Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Unfolding Landscape

Fred Lazarus- An Appreciation

Now that he's retiring it’s hard to envision MICA without Fred Lazarus. I started teaching at Maryland Institute in 1978 and there’s always been Fred. From the beginning I felt I could trust his understanding of what the school needed and where it should go. I could see that he had a broader awareness of the school as a whole and within Baltimore and was glad to know he was so actively cultivating the potential of the college. He’s a connector and it’s been a pleasure to benefit from the many transformations of our campus and the city around it that have been the canvas of Fred’s work. Being confident that the business of the school is in good hands makes it easy to concentrate on what I do in the classroom and the studio. He’s trusted us to do the teaching. Perhaps we take for granted the level of academic freedom we have. Inventing and revising new courses has enabled us all to develop the interests and expertise that grow from our own work and build a fluid relationship between our work and our teaching. The variety of our course offerings reflects the people who teach here and is one of many ways that he promoted diversity on campus. The Center for Race and Culture and the expanded student diversity office assured a continued attunement to a wider range of voices and values. Diversity is about the big picture and Fred’s vision would shake up the standard model of art school and reinvent it for the 21st century.

When I started working for broader cultural awareness on campus Fred expressed particular interest in how to address the issue of critique. This was the seed of what has now developed into the book that MICA has published, “Beyond Critique- Different Ways to Talk About Art”. His support has been key to our taking the lead in developing a more expanded way of looking at the issue, hopefully stimulating critique to grow into the art form it deserves to be. Fred’s foresight regarding critique goes back to the eighties. He took the lead in opening up what could happen in a critique by bringing Richard Kalter to us who in one single remarkable individual embodied so many different ways of talking about art. We were all enriched by that decision. Since Richard Kalter’s years on campus critique at MICA has never been the same.

 In the transition from the school Maryland Institute was in 1978 to what we’ve become as MICA, the most important thing affecting me personally has been the quality of the students. As they have gotten better it has demanded more of me as a teacher. And I’ve become a better teacher as a result. The diversity of students is now international. This outreach to different parts of the world has expanded my own perspective as I learn about different ways of seeing through the work they have produced. The more diverse the classes the bigger the challenge and the greater the challenge the better the flow. Fred saw the potential for MICA as global creative leader, expanding influence in multiple directions. Because he’s been so good at what he does, he’s created an environment where we can all get better at what we do.

Thank you Fred.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Novel Perception

Every new experience creates new brain circuitry to retrieve it.
It’s been a wonderful semester with students from a range of backgrounds. Rich variety in a group offers so many opportunities to build the brain. Never envisioned connections open up and brand new experience is integrated with the old. What’s significant is revisited, tied to more ideas as the pathways are reinforced. The brain only fuels what gets used. What hasn’t stood out soon disappears for lack of attention. The enjoyment that comes from talking with different kinds of people grows from the repeated surprise response. It’s pleasure we get from anything that improves our knowledge and perspective.

I’m a big proponent of laughter as a general response and not just in relation to humor. The pleasure circuit is definitely involved because the aftersmile lasts longer than for a smile response. Novelty often triggers the laugh response like an unexpected punch line does in humor. The ability to shift contexts is reinforced. The pleasure of spending time with unique people is because the brain loves building new circuits and another’s novel perception requires it.

To look at the title from its other interpretation, what is so enjoyable in a good novel is the extension of perception that occurs when a characters way of seeing is fully imagined. Every student is a new main character and broadens my own way of seeing. I’ve learned so much from my students this year and have the satisfaction of seeing them now more powerful than they were when they arrived. The new circuitry is different for each of us. The parts that illuminated personal themes are always the ones most deeply woven into the fabric of every  point-of-view. Something revelatory for one may not even catch another’s attention. The personal brain is a creation of each person, astounding in its individuality. Thinking in categories can make things seem much more uniform than they actually are. The richness of imagery better displays the unique mind. Nothing dramatizes this better than the last discussion of the year. Looking at the final work in so many disciplines from so many novel points-of-view, the range of response is as different as the work itself. It’s been enlarging and as always, I am grateful.