Showing the Story Behind the Story of St. Paul Union Depot Murals

66de92-20141027-102714mural01

In St. Paul, Minnesota, six enormous paintings adorn the cavernous waiting room of Union Depot. Created by Ralph Gilbert, these majestic works send viewers on a provocative journey evoking the rich history of both the region and of railways. Vibrant colors with intertwined compositions guide one through a visual odyssey as only good murals do.  Each being 16’ tall, it’s hard to decipher how anyone could conceive such a body of work.

Therefore, we are exhibiting the story behind the creation of the story.

In most cases, the creative processes of artists remain hidden. The final product seen by the viewer, interpreted as a sudden euphoric outburst of creative genius. But in the Mary S. Byrd Gallery at Augusta University, we have the rare opportunity to show exactly how such a grandiose project developed. Mr. Gilbert is generously displaying preliminary works to include initial sketches to fully rendered paintings that led to the final masterpieces. Art is work, and it’s apparent from Mr. Gilbert’s process that inspirations is indeed, mostly perspiration. This show is not to be missed.

A Story in Pictures: Studies for the St. Paul Union Depot Murals by Ralph Gilbert will be on display from August 17 – September 16, 2016. Mr. Gilbert will give a presentation on Thursday, September 8 at 5 p.m. A reception will follow.

As we continue to build the creative community in Augusta, we’ll continue telling the story of the creative process and what it’s like to be a practicing creative person. Ralph Gilbert is an excellent story teller. I’d encourage all to attend the lecture.

Bridging the Arts and Sciences

LASER_postcardA_7x5

 

Creative ideas are the work of collective minds. So our plan is to bring the arts and sciences together.

New concepts can easily be traced to a source—which came from another source. To a degree, nothing is wholly original. Even the theories of a genius loner like Isaac Newton (and he was as reclusive and brilliant as one could be) were influenced by others. His concepts were built on the ideas of those who had come before. In a famous letter to Robert Hooke, he says, “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants.”[i] Newton knew very well that he was part of a larger network of knowledge building. It would be nearly impossible to create a way of thinking independent from the influence of others.

In fact, studies have been undertaken to determine if there really are any people who are original in their thinking. I find it hard to believe than one could trace something like that. But from these studies, it appears that there are only three people who were original: “first-century Confucian metaphysicist Wang Chu’ung, 14th-century Zen spiritualist Bassui Tokusho, and 14th-century Arabic philosopher Ibn Khaldun.”[ii] Consider those three in comparison to how many people have lived on the planet—over a hundred billion. Going solo seems nearly impossible.

As the Department of Art at Augusta University grows, we will foster a collective mindset through a series of interactive discussions called LASER Talks.

LASER stands for Leonard Art Science Evening Rendezvous. These are events sponsored by Leonardo the International Society for Arts, Sciences, and Technology (Leonardo/ISAST). They happen all over the world including Zurich, University of San Francisco, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, New York City, London, Tacoma, Toronto, Montreal and Kansas State University.

Last year, we hosted our first LASER and became an affiliate. Thus, add Augusta to the list.

Fortunately for us, the Director of Cultural Programs for the National Academy of Sciences flew in to moderate ours. He was amazing, and the event was a huge success. We packed a large auditorium with a wide range of people from the university’s upper administration to esteemed researchers to high school students. We formed our panel to include art history, studio art, otolaryngology and anaplastology. It’s amazing how quickly the audience drew connections from these seemingly disparate fields. How do we know we succeeded? No one left the room for two hours—not even to use the bathroom. That’s success.

This year, plan to hold more LASER Talks. Plus, we opened it as a collaborative event including the university and region. We are collaborating with areas throughout the university to synthesize ideas from an array of fields. The first talk will be hosted by the College of Education. The second talk will be hosted by Allied Health. The third, will be the Department of Art (us). And the fourth will be a unique hybrid summit hosted by our Office of Leadership Development. Over the next couple of years, we plan to collaborate with all facets of the institution to foster conversation and collaboration between the arts and sciences.

Our first LASER of the year hosted by the College of Education is on September 13. The outstanding lineup includes experts from the local area focused on STEAM initiatives and innovation in teaching and technology. I’ll announce the specifics soon. We’ll also simulcast it so everyone can view.

On a final note, as we expand into the community and improve our offerings to students, we will seek the support of the community. If you would like to help us build a new form of art education, please click here. Where it says designation, toggle to “other” and type “Department of Art 29115.”

Thank you!

[i] (wikiquotes n.d.)

[ii] (Uzzi and Spiro 2005, Volume 111, Number 2, September, 448)

Why Augusta University is the Place for Art

broad-street-sidewalk

To say Augusta is the perfect city for art may be a stretch. It’s not a cultural hub, and it doesn’t have a lot of galleries. But Augusta is the perfect city for building a transformative art department. The timing and circumstances are right.

As a city, Augusta is like many others. Geographically, it’s a city between cities. There’s a river running through and a beautiful lake nearby. Suburban areas surrounding it are on an exponential growth curve. What’s unique about this place however, is how it’s changing. The obvious connections to art and the two art festivals in town which are very successful and building the level of interest in arts and culture—“Westobou” and “Arts in the Heart.” My department is involved in both. But the real forces of change are below.

Air Force Cyber Command online for future operations

Capt. Jason Simmons and Staff Sgt. Clinton Tips update anti-virus software for Air Force units to assist in the prevention of cyberspace hackers July 12 at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. The Air Force is setting up the Air Force Cyberspace Command soon and these Airmen will be the operators on the ground floor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

 

Fort Gordon is becoming the Cyber Command Headquarters for U.S. Army. Currently, the fort employs around 20,000 people. By 2019, Fort Gordon will be a defensive operation actively protecting networks spanning the globe. This is bringing all kinds of investment and interesting people to the area. Everyone in the area seems to be scrambling to capitalize on cyber something. Thus we are seeing an influx of tech initiatives. Rent is cheap, and tech startups don’t need a lot of infrastructure. Click here to read an article on it.

AMAGJJ2016Cover

Augusta University is a new institution forged from a collision of two unlike colleges. I wasn’t here when it happened, but to hear people talk, it was a collision. And with that, the Board of Regents directed it to be a top tier research institution. We have a new name and a new mission. To lead us in the right direction, we also have a new president, Brooks A. Keel, PhD. He’s an alumni of both institutions that formed Augusta University. He totally understands the future of education, and is working hard to build a leading university known for innovation. I feel very fortunate having him at the helm. To read about his vision click here for a recent article in Augusta Magazine.

As of now, my department is relatively small and local. I looked the other day and we have 94 majors. We offer the regular range of degrees concentrating in ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, painting, photography and graphic design. Our faculty and staff are talented and active. As we grow, we’ll continue to offer more design oriented degrees until we reach a 50/50 relationship between fine arts and design. What makes us special though, is that we plan to develop an innovative model of contemporary art education with an emphasis on fulfilling creative careers—in a wide spectrum of fields. We’ll be building bridges between the arts and the sciences and demonstrate how universities and communities should be collaborative and complementary. In my next post I’ll let you in on one of our new initiatives.

Please join us on our journey.

Building an Art Department from a Merger

_PTC9842

A year ago I took a position as Chair of an art department in a university existing in a constant state of flux. It’s the product of what I call an extreme merger. In 2012, Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences Universities were combined to make Georgia Regents University. The goal was to create a comprehensive research institution. These institutions had little in common other than geography. In the short term, what happened was chaos. The name even changed once more to be Augusta University. But as the dust is settling the institution is proving to be a bastion of opportunity. As painful as the process was for everyone involved, it has created a wonderful place to work and learn.

During the past year, I’ve been coming up to speed with my new institution and the community surrounding it. A surprising understanding I’ve come to is how my department is far better if we build it as a creative community.

By a community, I mean a layered community extending outside the institution. The first layer resides within the department – we need to work together, communicate and support each other. The second layer includes the remainder of the institution – by working with all other departments on campus we can better utilize the wide an unexpected resources within the university. The third layer extends to the geographic area – there needs to be a fuzzy edge between the institution and the local community where collaboration is the norm. Creativity is a no-brainer because we now exist in an age of innovation where creativity is a must. Everyone institution should be ramping up support for creative initiatives.

Over the next year, I’ll tell the story of our transformation from a small department (80 something art majors) serving the local community to a nationally recognized department building a creative community in Augusta. To get a full read on my vision check out this article, Scott Thorp: Designing the Future, published in the Master’s issue of Augusta Magazine.

As I post, probably once per week, you’ll see how the Department of Art and the university are advancing. We just established a social media presence for the department, so follow us on twitter, Instagram and Facebook as we build our creative community @aug_artdept, #artinaugusta.

Plight of the Loner

shutterstock_71474599

At the turn of the last century, a brilliant young inventor, Philo T Farnsworth, learned the hard way some endeavors are too big to go it alone. Farnsworth had an incredible vision—one that changed the way we live. From childhood, Farnsworth was brilliant and precocious. He constantly fiddled with electronics and gizmos. As a child, he converted his mom’s sewing machine from a manual one into an electric one. Then there was one fateful day when he was fourteen.  On that day, he was struck by a vision of genius while working on the family farm. The parallel rows of potato fields in front of him prompted a moment of insight for transmitting rows of electronic information that could be reassembled to form an image. At that moment, Farnsworth conceived television.[i] That moment should have also ensured Farnsworth a place in the pantheon of great scientists, but it didn’t. Instead, it signaled the beginning of a lifelong battle of frustration.

Farnsworth was a loner and wouldn’t relinquish control of his invention to a large corporation. For this, he doomed himself into a revisionary tale of David and Goliath in which David lost. Farnsworth didn’t understand the complexities of bringing such a device to market, and he was outdone by the president of RCA, David Sarnoff. Sarnoff had the money and resources that large corporations do, and Farnsworth had little. Farnsworth had to do everything himself—even legal work. One of the saddest instances of Farnsworth’s troubles was when Sarnoff came to visit Farnsworth’s main laboratory in San Francisco, and Farnsworth wasn’t there. He was instead in New York combating a frivolous lawsuit. It could have been his chance to woo RCA’s media titan. Instead, what happened is that Sarnoff left San Francisco relatively uninterested and made a low offer for Farnsworth’s patents which Farnsworth turned down.[ii]

There are numerous occasions like this where Farnsworth either missed an opportunity or was not qualified for what he was doing, such as arguing a case before Congress. In front of Congress, he rambled endlessly.

In general, Farnsworth misunderstood how he needed others to help his invention succeed.  He thought it was clear that he invented Television, and therefore, should always be the King of Television. But as more and more creative endeavors go, television needed resources to come to fruition. There were many parts to it. What he invented was the part that brought it to life. It was expensive, and it was a race. As Farnsworth worked on his image dissector, many others were developing similar technology. Farnsworth just happened to be in the lead at the moment. When RCA engineer Vladimire Zworykin finally filed a patent in 1931 for the iconoscope—his version of the TV camera—there were at least six similar patents from five different countries being filed at the same time. Farnsworth couldn’t keep up and, in 1939, witnessed RCA’s televised coverage of the World’s Fair in which Sarnoff introduced both President Roosevelt and Albert Einstein before claiming television as his own.[iii]

[i]  Gladwell, Malcolm.”The Televisionary.” The New Yorker, May 27, 2002: 112-116.

[ii] (Gladwell, The Televisionary 2002, 112)

[iii] (Gladwell, The Televisionary 2002, 116)

Creativity Lesson from the Stoics: Practice Virtues

Argument

Think of a time when someone really pushed your buttons—when some jerk was rude, broke in line or did something totally inappropriate.  What was your reaction? Did you treat it as an opportunity?

Going back to the times of Ancient Greece, we find a group of people who did think these moments were opportunities. They were the Stoics. To a Stoic, a time of adversity is an opportunity to practice virtue. To the Stoics, virtue is similar to excellence. And as a good citizen, you practice being virtuous. I lifted a list of these as described by John Stobeaus from UC Davis’ website. They are below.

  • Prudence: (concerns appropriate acts) knowledge of what one is to do and not to do and what is neither
  • Temperance: (concerning human impulses) knowledge of what is to be chosen and avoided and what is neither
  • Justice: (concerning distributions) knowledge of the distribution of proper value to each person
  • Courage: (concerning standing firm) knowledge of what is terrible and what is not terrible and what is neither.

So what does this have to do with creativity? It’s about seeing opportunity where no one else does. To most of us, we see problems as problems—things to be avoided. But in a pursuit of excellence and practicing virtue, a Stoic engages with problems as a means of practicing virtue.

Let’s take temperance for example. Say, a stranger comes up and says you’re an idiot for blocking the sidewalk while waiting to cross the street. Then, instead of firing back an insulting a jab of your own, you decide to temper your response and counter with a witty comeback humorous in its approach to engage that person in a moment of reflection. You might not change that person’s mind, but you practiced changing people’s attention to a topic of your choice.

That kind of skill might come in handy during a pitch. Often times in pitches, committee members make off the cuff or rude comments. And you should be ready for those situations. Real pitches are not the time to practice skillful retorts, those are the times to capitalize on them. Having practiced temperance in the past can help you skillfully seize on the opportunity to turn an insult into insight.

Next time you run into adversity, practice a virtue.

Creativity Tip for Old People: Hangout with Young People

 

Men-Mature

One of the main reasons I teach is to be around young people. I know as I grow older, I become more practical. I’m less apt to take chances or to embark on new endeavors. I also moan and groan more. But as a professor, I’m forced to be around hordes of energetic individuals (students) who push me to be more open, less judgmental and less grumpy. In turn, my students help me to seek out new opportunities where I normally wouldn’t. They help me see possibilities where I’d normally see dead-ends. In turn, they make me more creative.

Too often, we worry about the troubles kids bring and don’t focus enough on the benefits of youthful behavior. Here are some beneficial qualities of young people:

  • They are adaptable
  • They are eager to learn
  • They are enthusiastic
  • They learn quickly
  • They are tech savvy
  • They want to make a difference
  • They like challenges
  • They are aware of trends
  • They embrace change

On the flip side, another benefit associated with hanging out with kids or young adults is they get to be around you. Young people need mentors as much as old people need energy. It’s a two-way street. Young people gain valuable life lessons from emulating mentors. Over time, we’ve lost many of the apprentice/mentor relationships in education due to the heavy reliance on testing as our main source of assessment. Constant interaction between generations brings some of that back.

We all benefit from relationships that cross over generational boundaries. Older people become more flexible and younger people wiser. If your personal or professional networks don’t include young people, I encourage you to begin adding them.

Can Art Schools Teach Students To Be Artists?

o-ART-SCHOOL-facebook

The other day I saw a post on LinkedIn asking if art schools could teach their students to become artists. I meant to comment on this, but instead viewed a few more posts and lost the original one asking this provocative question. The answer to it is, “yes” they can and do.

The question as to whether someone can be trained as an artist is an old one. It gained a lot of momentum when James Elkins published “Why Art Cannot Be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students.” However, most people who use that book to fuel their argument haven’t actually read it. They just read the title. As Elkins does regularly, he lobs a philosophical grenade into the conversation to get it roiling.  In the end, he never really answers the title of his book. I’ve even heard art professors say “no” to this question. My immediate response to them is, Why do you have a job?

Art is like every other domain; if you learn how to do it better, you can do it better. The myth is that there is some supernatural, mystical ability artists must possess to be classified as real artists. In reality, that mystical ability is determination. As a comparison, kids all over the world learn to play soccer. And we assume that a kid can become a better soccer player if he/she learns the skills related to playing the game. We know they won’t be the next Ronaldo or Messi. But we still consider them soccer players.

The problem with art may come from the fact that we also associate the term artist with exceptional skill: He’s a culinary artist, or with a type of mysticism or deception: She’s an artist with cards. But being an artist means doing art-type things: painting, sculpting, designing, playing an instrument, or any number of other art related activities. The more you work on related skills, the better you’ll get.

Let see how some of the top artists of our time learn to be artists.

  • Jeff Koons: BFA fromMaryland Institute College of Art
  • Brice Marden: MFA from Yale
  • Bruce Nauman: MFA from University of California
  • Cindy Sherman: BA from Buffalo State College

Of course, there are others who didn’t finish their degrees, like Jasper Johns. He did attend art school though. But neither Bill Gates, nor Steve Jobs finished their education.

The main problem with art education is teaching students how to maintain an artistic practice. That’s more about practical skills like networking and maintaining a small business. My institution, SCAD does this very well. I keep in contact with many of my past students and they say SCAD prepared them to succeed. They work hard and work to get art related jobs. When I look at what they are able to do, and the lives they live, I’m amazed. But in the end, a greater portion of those who succeed are the determined ones.

Business Model Canvas, A Great Tool Getting Creative People Organized

Business-Model-Canvas

The main ingredient for a sustainable artistic practice is money. You don’t have to be rich, but you do need money to survive. And to reliably make money, you need an organizational plan. But artists and designers don’t care much for creating a traditional business plan. I know I don’t. Those plans aren’t interesting, and they are difficult to understand.

However, the Business Model Canvas puts the basic business type stuff into a visual structure that is easy to visualize and easy to understand. There’s even a video that shows you how to do it. It breaks down the structure of your business into nine elements:

Customer Segments: who are you serving and what do they want

Value Proposition: what are you doing for your customers

Channels: how to you reach your customers (interaction points)

Customer Relationships: why type of relationships are you looking establish (longterm, personal, automated, etc…)

Revenue Streams: where’s the money coming from

Key Resources: essential assets and basic resources needed

Key Activities: what you need to do well

Key Partners: which suppliers or partners do you need

Cost Structure: what drives costs

 

Here’s what it looks like for a lemonade stand.

Business Canvas

It’s not the end all for a business plan. But it really gets things going. All you have to do is guess for each section and you’ll have a much better understanding of how to maintain your practice. Visit their site Business Model Canvas, get the app, or get the book. They are well worth looking into. Get started and you’ll be glad you did.

Big Data Art

ryoji-ikeda-datatron-11

Does art create truth? That’s the question with which Hanneke Grootenboer starts, The Rhetoric of Perspective, a highly philosophical book describing the effects linear perspective on our ability to see. She does so by referencing Martin Heidegger’s statement “that art is the setting-into-work of truth; that art lets’ truth originate.” She then follows with, ‘Does art have an origin to begin with, or is it an origin by nature; a way in which truth comes into being, and becomes historical, as Heidegger indeed suggests?”

 

Any time you reference Heidegger, you lose readers. He’s intentionally abstruse. Plus, Grooternboer isn’t the easiest read either. By virtue of including both in my opening paragraph, I’ve probably lost most everyone by this second paragraph. Oh well. But does art make a new reality or does it just reflect the reality already existing. It’s an interesting concept to think about.

In her book, Grootenboer explains how linear perspective changed the way we view space. Before perspective was discovered,  there was no convergence in space. It just didn’t exist, especially on a flat plane.  But after Filippo Brunelleschi invented perspective, it did. And once someone saw Masaccio’s Holy Trinity, (the first real depiction of perspective in a painting) they saw a new truth. After viewing, Holy Trinity, one would turn to any of Giotto’s works and immediately see the falsehoods not present before.

Masaccio_-_Trinity_-_WGA14208

Masaccio, Holy Trinity

 

Giotto_di_Bondone_-_Legend_of_St_Francis_-_5._Renunciation_of_Wordly_Goods_-_WGA09123

Giotto, Legend of St. Francis

Art has performed this act of creating truth over and over again with its many movements including Impressionism, Cubism, Dada and many more. This comes to mind for me at this time because the other day I saw an installation by Ryoji Ikeda. It looked like streaming data projected on a wall. There were a bunch of numbers changing quickly and then it would categorize some of these numbers and go on searching again. Honestly, I didn’t really know what to think of it for the first few minutes. I just knew I liked it.

The question I keep asking myself is whether this work is showing me something new, or bringing new insight to something I’ve already known. The work is very Matrix-like. But it bridges a lot of topics dealing with information, to design, to art, to the nature of existence. The one thing I do know is that I hope there is more to come.

If you know of other artists working with this kind of data, please comment on this and post a link to their work. I’d like to learn more.