Convocation Speech, 2016
All artists know that it is the limitations that create art. By narrowing our focus, the world, somehow, seems to expand. This is why our students use viewfinders to frame a more digestible piece of the abundance that surrounds them, and why using only black and white can open their eyes and provide access to the visual complexity that gives structure to everything. Limits create challenges, challenges beget creativity, creativity bestows gifts both unpredictable and limitless. These gifts are not always objects or ideas or connections to keep, but they move us forward, propel us towards the next – possibly wondrous – thing. Paradoxically, it is structure that can offer us tremendous freedom.
I am reminded of this vital bit of counterintuition on a regular basis, as I stare at a blank surface in my studio and conjure working parameters for myself, or as I encourage my students to recognize the boundaries of the page and stretch towards those edges. They learn to frame their world, and unique shapes emerge, creating compositions as individual as each artist who has placed them. As these small windows open within the edges of the page, the immensity of the world begins to take shape one view at a time.
I wonder how each of us would frame the Waring page? We have all carefully placed ourselves in the Waring composition, landing here in this very small, very caring and often very challenging community, bounded by edges that morph each year as new shapes are added.Would your viewfinder mentally zoom in on structures readily identified–buildings, schedules, stacks of books, places to eat and not eat–or would you search out the less visible but far more enduring structure created by our ties to each other? Would you picture your tutorial in a cabin at North Woods? The joyous thrum of feet on the Grande Salle floor, announcing a break between classes? The press of shoulders on either side of you in the Polygon? Your class dining by soft light in a castle in France? A discussion started in one class that spilled into the next? The feeling of not wanting to disappoint a classmate or a colleague? These invisible ties bind us – sometimes uncomfortably – but they also offer the essential framework that frees us to compose with abandon, giving us the license and security to take risks, giving shape to worlds we could not previously envision.
It is the recognition of our shared edges and limited time together that allows me to see my students hold me responsible, reflecting back to me the same intention and energy that I offer to them. With them, I see the world anew, capturing views that would be unimaginable to me alone. I notice new textures, make room for fresh perspectives and learn again that the exact number of shapes in the world is infinity. My colleagues’ passion for their subject areas and ease with previously inconceivable endeavors like spending the first week of school camping or driving a van full of students through the French countryside or giving a speech at Convocation allows me to envision myself within these pictures, too. I not only see but feel that Waring’s compositional structure reaches the edges of every day’s page, and onto that framework I can hang hopes and fears and ideas, knowing that these shapes will be given safe lodging.
New students, new parents, new colleagues, I invite you to identify and trust the strength of the structure offered by our small community here on this modest patch of land in Beverly, even if that does not always feel comfortable. You will be able to explore and expand into larger worlds as a result of being bounded by this community, and soon you will see that we are a small door to an enormous, beautiful universe.
Art Department Chair
September, 24 2016