I am an artist, teacher, writer, husband, dad, believer, dreamer, thinker, seeker who lives in Mid Missouri. This blog, which I began in 2009, records words and images that contain my reflections on my experiences in this life.
Please browse the various areas in the menu above – my adventures in China and at Ox-bow have been pretty important to who I have become. Additionally, my heart attack was a watershed event that produced radical changes in my art and life.
Recently, my friend Aarik (whom I haven’t seen in person in about two years, which is a travesty) made an intriguing post on Twitter. He was musing about the idea of publishing an anthology of reflections regarding an important single line from some song, film, poem, or other source. He suggested calling this journal Hold The Line and I’ve been thinking about the idea every day since I skimmed my eyes over his tweet.
It goes without saying that each one of us could offer many dozens of lines from the treasure trove we carry in our minds. Lord knows I’ve been moved by everything from scriptures to contemporary internet memes. When I glide back over my life, though, it’s clear that some lines are held more closely to my core – to the experiences they influenced – than others.
Lying in bed last night I decided to make an entry in Aarik’s theoretical journal. My Hold The Line for today (for right now, since probably it would be something else in 20 minutes), is from Mazzy Star’s 1993 masterpiece, So Tonight That I Might See.
“Come so close that I might see the crash of light come down on me.”1
There’s something so powerful in the idea that when we come together we approach transcendence: come so close that I might see. It’s a proposition, a hope. If/Then. If this other entity is close enough to my core, then perhaps I may experience a charged glimpse of something beyond me. Then it would also be within me, a kind of multiplicity that blows out me-ness with all-ness.
Even so, my perspective – my sensate awareness – is also central. This is like Annie Dillard’s “tree with the lights in it”2 or Moses’s burning bush; the intimate presence, both terrifying and awesome, brings astonishment. Come so close that I might be more than me. Ego death. Samadhi. A disappearance of masks and pettiness in lieu of some true (if only momentary) unity.
Let there be light – and it crashes.
There is a bit of an out-of-body charge to the order of operations in Hope Sandoval’s mumbled words, in the “gothic hallucination”3 of Roback’s droning guitar tone. From closeness to sight to the mystical crash of light. Closeness catalyzes an outside, transmundane experience. I see the light come down on me in that moment. Sharp, electric, like an accidental brush against a live wire or the vertigo of a hypnic jerk.
I have felt that pulsing disorientation a few times. With Robin, her blond bob, and the small of her back all those years ago. With Miranda, born like a bomb, a modern Minerva bursting fully-formed into new reality. Even last week, suddenly seeing a former student after years and almost bursting into tears over it.
Maybe the crash of light always carries tears along with it.
Cliché, I suppose. But also real experience and astonishment… moments of enlightenment brought on by the presence of another real person.
1) Mazzy Star. “So Tonight That I Might See.” So Tonight That I Might See, performance by Sandoval, Hope and David Roback, Capitol Records, 1993.
2) Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. New York, NY: Harper, 1998. Page 35-36.
I’m pleased to present some installation images for the exhibition I’ve curated at the Riverside Arts Center. You can learn more about the show and included artists here.
Here are the installation shots. If you’re local and want to enjoy a nice drive into a beautiful neighborhood (with some Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and good food), head over there. Many thanks go to Anne Harris and her partner Paul D’Amato , who made me feel so welcome in their home and swapped stories and laughs with me. Anne, a longtime art hero of mine, helps out at the RAC and gave a lot of guidance and aid along the way.
I hope you’ll take the time to see the show in person if you can. Riverside is a great place to spend a few hours.
One thing I do as an educator is take images of my students’ works as a record of their greatness and as a kind of research for myself… what worked, what didn’t. Periodically I peruse the database and come across examples that really stick out. Today I’m sharing some images of drawings – and a number of details – that highlight a former student and his attention to surface quality and chromatic density.
Kevin Moreland took Color Drawing with me many years ago but he’s consistently stayed involved with the Art program at Mizzou and every once in a while peeks into my exhibitions. Its great to see him every time he’s around. So enjoy his drawings. These were pretty large – just about the biggest any student of mine has ever made – up to 6 feet on the long side. He went all out on the pastels, too. Really fun to look at.
Like many kids I was I influenced by the work of Beverly Cleary. She died today at age 104. That’s a solid life.
Perhaps as important as her writing were the illustrations and book designs that went with them. This one in particular has stuck in my mind for more than 40 years:
This particular edition – put out by William Morrow & Company – was in my home. I think the font, the colors, and (obviously) the illustrations by Louis Darling made a huge impression on me. I recall thinking about how the motorcycle that Ralph rode was depicted to show speed, how the idea of “small” was presented, and how the story could be shown with such subtle, one-note clarity.
After Bernie’s mittens and folding chair pose at the Inauguration went viral in January, many people tried to memorialize the tableau in their own ways. Many, many memes followed.
As a part of the online LEGO MOC (My Own Creation) community, I’m always looking out for cool creations that touch on moments in popular culture. One of the best MOC makers out there is @ochre.jelly – click that handle for more of their work.
Anyway, ochre.jelly made an awesome version of Inauguration Bernie, and I liked the design, so I decided to do a version myself. Here’s ocher.jelly’s version:
Below are some shots of the two versions I made. I tried to make some different choices in regards to the hair (wilder!) and jacket arms (more puffy!) in particular.
If you’d like to see more of my LEGO MOC works, check out these links here:
Five years ago today I suffered cardiac arrest. Every year I pull up the imagery and look at things – I was completely out when these images were made and it’s strange to see my ghostly, unconscious face in some of them. I have all of my various scans and catheterizations from the event, and I also have the placement of the stent, which I’ll share short clips of below.
Thank you to Alison, Mechell, and the EMTs and cardiac folx who helped me survive those initial hours. Thanks to Danno and Mr. C, Christopher and Julie, Daniel and Sharon, and Sarah (among many others), for coming to visit me. Thanks to Mom Bourgeois for much aid through her own time of grief. Thanks to my dad who gave me two aspirin 30 minutes before my heart attack and thus probably saved my life. Thanks to Bobby Schembre who flew out and drove us back after it all. Blessings to my students, grads, and fellow faculty who helped maintain all of the school things, and mad props to the cardiac team at University Hospital (including my drill instructor cardiologist) who helped make me much healthier today than I was when it all happened.
I’ve been teaching in some capacity for almost 20 years now. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to not only evaluate my own modes of teaching but also to look back and analyze how my favorite (and otherwise) teachers approached the central tasks of instruction.
The core of that reflection is contained in my Teaching Philosophy (I’d be happy to send you a copy if you’d like to read it) as a three-fold charge: Facilitation, Encouragement, and Tact. I’ve tried to live out those values in my teaching, and I think that the best teachers I’ve had have demonstrated each in unique, powerful ways.
From Mrs. Ebensperger and Mrs. Goodwill (1st and 2nd grade) through Mrs. Carpenter (8th grade) and Mrs. Dudley (Middle and High School Art), most of my teachers could be said to embody thoughtful, encouraging modeling of concepts and strategies for learning. I would say that most of my early teachers functioned as allies and guides.
Once I got into the specialized realm of art school, though, there was more of a continuum between those who taught their own particular praxis and those who taught a broader, more generous approach. This is when I started to think about a tension between The Gatekeeper and The Advocate. I wonder if we end up teaching from a context of our own traumas and learned experiences… perhaps those who have had mostly positive and affirming experiences are often most able to extend them to others. If, however, person’s central project is to ensure the validity of their own perspective it is certain that their teaching will favor their values, their aims, and their sources of knowledge.
Of course, this kind of implicit bias is not limited to people in the arts nor is it always bad. But I think it makes sense to be aware of it. When I first sketched the graph below 10 years ago, I was thinking about these issues.
I think the continua expressed here are fairly obvious. It makes sense that The Gatekeeper would be invested in maintaining the integrity of particular theoretical and conceptual details while The Advocate would probably be more interested in a gestalt openness and investment in the potential for broad exploration within intersecting contexts.
In every instance where I felt most seen and understood as a learner, it was because my teacher heard me openly and talked to me as if I were like them – a student and artist and explorer. Lisa Gregg Wightman, my drawing and printmaking professor at Pratt, was just like this. She did not scoff at my novice ideas or weak technique; she facilitated my growth in strategies and skills. She asked me serious questions and drew out my self-reflection. This demonstrated “generosity of spirit,” a concept later described to me by Barry Gealt (my main professor in graduate school at Indiana University). You can read more about that here.
If you’re a teacher, where do you think you fall? Here’s a link to my chart – feel free to play around with it. I don’t think that one way is inherently better than any other way, but I do think it’s good for us to pay attention to our own proclivities, asking ourselves what works and what best serves our students.
The way Ms. Loftus deals with the intersections of so many huge issues is MASTERFUL and full of authority, quality research, and INSIGHT. The best art should, in the words of Gregg Bordowitz, “return [us] to [ourselves] strange” – that is, great art causes us to reflect and see our experiences and understandings from other angles and in new light. That’s what Loftus does. LISTEN.
I first read Lolita the summer before beginning college, and the book led me into a long love affair with Nabokov. That first year as an undergraduate I read Glory, Invitation to a Beheading, King, Queen, Knave, and The Eye all in quick succession. Later on came Ada and Pale Fire and other works. I read these works mostly in a vacuum; until I met my future wife I had no one else with whom to discuss the works.
I think this solitary reading dovetailed with certain aspects of my upbringing in such a way that I missed a LOT of the cultural assumptions surrounding Lolita. Assumptions (projections) such as: the notion that it was a “love” story, that Dolores Haze was some kind of “femme fatale” who manipulated Humbert, or that Humbert was misunderstood and relatable. I read the book as what it was: the testimony of an unreliable, unfaithful narrator who was attempting to make me, the reader, complicit in his abuse by convincing me of the ultimate appropriateness of his attitudes and sensibilities. The ultimate gas-lighter, Humbert obfuscates and violates the truth even as he destroys Dolores – a 12 year old who has lost her mother, father, and brother only to be intentionally captured by a predator.
It is not a love story. It is not cute. It is devastating and heart-breaking.
A couple years after reading the book the 1997 Adrian Lyne film adaptation was released on Showtime. I taped it on VHS at my friend Peter’s house. I was confused by the film. It seemed to miss the point of the novel, and much of the horror and oppressiveness was lost, left to be shown in just a few moments (perhaps the best one is where (Dominique Swain as) Lolita screams at Humbert, “I EARNED THAT MONEY!! MURDER ME! MURDER ME LIKE YOU MURDERED MY MOTHER!”). In my own first reading, I had more than one instance of having to pull my car off my the side of the road or go into my bedroom and close the door to cry. The sadness I felt for Dolores at the end, the disgust I had for Quilty’s conniving, and the anger I felt at Humbert’s pathetic audacity (re-imagining the Dolores who had finally gotten away from him back into his lust-vision as a way to comfort himself) were nothing like the gauzy sex-dream of the movie.
Loftus unpacks the socio-cultural background that informs how Lolita has been received and promoted over more than half a century, bringing important research to the fore. Through interviews and archival footage, she examines the construction of the myth of Lolita. In this Loftus clearly demonstrates the value of the original material and honors not only the character of Dolores Haze, but also the women who have played her over the years. This podcast is REALLY, REALLY worth your time. I appreciate the way it caused me to reexamine my own attitudes (What WAS I thinking when I read it the first time? Why DO I love Lana Del Rey? In what way SHOULD we approach telling the stories of people who have been abused as children? What IS my susceptibility to culturally-promulgated ideas about “nymphets” or “spring/winter romance?”).
His most recent podcast episode, linked below, definitely intrigues me and syncs up with a lot of the ways I’ve been thinking over the last couple of decades. Specifically, my wheneverWHEN and An Ensign For Miyoko Ito works are borrowing significantly from the kinds of ideas Professor Brandl is elucidating. My 2019-2020 collaboration with Joel T. Dugan, Phoneme, also deals with some of this.
This is how I talk about some of the motivational ideas for these series of works:
“…I seek out the compacted and the overdrawn; the enclosed and the layered; the transformed and the solidified. I look for shapes, colors, and spaces that go far beyond a simple tension between figuration and abstraction, trying instead to suggest a layered arena of observational and haptic information.
Miyoko Ito (Japanese-American, 1918-1983) – whose work has been a key influence on me over the last 20 years – was able to activate subtle surfaces with the illusion of space and an evocative sense of palpability. This is what I’m investigating: the experience of perception apart from particular, representational depiction. In my exploration, questions arise: Does flat form appear to move away from my angle of view? Will color resolve into both static surface and suggested movement? Can space and color align to reinforce both static structure and an expression of time? Might the poetics of silent, unmoving images actually produce phenomena akin to those found in dreams, memories, ecstatic sensations, and atemporal musings?”
Take a listen to the Dr Great Art podcast and see if maybe some of the things I’m saying resonate with how Dr. Brandl is thinking:
While there are many points Brandl brings up that are worth exploring (I greatly anticipate getting to read his book once it comes out), I find myself particularly drawn to the explications he makes regarding ambiguity and conceptual blending. In these areas he distills and clarifies a number of philosophers and intellectual traditions into something artists can really wrap their minds – and artworks – around.
It’s exciting for my own passion for these artists to dovetail with the serious scholarship that Dr. Brandl is bringing forward. I know that I’ll be incorporating concepts from his book into my teaching for years to come. I hope you’ll join me in listening to the podcast and exploring what these ideas can mean for making and experiencing artworks.