bit further into the phenom of art education currently being carried out through an international nexus of art schools and institutions. Where does the search for wisdom fit into a contemporary art curriculum? Is that an inappropriate question to be asking?
I’m just beginning this line of thinking. More later.
I’ll end with an excerpt from another Joe Felso: Ruminations posting exploring ways of learning how to make (and/or teach) art. It seems apropos.
Bly prefers, however, the model of Ch’an Buddhism. “Their method doesn’t resemble a workshop,” Bly says, “They didn’t teach politeness or the smooth surface . . . [The teacher’s] plan would involve something entirely outside the building.” Bly imagines a teacher who rebuffs questions and sends students off to work for a few months to build something or go on a pilgrimage for a few years. When the pupil returns, the teacher’s job would be to be rebuff him or her again.
“One might tell a student,” says Bly, “After you have built your hut, translate twenty-five poems from a Rumanian Poet.”
“But I don’t know Rumanian.”
“Well then, that’s your first job. You learn Rumanian, translate the twenty-five poems, and then come back to see me, and I’ll tell you what I think about ‘the deep image.’”
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