Nick Cave Soundsuit 2007

Nick Cave Soundsuit 2007

Today was what I always refer to as “the best day of the school year”–the day I take a group of students to galleries and museums.  These students are members of the Art Club at my school, the purpose of which is to explore the work of artists out in the bigger world. Sometimes we get lucky and we  meet artists, walk into their studios or listen to their stories and explanations.  Many times this is the student’s first trip to an art museum.  I hope that when these young people graduate they will have a high level of comfort in art venues and will continue to  enjoy them and share them with their own children.

It’s hard to beat starting your day at the hospitable McColl Center (  with two towering costumes by Nick Cave  backed up by videos of the costumes dancing.

A. The moves are good

B. The costumes are both ravishing and goofy– an unbeatable combination.

My students were enchanted.  That was a hard act to follow, but we forged ahead.  We were spellbound by the giant woodblocks by Kenichi Yoknono.  Instead of creating prints from them, the blocks  stand as the finished work.  They are 6 feet tall, inked in red, and beautifully tactile.

One of my students got up close enough to read the text inside the KKK hoods created and decorated by Willie Little visible through the tiny eye holes.  The hoods were treated coyly as if they were as innocent as  a halloween jack o’ lantern.  They still engaged her hours later.  She was unsettled by the angry/sad messages hidden inside.

Having explored the subject of quilts in class this past week, and Gee’s Bend Quilts specifically, we saw a  quilt show at the Craft and Design Museum.  Part of my problem is that after seeing Gee’s Bend quilts I will never be the same again, or  ever again be intrigued by “pretty quilts”.  I pointed out to the girls who were looking with me, the tedium, and the intensity of the work ethic involved in these quilts.

I always see some yawns and perhaps even have to listen to complaints when we delve deep into an art historical era as we recently have the Harlem Renaissance and its aftermath.  But I heard no such complaints when we stood in the midst of the comprehensive exhibition of the work of Lois Mailou Jones at the Mint Museum on Randolph (  Carla Hanzal, curator of contemporary art,  has assembled a whole visual biography of this important artist who defied so many conventions.

Lately I have been doing small paintings of the vegetables that have survived the first frosts, against the background of various textiles I have.  That seems to have really forged some neurological connections for me.  For that reason, I believe,  the textile designs of  Jones’ early career pulled me in. At that place she and I  met and merged as artists.  I wanted to wander around those patterns for hours.  It felt like some kind of meeting of the minds– beyond words and deep in the land of color.   They were painted in velvety gouache.  My students and my colleague pointed out to me the complex skin tones, and her remarkable command of color in her  portraiture.  One of my students asked (astutely I thought– as we’re just finishing up Cezanne) about how Jones’ landscapes painted in Europe relate to Post Impressionism.  What serious fun for the two of us, teacher and student, to dig into the painting and list every way we could find.

Nothing in art is ever more fun than hearing the reactions of the young learner and seeing that tiny glow become a flame– of curiosity and respect .  It’s the beginning of the ignition of new and freer ways of thinking.  It’s the birthing of a mind encouraged to listen to its own voice and the reaching across time and space  of one artist to another.