Friday, September 19, 2008

nobody expects the spanish inquisition

A student uttered a wonderful sentence to me recently.

She said, “I don’t know.”

I can’t get used to a scene that repeats itself each semester almost without fail. The students are trying to get a feel for my boundaries and using testing questions to see if they find me an instructor they can trust to provide them with constantly correct information. This goes on until I prove myself worthy or unworthy and always in the course of this interrogation they get around to finally saying something along the lines of “well you just know everything, don’t you?” or “are you ever wrong about anything?”. Oh yeah, it’s loaded with sarcasm but it’s also revealing something they’ve learned from or about teachers over the years of their educational experience.
I feel that it’s important to quickly let them know that I do not know everything. I am not always correct. Do I have a lot of visual art information crammed in my head? Sure. Do I have a large number of years of experience working in sculptural and drawing materials and in using problem solving to create art? Sure. But even though this is my area of concentration I do not walk around with all the correct answers to all questions sitting on the tip of my tongue. This is art. There are no handy formulas to always provide the artist with the right solution to a given problem. Each drawing and each sculpture I make is about exploring and trying new things and working and reworking to see if I can find a way to communicate a particular idea in a non-verbal fashion.

This idea seems to match up with older artists working late into their careers. I see no evidence that even those we refer to as “masters” ever arrived at such an artistic nirvana where they never had to really work at problem solving any longer. It seems that Rauchenberg, Oldenburg, and yes, even Picasso and DaVinci were involved in asking questions and trying new things long after they were established as “greats”. Perhaps this art thing is a race that one can never finish. Maybe finishing is not the point.

“I don’t know” should not be an ending, it should be a beginning. The uttering of that statement should be the point where learning actually begins. We don’t know, so we look it up. We ask someone. We try something we’ve never tried before. We take a bit of advice and run with it.
The multitudes of things that I do not know push me toward research. For several months I’ve been interested in possible connections between the Divine and Aesthetics. Following these ideas has forced me into reading about Theology in general and Theological Aesthetics in particular. Last week I sat down with a copy of The Holiness of God, a nice little extended essay by David Willis containing a chapter of interest called “The Holiness of Beauty”. My learning started fast…beginning with a truckload of words in the first paragraph I had to look up in the dictionary. I felt only slightly better about myself when several of those words proved to also be foreign to the folks at Webster. I also learned that Mr. Willis is the Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary which meant I was attempting to read far above my grade level. And let me tell you, it’s tough to get the meaning of a sentence when you have to stop and look up every second word. I think even my dog felt bad for me as he sighed deeply and buried his head in the couch. He can be very condescending.

Do I know everything? Not even close. But with the help of my dictionary and my curly-haired friend who just happens to be a PTS graduate, I’m going to learn some new things about beauty. It’s going to take a while, but I’ll learn.

And that student? She’s going to learn some things about Design.

No comments: