21 October 2008
A Day at Commonwealth College
I spent today on the campus of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Amherst where I was a guest speaker at two classes taught by my friend Gloria DiFulvio. The course, called America at the Turn of the Century is offered through the Commonwealth College of UMass, an undergraduate honors program, and it offers an interdisciplinary look at turn-of-the-century issues including immigration. Gloria is familiar with the way my work addresses social issues and she thought it would be interesting for the students to see how an artist works with these topics. I brought my U.S./Mexico Border print as well as the Three Prophets series to discuss.
I have to say, I had a great time at both classes. The students were engaged, easy to talk with, thoughtful, and very insightful in their questions and comments. I enjoyed the campus, too, which is like a small city with its student population of 25,000. Even though it's a 20 minute drive from where I live, I've rarely visited UMass, but my experience there today made me want to go back again. There's a map room in the 28-story library that I'll definitely go back to see!
After the class, Gloria invited students to write briefly about any thoughts, reactions or questions they had and I'd like to take some blog space to respond to a few of the questions.
Do you ever do art without any message to convey? Do you ever do art for the hell of it?
Not often enough! Because I do art for a living, sometimes art is the last thing I want to do "for fun." But I do occasionally enjoy doing art without a purpose -- my favorite way to do that is to rip up some magazines and do collage or grab a crayon and draw like a kid. It's good for loosening up.
Is there anything you would never talk about when it comes to your identity?
Do you mean like things that I consider too private to talk about? Sure, some things are too private to talk about. And where that "too personal" line is depends on who I'm talking with. For instance, I wouldn't try to have a meaningful conversation about being gay with someone who was holding a sign saying "God hates queers." That would be too painful. But when there's a clear opportunity for dialog I try to rise to the occasion even if it's scary.
Do you have a favorite print?
Usually whichever print I'm currently working on is my favorite!
Do you ever mess up or feel that it isn't your best work? Do you fix it and start over or leave it?
I mess up plenty. I hate when it happens, but the flaws are part of the process. Occasionally I get totally frustrated with a print and I don't finish it, or once it's finished I dislike it so much that I cut it up and turn it into business cards. Sometimes I finish and I'm not sure if I like it or not. When that happens I just quietly put it away and wait awhile until I can see it with fresh eyes. I'm pretty critical of my own work and I'm aware that I'm not really the best judge of whether it's good or not.
Do people ever suggest ideas they would love to see you turn into a print?
Sometimes, especially family members! Do you have a print suggestion? Feel free to leave it here!
After you've spent so much time on a print do you immediately want to start working on another, or do you take time to reflect before you move on to the next?
I often take a little break between prints, but not for long because I usually know what I'm going to do next even before I finish what I'm working on. The pressure to get moving on the new print usually wins out over my desire to take a break.
What researching sites do you use the most, or is it all Google?
I do tend to start with Google, but you know how one thing leads to another. There are some great image sites that I also use, like Library of Congress and NY Public library. And I like books. I take out library books on some topics.
Many thanks to all of Gloria's students for having me in your class today and for your great comments and feedback! I enjoyed talking with you.