Artful Conversations || Alchemy 101

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  • National Art Education Association

    Alchemy 101Author(s): Ronald N. MacGregorSource: Art Education, Vol. 48, No. 2, Artful Conversations (Mar., 1995), pp. 4-5Published by: National Art Education AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3193505 .Accessed: 14/06/2014 18:47

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    Alchemy T o promote the flow ofreader adrenaline, as well as to

    introduce the theme of this issue, I advance a proposi- tion: the trouble with our society is that it is too much preoccupied with talk, and too little, with conversation. Circumstances for talk are easy to arrange; indeed,

    often the problem isfinding a means to stop persons from exercising their democratic privileges of telling you (or anyone else within earshot) what you would just as soon not care to know. If Michelangelo were to paint The LastJudgment today, thosefigures headed in the downward direction would without doubt be portrayed clutching cellular phones, for hell must assuredly consist ofan infinite number of importunate callers everlastingly frustrated by an infinite number of busy lines.

    When cellular phones were first introduced, some firms turned a profit from the manufacture of dummies, so that those who could not afford the real thing might nevertheless give the impression of being "In Touch", by gabbling at a solid lump of plastic as they wheeled through downtown traffic. For those whose cellular phones have been repossessed, or who are otherwise deprived of those omnipresent chan- nelsfor talk, there are limitless opportunities on radio and television to express unconsidered and irresponsible opinions, which are reward- ed by talk show hosts in proportion to their egregiousness. Talk fills what would otherwise be seen as awkwardly lengthy gaps between thoughts.

    You will have gathered from my diatribe that talk is not, by my def- inition, conversation. Conversation requires the sympathetic exchange of points of view; to fulfill the conversational contract, one has to listen to what the speaker is saying, and be prepared to modify

    one's response in light of that. Conversation is the progressive clarifi- cation or development of ideas, in which members of the group display participatory, rather than proprietary interests.

    Historically, certain persons have made it their business to provide suitable settings for these exchanges, afact reflected in architecture internationally, in the setting aside of interior spaces designedfor con- versation. And if, from time to time, some of these took on the atmos- phere ofan arena, as conversation became debate and success was measured in points won or lost, it had the effect offocusing attention yet more closely on how each participant evaluated and responded to what was said.

    Artful conversations may be conversations about art, or conversa- tions assembled in a manner characteristic ofhow art is made. In each article in this issue of Art Education, the subject is an aspect of art, discussed with an emphasis on sympathetic listening and continu- al adjustment of the listener's (or viewer's) perspective. The nature of the parties so engaged varies quite widely: Julia Kellman's infor- mants, whose several nationalities might make verbal exchanges diffi- cult, converse with her through their drawings; Guy Hubbard's students enter into dialogue with their instructors, using the medium of the computer; for David Ehrlich the vehicle isfilm. Ralph Bennett is drawn into conversation that seems almostflirtatious: his confidante (who may be an image, or a person, or both) leaves hints that Bennett is progressively intrigued to pin down. The fact that the subject ofhis interest is 150years old in no way detracts from the fascination of each new disclosure.

    The conversation in Layman Jones'article is rather more Socratic in character. Dr. Sage leads the bumptious Arty ever deeper into the

    - ART EDUCATION / MARCH 1995

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  • L E T T E R S T H E L E T T E R S T H E

    ) )

    101 101 swamp contrived for persons who have a stock of answers that, unhappily, don't fit the questions that matter. That Dr. Sage keeps his feet dry while Arty wallows ever deeper may seem less than char- itable. But in pointing out the fallacies of Arty's thinking, Sage is saving him from the ignominy of possibly being torn to shreds by a more general, less indulgent audience. Conversation ought surely to allow participants the luxury of assuming positions that ulti- mately are seen to be untenable; otherwise, one might never dare move beyond the banal.

    What makes Bernard Young's account of the conversation between Amber and Camille Young and Eugene Grigsby so pleas- ant is its unforced pace. Here is someone who has had a successful career, whose expertise as an artist and an educator is extensive and profound, but whose exchanges with his young interlocutors are disarming, and amusing: an invitation to consider how persons at the beginning ofa professional career might arrange their ambi- tions in the pursuit of happiness as well as success.

    Educational institutions do not overtly cater to the development of good conversation among the student body, though there might well be benefit in afirst-year course labeledAlchemy 101: Transforming Talk into Conversation. Still, as these articles show, developing productive interchange need not waitforformal recog- nition. Getting started requires personal investment, but no equip- ment, no special clothing, and no monthly dues. The dividends are impressive. Talk, they say, is cheap; but artful conversation is price- less.

    Ronald N. MacGregor Editor

    swamp contrived for persons who have a stock of answers that, unhappily, don't fit the questions that matter. That Dr. Sage keeps his feet dry while Arty wallows ever deeper may seem less than char- itable. But in pointing out the fallacies of Arty's thinking, Sage is saving him from the ignominy of possibly being torn to shreds by a more general, less indulgent audience. Conversation ought surely to allow participants the luxury of assuming positions that ulti- mately are seen to be untenable; otherwise, one might never dare move beyond the banal.

    What makes Bernard Young's account of the conversation between Amber and Camille Young and Eugene Grigsby so pleas- ant is its unforced pace. Here is someone who has had a successful career, whose expertise as an artist and an educator is extensive and profound, but whose exchanges with his young interlocutors are disarming, and amusing: an invitation to consider how persons at the beginning ofa professional career might arrange their ambi- tions in the pursuit of happiness as well as success.

    Educational institutions do not overtly cater to the development of good conversation among the student body, though there might well be benefit in afirst-year course labeledAlchemy 101: Transforming Talk into Conversation. Still, as these articles show, developing productive interchange need not waitforformal recog- nition. Getting started requires personal investment, but no equip- ment, no special clothing, and no monthly dues. The dividends are impressive. Talk, they say, is cheap; but artful conversation is price- less.

    Ronald N. MacGregor Editor

    Dear Editor, As a high school teacher of art, I would argue that there is a body of

    knowledge about the elements of art and the language of vision, what Georges Braque would call "les faits pictorials," which is being neglected in favor of the cultural/anthropological focus on multiculturalism. For those students who need and want to know the available tools of picture making, and who are confronted with the presence of violet and taupe in a painting or a tapestry, looking at the work from a multicultural perspective would not lead to a discussion of Johannes Itten's theory of simultaneous contrast or the physiological phenomenon of the eye trying to "pull out" or seek its complement of yellow in the brownish yellow grey.

    The student may acquire academic knowledge of South American native pottery, weaving, or mosaic techniques. Though broadening from the point of humanities, this probably will not lead to discussion of retained eye movement through successive volumes by means of transparency when one object is placed in front of another as in synthetic cubism.

    I believe the current situation can be traced to the beginning of multi- culturalism in the early '60s and looking to the past; anti-essentialism (more is more); the emergence of small, non-theoretical narratives; and the post-structural writing of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Their effect has been to suggest that art or I iterary criticism cannot be stated with any certainty. This is in sharp contrast to Archie Bunker's notion of WWII and the '40s, that then "men were men" and "women were women."

    Yet, if graduating seniors and upper-classpersons who may be seri- ous about careers in art are not given specific information about the ele- ments of art used in solving plastic and pictorial problems and communicating visually, they are being short- changed. In other words "let's get technical," and with clarity, the importance of ambiguity notwithstanding.

    As I am not an elementary school teacher, I hesitate to say too much about that level of instruction. I believe here multiculturalism is very desirable in promoting a broad cultural awareness and appreciation of other peoples: what used to be called cultural anthropology. But at the end of the educational spectrum, before graduation, there should be knowledge and practice in what used to be called "solving painting prob- lems."

    Dear Editor, As a high school teacher of art, I would argue that there is a body of

    knowledge about the elements of art and the language of vision, what Georges Braque would call "les faits pictorials," which is being neglected in favor of the cultural/anthropological focus on multiculturalism. For those students who need and want to know the available tools of picture making, and who are confronted with the presence of violet and taupe in a painting or a tapestry, looking at the work from a multicultural perspective would not lead to a discussion of Johannes Itten's theory of simultaneous contrast or the physiological phenomenon of the eye trying to "pull out" or seek its complement of yellow in the brownish yellow grey.

    The student may acquire academic knowledge of South American native pottery, weaving, or mosaic techniques. Though broadening from the point of humanities, this probably will not lead to discussion of retained eye movement through successive volumes by means of transparency when one object is placed in front of another as in synthetic cubism.

    I believe the current situation can be traced to the beginning of multi- culturalism in the early '60s and looking to the past; anti-essentialism (more is more); the emergence of small, non-theoretical narratives; and the post-structural writing of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Their effect has been to suggest that art or I iterary criticism cannot be stated with any certainty. This is in sharp contrast to Archie Bunker's notion of WWII and the '40s, that then "men were men" and "women were women."

    Yet, if graduating seniors and upper-classpersons who may be seri- ous about careers in art are not given specific information about the ele- ments of art used in solving plastic and pictorial problems and communicating visually, they are being short- changed. In other words "let's get technical," and with clarity, the importance of ambiguity notwithstanding.

    As I am not an elementary school teacher, I hesitate to say too much about that level of instruction. I believe here multiculturalism is very desirable in promoting a broad cultural awareness and appreciation of other peoples: what used to be called cultural anthropology. But at the end of the educational spectrum, before graduation, there should be knowledge and practice in what used to be called "solving painting prob- lems."

    Sincerely yours, Bob Lloyd

    Brooklyn, NY

    Sincerely yours, Bob Lloyd

    Brooklyn, NY

    MARCH 1995 / ART EDUCATION MARCH 1995 / ART EDUCATION

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    Article Contentsp.4p.5

    Issue Table of ContentsArt Education, Vol. 48, No. 2, Artful Conversations (Mar., 1995), pp. 1-54Front Matter [pp.1-3]An EditorialAlchemy 101 [pp.4-5]

    Letters to the Editor [p.5]The Mysterious Lady from Surinam [pp.6-11]Recipe for Assessment: How Arty Cooked His Goose while Grading Art [pp.12-17]Harvey Shows the Way: Narrative in Children's Art [pp.18-22]Animation for Children: David Ehrlich and the Cleveland Museum of Art Workshop [pp.23-36]Instructional Resources: Images of the American West Phoenix Art Museum [pp.25-32]Two Young Interviewers Get a Sense of Heritage from African/American Artist and Educator Dr. J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr. [pp.37-43]Electronic Artstrands: Computer Delivery of Art Instruction [pp.44-51]Back Matter [pp.52-54]

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