May 17, 2010

Color, Kent State Art History, and Mark Rothko

I have always loved winter and snow; when I lived in Florida I missed the changing seasons much. (Darn that ol' sun, shining all the time.) The light in Sarasota is beautiful though, folks come from very far away to paint on the west coast of Florida, just because of the quality of the light.

I've also always liked white and black. In accessories, in clothes, in DisneyWorld's It's A Small World After All ride with all the white cut out pretty scenes (at least I saw them like that 25 years ago!).

So, this February when we had all that snow, you know, when Philadelphia got like 30 inches! I was surprised to find myself mentally fatigued from all that "white stuff." Out our kitchen window: white. Looking up at the sky: light gray. The trees: gray trunks, white branches. The ground, white. Our house, white. Mailbox: white. The only color at all was the very sad maroon peaking out from under the snow on my van.

I had tired of white and I'm not sure I will ever love it the same way again. Dear past art teacher, I know it is "all the colors combined" but please.... if you can't see the colors, what does it matter? I missed green, red, brown, a way I hadn't ever before in my life. I wanted Spring to arrive so much I found myself standing at the kitchen sink, staring out at the woods and valley across the road and imagining what it would be like a few months forward and is!

The color has returned and all is right with the world.

Speaking of color, when I was in my second year at Kent State I started painting purely for the love of shapes and colors. Large abstract paintings with shapes of pure color. I loved it. So, apparently, did my art history professor, Dr. Harley*, as he had me drag one of the paintings to his office, then grabbed his camera and I followed him out into the sun in front of the art building where he took my picture with the painting. I thought, wow, this must be pretty good, but decades later I suspect he took pictures of many of his students and their paintings. If I was an art professor with a love of history, I would have too.

One of the main things I remember about Dr. Harley, other than his encouragement of my work, was his method of teaching art history. There was another art history teacher in the department who read from a lecturn while slides were shown and we noted what to memorize. My notebooks had little sketches of the paintings and sculptures to remind me what was what. Everything was memorized.

Not in Dr. Harley's class. We discussed art movements in the context of social and political movements. I began to understand the role of the artist in society and the way art projects, precedes, and reflects the life around the artist, the life inside of the artist. But the most interesting thing I remember Dr. Harley saying was that it didn't matter if we could memorize facts, one day there would BE A DEVICE that would have all the facts inside of it. We would type in what we wanted to know and the answer would come up. It would give us facts, but it couldn't think for us, so he was teaching us what no machine could.

Wow, would there be such a device, I thought. That would be so cool and it wouldn't matter that I have such a stinky recall of Very Important Events in History (not to mention faces, chronological order of events...) Anyhoo.... the iPad, iPod, personal computer, Kindle... all unknown to me, but predicted by dear Dr. Harley. I hope he lived to see his predictions come about and I wonder how he envisioned they would change the nature of art and the lives of artists.

Years after art school, I was married, had children, divorced, moved from Ohio to Florida to Ohio and bought an old house. In the house was a window, tucked into the dining room, that faced west. Each evening the sun would shine through the old window shade and this is what I would see (see photo at left). I loved this, it was like a beautiful painting appeared in my house every evening. I didn't want to replace the old shade because I would lose this magic.

A while ago I was searching images on Google (yes, Dr. Harley, there is an Internet!) and came across this
Mark Rothko painting.... I love color!

* I believe this was his name. It may have been Dr. Harvey. I see, doing a Google search that there is a Ted Harvey, faculty emeritus, at KSU's College of Art. But I cannot find more info on him or a photo. The Dr. Harley who taught at Kent State in the late 70s seemed like an older gentleman to me at that time, but he was probably in his mid to late 40s! And, it seems I couldn't pull up his exact name on the Internet as easily as I'd hoped.

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