Michael Cothren: Teaching Art in an Era of Globalism
In addition to teaching courses in art history at Swarthmore, Scheuer Family Professor of Humanities Michael Cothren is a consultative curator of medieval stained glass at the Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn, Pa. His research focuses on French Gothic stained glass, especially the glazing programs of the abbey of Saint-Denis and the cathedrals of Beauvais and Rouen.
Rebecca Chopp: Good morning. It's a delight to welcome you to The Arts Weekend at Swarthmore College. My name's Rebecca Chopp and I'm the president. I hope you are enjoying the weekend so far. I hope you attend many of the musical and visual arts and poetry readings and dance concerts and all the many events that we have this weekend, but I also hope you take a bit of time to walk around the campus and enjoy the art that is blooming. It's a beautiful weekend. Last year, as some of you may know, The Arts Weekend poured rain. So we made it up to everyone this weekend.
We will this morning have a faculty member talk about the continuing relevance of art history. So thank you for attending this session. Please enjoy yourself throughout this weekend. Now I would like to introduce our associate provost who is a member of the art and art history faculty, Patricia Reilly. Patricia is going to tell us the truth about our speaker.
Patricia Reilly: Good morning. It's wonderful to see you all here. Thank you. It is an honor to have been asked to introduce my esteemed and very dear colleague, Michael Cothren, the show your family professor of Art History. The first time I met Michael I was a newly minted PhD interviewing for a position here at the college. I was intimidated. Michael was famous in our field for having pioneered a paradigm shift in the teaching of art history, to the delight of many, and to the dismay of a few, but certainly to the admiration of all.
He had called into question the very assumptions and practices that govern the way that art history was taught. He questioned the value of an art history that Eurocentric or presented as a seamless narrative of progress and filled with a parade of images and dates that had to be memorized and memorialized and identified, but not understood in terms of the cultural, historical, religious, and political context in which they had been produced. Just as importantly, in art history that was not understood in terms of the cultural, historical, religious, and political context in which the scholars who wrote this art history had been produced.
As you can imagine, I was thrilled to meet Professor Cothren, and even more so to join him here at Swarthmore. Michael began his path to becoming a pioneer in the pedagogy of art history at Vanderbilt University where he received his BA, magna cum laude, and where he was elected to phi beta kappa. He then went to Columbia University where he earned his PhD with distinction. In 1978 he joined the faculty of Swarthmore College. Professor Cothren's many contributions to the profession include being president of the US chapter of the Corpus Vitrearum, the international research project that's dedicated to the study of medieval stained glass, a member of the board of directors of the International Center of Medieval Art, and curator of the medieval stained glass at the Glencairn Museum at Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.
Among Michael's numerous publications in English and French are the book, Picturing the Celestial City, the Medieval Stained Glass of Beauvais Cathedral, Princeton University Press in 2006. And articles such as Production Practices in Medieval Stained Glass Workshops, the Seven Sleepers and the Seven Kneelers: A Study of the Belles Verrières of Rouen Cathedral, and the Twelfth Century Crusading Window of the Abbey of Saint-Denis.
Most recently however, Professor Cothren has devoted himself to revising and rewriting one of the canonical art history survey texts, entitled Art History: The Standard in the American Classroom is co-authored with Marilyn Stokstad and published by Pearson Press. In other words, having once dismantled the art history survey, Michael is now reconfiguring it for the 21st Century.
As if this is not enough, he is starting a new research project trying to discover the artists who painted [inaudible 00:04:11] ceramics in prehistoric New Mexico. Michael has done all of this while dedicatedly serving the college as Chair of the Department of Art, Divisional Chair of the Humanities, and as a member of the search committee for our new president, just to name a few.
But without a doubt, Professor Cothren's greatest contribution to our community and many of you know this firsthand, has been his dedicated and passionate teaching of our students, and his extraordinary generosity as a colleague. Today Michael will speak on teaching art history in an era of globalism, liberal arts, visual literacy, and social responsibility. Please join me in welcoming Professor Michael Cothren.
Michael Cothren: Wow, Patricia. That was some ... Wow. Thank you very much. It's a privilege to be here this morning and to see so many students and former students of all ages sitting out in the audience, in addition to a whole constellation of my friends from the community. I'm moved, and glad to have you here, and a little nervous.
I started with a cartoon on the screen and I allowed you to look at it while you were coming in because it encapsulates in many ways the points that I'm going to be making over the next ... We're hoping 45 minutes, about the history of art. That's all I'm going to say about it until we move on.
Art history has developed a bad rep in many circles in the United States these days, especially among people who have no idea what art history is and what art historians do. Let me give you a couple of examples. The NCAA, and at Swarthmore, I should probably say that's the National Collegiate Athletic Association, does not count art history as a core subject for student athletes. Also excluded from the core by the way, are music theory and studio arts. Does anyone see a pattern? In case anyone thinks I'm too much of an elite [inaudible 00:06:16] to care anything about American athletics, I thought I would explain that the fuzz on my face is a part of my participation in the National Hockey League's beard-a-thon in solidarity with the Flyers who are rushing their way toward the Stanley Cup at the moment, and if someone wants to contribute to Flyer's charities to help me meet my fundraising goal as a part of the beard-a-thon, see me afterwards. I'll give you the link.
Personally, my favorite example of the contemporary reaction to art history is click and clack. How many of you listen to car talk? I do. I love car talk. I love to listen to how these guys describe, interrogate, assess, diagnose, interpret, and spar with each other about assessment and expertise. Sometimes they remind me of art historians and I'm absolutely sure their skills are transferable to art history, but that's not why I like listening to them. I love listening to just about anyone who knows a whole lot and is passionate about their subject, especially if it's one I know very little about, and cars fit into that category.
I love listening to smart, passionate people talk. That's the reason I love listening to my daughter, Nora, expound on strategies and transgressions while watching Flyers games with her. Ice hockey is one of Nora's greatest passions, and one of her most impressive areas of expertise, just as click and clack's passion and expertise resides in car talk.
But why do click and clack have such a gripe with art history? Why do they poke so much fun at art history majors? Are they playing to their audience? Did they have a bad experience in an art history class? Or are they seriously concerned about the employment prospects of young adults? I hope it's not because they find art history useless, because if they do, I disagree. What I want to talk about this morning is my own passion about the place of studying great works of art and visual communication in general. Far from being useless, art history may be particularly important at this particular moment in time.
We live in an age in which visual communication, the use of pictures and design to convey important information, to embody cherished values, and to manipulate the responses and behaviors of our fellow human beings may be at an all-time high. Yet, this is not widely recognized, especially in elite educational contexts and on car talk. Let me develop that. Prejudice against the visual in favor of the verbal is deeply ingrained in our educational culture.
I brought in a couple of examples. On the left is a page from a Disney animation picture a day calendar that sat on my daughter, Emma's table for a whole year. When she came to this page, she tore this one and gave it to me and said, "Dad, you might want to put this on the door of your office." See, she already knew that I was passionate about this particular film, which I saw from her.
I hope you've all seen this, and I don't have to identify it. It's Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which was a spectacularly innovative presentation in which computer animation was blended with traditional animation for the first time and it happened at an extremely important moment in the unfolding of the story. My family still remembers that I gasped in the seat when this happened. It's when the dance happens between Belle and the beast. You have to see it again if you didn't notice, because it's amazingly powerful.
But within this, that's the not the scene that's highlighted here. Within this, there's this amazing moment where Gaston, who you see here, approaches Belle on the walk and grabs the book out of her hand, a kind of aggressive male act. He looks at the book and he says ... I want to be sure I get it right. "How can you read this? There's no pictures." In this moment in this film, a very sophisticated piece of visual narration, the people who make this kind of thing make fun of themselves. I'd like to think it's because they're mature enough to realize that anything any of us do is open to humor. But I think it's at root an insecurity about the nature of visual narration.
Let me give you another example. When my daughters were in elementary school, that's the experience I know best about elementary school, one of the goals of first and second grade was to move away from books with pictures. They actually were called picture books, and a mark of achievement was being able to choose as your reading book, something else. Anyone know the term?
Speaker 4: Chapter book.
Michael Cothren: Chapter book, which means you don't need pictures anymore. Given that these children are growing up in an age in which most of their information is going to be taken in pictorially, I ask you, what is going on? I brought an example. That's from 1991. Example on the right is 1998. It's the front of the Philadelphia Inquirer the day after Bill Clinton sort of apologized to the nation. Not really. As I look out, I see most of you probably remember this day. I have to explain it to my students.
The front of the Inquirer has what I believe is one of the most powerful political pictures from this period. It shows Clinton and his wife and daughter and dog walking toward the helicopter to take them to Camp David after this speech. Anyone remember this? The picture tells you every single thing you need to know about the newspaper's interpretation of what this meant. Clinton caught, trapped in an Italian suit for which his body is not made, so he looks uncomfortable. I've been there. He looks uncomfortable. I know what that feels like. Is accompanied by a wife and daughter dressed with elegant casualness, rather than constricted classicism. They're pulling away from him. Guess what? So is the dog.
When I do ... It's at this point that most people stop me and say, "Yeah, but it's a picture. They didn't choose that. The people who made the picture, he or she didn't choose that. The person who made the picture." I brought in another photo from that shoot. If this photo had been used, a completely different message would be given, right?
Speaker 5: Yes.
Michael Cothren: Clinton and Chelsea are stylistically related to each other in such a way that you see them as a related pair. I'm from Arkansas. An argument could be made, but ... And it's Hilary who's pulling away. The dog is surrounding him. This is a scene of family solidarity rather than a scene of tortured isolation. It's all in the picture. Let me say one other thing. On the page, someone decided to juxtapose this family scene with this family scene. I'm not sure how well you can see it. It's totally fuzzy. It's a dad in northern Ireland holding, affectionately, a child who's escaped the bombing. This scene of family isolation and separation is juxtaposed on the page with this scene of family cuddling. You think that doesn't relate? You're seeing it in a completely different way however, because earlier I showed you another picture of a family scene of cuddling between parent and child. Whether you know it or not, that was in your visual memory before you saw what I just showed you.
So the world is full of constructed images based on an understanding of our visual consciousness built up through time, using that to explain to people what's going on. Not since the 13th Century has visual been so prominent in the way people communicate important things about each other. This is serious since the culture in which we live seeks to control, influence, and stereotype in ways that are at root visual rather than verbal. That's certainly true on the internet. Yet there's a widespread reluctance among intellectual snobs to using posters, for instance. I'm citing you one example, as a way to communicate in high school research projects. The internet, which is becoming increasingly powerful as a means of mass communication, is just a series of posters. This is considered dumbing down expectations in comparison to more emphasis on writing essays. Seriously? Why don't we want our future citizens to become sophisticated consumers and creators of visual communication? Who gains if we hold them back?
As some of you know, I spent eight years on the Wallingford Swarthmore School Board. One of the reasons I devoted those years of my life to such a crazy pursuit was to try to make end roads here. I totally failed institutionally. Though I did make some progress interpersonally, and since it involves Swarthmore, I want to tell that story. My friend, Mark Kuperberg, who teaches economics here at the college, and was one of the first people outside my department that I got to know when I arrived here in the late 1970s, has become well known on campus for his reluctance to accept the importance and power of the arts, and especially visual communication. He also was my colleague on the school board. One night in executive session before the public meeting took place, he came up to me and said, "Michael, something has just happened which has convinced me that you were right." What he meant by that was, you're right, the visual is powerful and people do need to know how to understand it.
It was at the moment, 2004 of Abu Ghraib, which you can see at the upper left. He said to me, "I knew about this atrocity in the prison long before people got upset about it, because it was being written about in the press." Anything anyone needed to know to be upset about this was written in the press, but nobody made any big deal until the pictures were released. It was a revelation for Mark. Little personal victory for me.
I thought I would say that to you and also show some other pictures that we've all known that have formed our understanding of important political events in ways that transcend the words that were written about them at the time. The picture of the shooting at Kent State at the top at the right, I could do the whole 45 minutes on this picture, is one of the most powerful images from my lifetime. I was a college freshman in 1970 when this happened, and just this year I went for the first time to Kent State and it was amazingly powerful. When I got to that site, I saw this [inaudible 00:18:11] taking place, because this is a [inaudible 00:18:13], every aspect of this picture draws on the knowledge of the viewer of certain canonical images and the history of art that you probably don't even know you know. But the composition has been formed from those pictures.
So if we really want to prepare our future citizens for responsible decision making, and isn't that a principle argument for public education? They're going to need to understand why these images were so powerful. I should be back here. Why they made the difference. How can the future citizens learn to be critical consumers and competent creators of visual communication the same way they learn to become critical consumers and competent creators of written communication? Number one, learn the rules. Number two, study impressive examples, which push the rules. In other words, just as we study great literature in school, we should study great works of visual art, learn how they work, learn how to discuss them. These are not natural skills, and they're not easy to learn.
But as with reading Wallace Stevens and William Shakespeare, the value of studying great works of visual art transcends the development of visual intelligence that is fostered by their study. For great works of visual art from the global past, embody the most impassioned communications of the most important expectations, longings, and values, and thoughts of our human ancestors. From the deep recesses of prehistoric caves, to the champions of modernism, and even on to post modernism.
Today, I hope to make the case for Jato and Caravaggio, but we're not even going to scratch the surface. Here's my premise. The study of the visual arts allows us to communicate with dead people, to resurrect our ancestors and converse with them about the challenges and joys of what it means to be a human being. Let me say a few words about the notion of art that lies behind the bold statement I just made before I explore some particular examples.
My statement presupposes a certain way of look at works of art, but it does not claim, or at least it does not intend to claim exclusivity. There is no one way of looking at art, no one way of communing with works of art. The way I want to talk about, in case there's any doubt, is art historical. But art does not have to have exclusive, but art history does not have to have an exclusive claim on art talk.
Art history is the hard road. It requires years of slow looking, years of hard research. Some folks are perfectly content with another way, looking at works of art and exploring their own personal isolated responses to them, disinterested in the particulars of broad parameters of the place and time that created the work of art. Exoticizing and appropriating them instead, focusing on their own unpolluted thoughts, feelings, and experiences, disinterested in what the artist sought to convey and how her or his audience received that communication. The motto of this group, I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like.
For my Swarthmore students, I have characterized these two approaches to the viewing and study of art, one personal and one historical in the following way. The personal approach I call using art as a mirror. As we contemplate the art, we are actually contemplating ourselves. Art becomes a medium of self evaluation, maybe self satisfaction. This is not a new idea. Narcissist comes to mind. The art historical approach I call using art as a conversation partner, or art as a companion. Mirrors reflect the self, but interlocutors question and challenge as well as nourish and reassure. But if we do decide we want to enter into conversation with works of art, to experiment with the art historical relationships, seeing art in relation to cultural situations from the past, we're going to have to get to know these works, understand their stories and symbols, decode their structure of formal presentation, understand their belief system, engage with their goals and expectations. Like reading a play by Shakespeare or [inaudible 00:23:10], it's hard work.
Not everyone likes hard work. If you are currently comfy cuddling in the notion that works of art are tranquil refuges for weary souls, that they are all about you, you might be in for a shock if you subject works of art to slow looking and cultural examination. You might be disappointed or saddened by what works of art actually mean. I brought in this example, because it's personal and today I get to show whatever I want, right? There's no historical thread here.
This is a painting by Manet, that is one of the most disturbing pictures in the art historical canon. In the dentist office where I used to get my teeth cleaned, and let me tell you, there are people in the room who know that this is always ... An entry into the dentist office is always a trauma for me. This picture was what I had to look at while I was getting my teeth scraped on and I explained to the hygienist afterward that I thought this was cruel because the picture was so disturbing. She said, "Really? I always thought it was pretty." We had a great conversation, and the result of that, I brought her in a book. She told me why she liked the picture. She told her story. I told mine. We were communicating with each other about this work, but if we'd allowed it to be wall decoration, it never would have happened.
Here's one of the most unsettling examples. I've often gone into friends' houses and seen these Degas ballerina paintings hanging in the rooms of little girls, and I just began ... It creeps me out. These are disturbing exposures of a world of social and political exploitation and sexual appropriation. These are really meant to be challenging, unsettling pictures. I may have ruined these ballet pictures for you. That's part of what I'm working with.
Let me tell you a story. I'm full of Swarthmore stories today. I've talked about Mark. When I was new at the college and some of you are old enough maybe to have followed the personnel here. Came in the late 1970s. Dorie Friend was president of Swarthmore and he and Elizabeth used to have parties at their house that were kind of intellectual [inaudible 00:25:24], social gatherings, but selected groups of people that Dorie and Elizabeth thought would enjoy talking to each other.
For a junior faculty member it was terror, because I thought if they're going to enjoy talking to me .. What if they don't? Am I going to make it, am I going to tenure, am I going to lose a job, am I going to have to not be an art historian anymore? One of these dinners, Elizabeth explained to me that she had set me ... They were place cards. This was all constructed ... Next to a friend of hers from the town who had a daughter who loved art and so she thought we would have a whole lot to talk about.
I sat down next to the woman, started eating the hors d'oeuvres, etc., and she turned to me and said, was I an artist ... And I said ... This is often a question. I said, "No, I'm an art historian." She said, "Oh." She said, "My daughter, I have this daughter who loved art more than anything in the world and so she enrolled for an art history class at the college and she went in loving art and she came out hating art. The art historians analyzed it to death. They turned beauty into ugliness." That's all I remember of the conversation.
But what was going on here is that the woman was characterizing me, the role of the art historian as the snake in the garden of evil tempting to her like Eve toward too much knowledge, too much knowledge in this story is not a good thing. Too much knowledge for people who want to maintain their personal relationship with art can be a bad thing. I always warn my students at this point. But if you want to make art your conversation partner, you might learn more than you bargained for. That's the summary statement of this. But you also might be challenged and nourished in ways that are deeply satisfying, that promote growth, promote empathy, promote a reluctance to form quick judgements in other aspects of your life. For example, about individual people who are different or whole groups of people in the world around us that are all too easy to stereotype in relationship to our assessment of how different they are from us.
This brings me, finally, to my two case studies. First one is about Jato. How many people here know the art of Jato? I'd love to see a shake of hands. Lots of people know about Jato. It also, always surprises me how well known he is. But nevermore in my life than one morning at the health plex in Springfield when I was shaving next to a man my father's age who frequently engaged me in seemingly idle chatter, which I actually loved. "What do you do?" he asked. "Teach at Swarthmore College." "What do you teach?" "Art history." This usually ends the conversation. "Art history."
He put his razor down and looked at me. We were conversing through the mirror. This is rich. We were conversing through the mirror. He put his razor down and he said, "I always wanted to meet an art historian. I have been waiting for years to ask this question." If I died in that moment, I would have been happy. No one ever does this. He explained that during the war in Italy he had been told that Jato was the only artist who had ever been able to draw a perfect circle freehand. He asked me if that was true. I replied, "Is it true that George Washington as a boy cut down a cherry tree and lied about it?" Right there in the health plex, we had a discussion about truth and fable, biography and topoi. How sweet is that? I asked him whether if the story was true, if that was true about Jato, would that make Jato more important? And he said, "Yes."
For me, what makes Jato important is not his technical virtuosity. There is really no dispute here about technical virtuosity, nor his ability to simulate an imposing sense of three dimensionality in the representation of a form. Once again, no dispute here. What makes him important to me is the powerful impact of his visual narratives, specifically his ability to tell stories in such a way that the personal stake of the human beings in its outcomes are as clear as its implications for broader personal, political, and theological systems. You've been looking at it here, a great example.
Let me show you another one. These are two scenes. Jato's subject is the life of Jesus. He tells the life of Jesus in such a way that the people who are participating in his life are reacting to what's going on with a richness and diversity that we might experience in our world. Not everyone did that. He chose to do that. I could on for awhile, but then we really wouldn't be out of here by noon about the Franciscans and changes in devotional thought, and theology that took place during the 13th Century, but you don't need to know that.
Look at ... Here are two scenes. Maybe you do, maybe you don't know. This is a scene in which Jesus is being turned over, betrayed, identified to the police by one of his friends. This is a scene of deep betrayal, and Jato has decided to stage it as a face to face confrontation, eye to eye, nose almost to nose. It's the moment before ... Some of this may you know this as the kiss of Judas, because Judas identifies Jesus to the authorities with a kiss. The irony is intentional here. This is the moment right before the kiss, not the moment of the kiss, but the moment before the act. It's hard sometimes for me to look at this picture without gasping. What's going to happen next? That's all constructed by Jato in the way he sets it up. The one on the right happens later, after Jesus has been executed. His body is being mourned or lamented by his followers, including his mother, who goes once again face to face with her dead son.
I ask you to look at one detail, because it's a detail that always, I'm already goosepimpling. Always slays me, is the detail at the far left of the figure from behind who actually holds up the head of Jesus so his mother can adore it for the last time. If you imagine the painting without that figure, that part of the impact disappears. That's what I like about Jato. He doesn't allow a moment like that to pass without point out to us the human implications of what's going on. Moreover, to allow us to project ourself into the scene as if we were there.
But in order to understand the nature of the impact here, we have to understand the historical parameters of its creation. Context may not be everything, but it has to figure large in art historical conversations. These pictures were not created during the first decade of the 14th Century to be admired as works of art. Art had not yet become a market commodity. They were part of a large architectural and ceremonial context conceived by its patron, Enrico Scrovegni as part of his personal campaign to atone for a family history of usury. You see him on the left painted in the pictures giving the chapel to holy figures, because this is chapel, not a museum.
Here's where the discussion got interesting in my current classroom this spring. Where it beings to get at the heart of what I promised to be talking about this morning. What does usury mean in this context? Most of my students did not know the meaning of the world. I would wager most of us in this room know its meaning in a modern context, not in the context that was at play in late medieval Italy. At that time, usury meant simply charging interest when loaning money. Any interest. It was a sin to make money by loaning money to others. Capitalism was a sin. Late 16th Century Pope Sixtus V said it rather clearly, "Charging interest is detestable to God and man. Damned by the sacred canons, and contrary to Christian charity." How things have changed.
That is the point. This program which foregrounds the human implications of life decisions including how to use your money, here on the right Judas is being paid to betray Christ to the police. Actually it addressed a cultural situation that although it is part of western history, challenges us to think about the implications of how money is used or distributed throughout our own world. This building is full of lessons, challenges, and questions for those who want to enter into conversation with it. It moves the patient viewer with poignant portrayals of human beings locked into tragic moments of betrayal and loss. But also exhilarating expressions of human connection and unspeakable joy. I know of no other work in the history of art that better encapsulates the notion of unspeakable job and unspeakable is really important part of that expression. Okay, that's Jato.
Caravaggio is different, very different. The lights are dimmed in the background. The tempo picks up. The human behavior is more direct and raw, less theatrical, and more troubling. Caravaggio is one of my five favorite painters. I never thought I would say that in public as an art historian. This is an important moment for me, so I'm acknowledging it. Caravaggio is one of my five favorite painters. Jato's on the list as well, in case you didn't figure that one out. But not everyone feels that way. Not everyone likes to be disturbed, and Caravaggio's art can be very disturbing. The impact is usually felt in the body, as well as in the mind.
It's not the beauty of these works that grabs me the most, though I do find them stunningly beautiful, especially in person. I love them because they crackle with visual intelligence, because they challenge so many of the assumptions in Caravaggio's world, because with complete directness he dusted our centuries of cobwebs and sat confidentially on the very edge of what was considered acceptable. Many of his patrons and contemporaries in Rome at the turn of the 17th century were also disturbed by his paintings, found them distasteful, scandalous, even pornographic.
They are at times hard to look at, at times deeply disturbing. Why were these works so unsettling to Caravaggio's patrons and contemporaries? Why are they so unsettling to us? As an undergraduate I was taught that Caravaggio's style was too radical. This was, in other words, an art world thing. Also, that the poked fun at his audience by casting his saints as peasants and prostitutes. Though we love that, his audience was not amused. But to enter into conversation with these works, we have to do better. Flesh out what they were so they can interact with who we are.
A recent argument claims that these paints are actually about the place of the poor in post reformation Christian thought and Christian practice. Since his patrons were among the wealthiest and most powerful figures at the papal court, not all of them thought of Christianity in terms of its responsibilities to the poor. Nor did they like to think about Jesus and his followers as poor folks themselves. But even more interestingly, some of the richest and most powerful among his patrons actually did. These are still issues, I don't have to point out, in our own world, and not only in religious circles. In fact, more often elsewhere.
Can Caravaggio make us reconsider our actions and those of the world in which we live? Can he make us more attentive to the way people are characterized with pictures on the front page of the New York times every morning? I think so. It's my belief that the study of art history, if it focuses on challenging and deeply intelligent works, like those of Jato at Caravaggio, can promote tolerance and intercultural understanding, empathy, and compassion, as well as teaching the skills of visual intelligence. That's the social responsibility, part of my title.
The revelations great works of art have to offer are even more powerful when you find out the art you thought you owned naturally as a part of your own cultural heritage is actually more complicated, more discordant than you had imagined. I wish we had more time to talk about that. But to reap such benefits, we have to allow works of art to be fully alive on their own terms, to live as much as possible in their own time, space, and place. We cannot keep them safely encapsulated within the zoo-like environment of the modern museum. The rewards, if you can trust this one man's personal experience, are stupendous. I mean, really stupendous.
As I told some friends recently, my work not only takes me on a daily basis within the deep fabric of what we mean as human beings on this earth, it also allows me to live my life in beauty. With the Navajo, I believe living in beauty is not only nourishing, it's important, critically important, not only for us, but mainly for the people around us. If that beauty challenges me to rethink my own relationship to my own life, as well as challenging the presumptions of my own cultural situation, isn't that a good thing? If we allow these works of art to have their own integrity, conversations with them can test our value system, our expectations, our assumptions. We can open ourselves up to growth by finding not only nourishment, but challenge. Isn't that better than admiring ourselves in a mirror? We can be here and there at the same time. Thanks.