Why I did it, or Blame it on Josiah


Well, I’ve taken the plunge. I’ve enrolled in a low-residency PhD program in Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Art Theory at IDSVA (Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts). First stop, Tuscany!
The uncanny thing is, when I was in New York, I kept gravitating to the European Decorative wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I kept thinking, I should do a master’s degree in art history, since I am interested in the ideas associated (in, on, over, under) with art. What especially piqued my interest was the Wedgwood pottery – the blue and white Jasper Ware (photo below) – which makes me swoon. In a sense, I shouldn’t like it, because it was calculated to be beautiful by the illustrious Josiah Wedgwood, more than 200 years ago. Thus, it should be suspect, and it is. Wedgwood has churned out zillions of these things, and the vases are still made today. How could old Josiah’s vision, his projection of neo-classical beauty, last this long, through all these repetitions? Is an individual vase a work of art if it is created after Josiah’s time? He hired the artists to do the cameo-like bas-reliefs, John Flaxman being the most accomplished and celebrated. Josiah was a scientist, salesman, artisan. . .but was he an artist? My gut instinct is resoundingly “yes!” Like a Fellini, or an Altman, or a Spielberg, he put things together. He didn’t need to (nor could he) do all the work, but he could project his vision, and create an aesthetic response in a viewer, even as his work is infinitely reproduced, like a DVD of Fellini’s 8-1/2 that I put in a player.
My little homage to Wedgwood aside (as you can tell, I’m completely enamored), when I returned home I happened to have an invitation from IDSVA, via email, to attend an online presentation of their Topological Studies program. My first thought, not knowing what “topological” meant (“maps”? “landscape”?), was to be dismissive of what I saw as pretense. But, I signed up for the presentation, with the little angel and devil sitting on either shoulder, arguing, then in agreement, then abandoning their posts. During the presentation there was a snow storm on the East Coast (I was actually sitting outside in the Seattle area, since it was mild here!), so initially the sound quality was bad, but Simonetta Moro, Associate Professor and Director of the school mentioned the word “space” several times, in both a physical and metaphorical context. It was as if I were awakened from a dream (or put into one), hearing the word, especially as it was being related to ideas of time. In New York, I had seen Richard Wagner’s final opera, Parsifal, and all of the sudden, I felt like the main character who states: “I scarcely tread/ yet seem already to have come far.” To which, Gurnemanz, the kindly monk replies, “You see, my son/ time here becomes space.” This odd set of references to time and space knocked me off kilter. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think the reasons are both conscious and unconscious. Time and space are bizarre concepts. We know what they are, don’t we? We do, in the sense that we can function in the world without needing concrete definitions of them. Scientifically and philosophically the issues become more complicated, and as a sculptor time and space are integral aspects of my work (if only at the simplest level where we say that a sculpture inhabits a space, and the element of time is represent by the fact that the viewer takes time to look at it).
Something tells me that there is something (a favorite word!) underlying all of this time-and-space stuff, General Relativity and String Theory notwithstanding. I think there is something fundamental to be discovered, exploring unanswerable questions, especially since art itself is an unanswerable question. Rather, I should say that these questions cannot be definitively answered. One can answer and come up with all sorts of tripe in the meantime. But, an exploration of ideas is a beautiful and enriching thing, and I know that it will enrich my studio work. I came across an essay by Mircea Eliade in Symbolism, the Sacred, and the Arts in which he stated his creative outlets in writing fiction enriched his academic pursuits, even though this is frowned upon in academia. He felt that the two were in a symbiotic, not oppositional relationship.
Returning to IDSVA: it became clear that topological simply referred to context in which something exists, both in space and time, like the Italian Renaissance. My initial preconception, a suspicion of pretentiousness, was wrong. It was like lying in bed, reading a book, not realizing you are no longer in the world of the wakeful, until the book smacks you on the chin. Now I feel awake again.

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