Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Little Background

About the project:

Earlier this summer Meghan O’Neil, Melanie Pizzulo, and David Disney from Palmer Commons approached me to see if my class would be interested in creating a large-scale artwork for installation inside Palmer Commons. After our initial meeting we decided that a particularly interesting expanse of wall on the fourth floor would make a suitable “canvas” for my students to work with. This space, which overlooks an outdoor plaza, (and welcomes guests to the Palmer Commons meeting rooms and auditorium) is quite large—77 feet long and 18 feet high--A beautiful, spacious location, able to be viewed from the outside as well as in; this would be the perfect space for my students to create a mural.

About my class:

This is a pretty unique class of students embarking on a unique project.

The goal of this class (called "Art in Public Spaces" and offered through the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program) is to collaboratively create this large-scale mural for Palmer Commons that is conceptually and aesthetically challenging and appealing. This mural must contain ideas—cogent ideas that are communicated via visual means. This is no small feat.  Asking eleven bright students to figure out a way to create one holistic design meant coming up with a process that both protects and supports their own creative egos along the way.  The students first need to develop a common language for creating the design at the same time that they are actually making the design (verbal communication in this part of the process is very limiting). This "language" must try to transcend communication constraints while acknowledging various skill levels and unique personal aesthetic and conceptual preferences in order to help understand, appreciate and incorporate everyone’s ideas into a realized whole.

Some of the questions students had in the very beginning had to do with just how to begin. Should we have a theme—or not? I mentioned that the LS&A theme for next semester was “Language: The Quintessence”.  Some students thought that could be a powerful way to start. Others (including myself) were dubious. Personally, I’m not sure that themes (particularly non-visual themes) help to jumpstart the creative process—sometimes they can hold too much weight, particularly as an idea begins to gel in a different direction. Eventually some students get married to the theme, while others want to hop on another theme train altogether.  The risk of ending up in a thematic impasse is always imminent.  Themes also have a way of bending ideas towards the trite. (“Love” means Hearts, “Happiness”: Rainbows.)

So my nebulous attempt to introduce and yet not require a theme left some of the students designing based on the “theme” and others not—at least that’s what I think. But somehow the resulting design holds together quite well. The strength of the design decisions made in a collaborative setting (under an artificial time constraint) produced a multi-faceted and exciting design, which I’m sure means something different to each of the individual students involved.

I’m looking forward to being a part of this creative process and, of course, to see what the finished outcome will look like. I hope others will come along on this journey with us and help celebrate once the completed mural is installed later this year.

Special thanks to Dora Zobou Sobze who has volunteered to put together this lovely blog for us!


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