Up here in Idyllwild for a weekend at the "Painting's Edge", I remember how much I loved art schools , back in the days when I was Dean of the College at Otis Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design.) Having come from positions at big universities, I loved the scale of them--mostly no more than 400-500 students--the intimacy, the close relations between students and faculty. Forgotten, now, are the petty politics, the back-biting, the territorial squabbles over pathetically insignificant stakes! Those memories fade, other remain bright: the smell of wet paint in the crowded studios, the constant palaver between those struggling to refine their vision or simply find their voice, the endless variety of objects--or non-objects!--generated by the endless variety of creative minds.
All this came back to me this Sunday morning as Ellie and I made the rounds of the shared studio spaces of the thirty-four artists-in-residence in this two-week summer program. Last night we attended presentations by two very different mid-career artists, Alexander Couwenberg and Rebecca Campbell--the one formal in his interests, abstract in execution, the other a contrarian figurist who draws on the immediate experience of her own life for inspiration. A fascinating contrast of two very different options for painters in this post-conceptual age. Much though I admire the painterly investigations of the former, my heart gets more excitedly engaged with the unreserved self-exploration of the latter.
Actually, there's an interesting piece that I began to realize in this context: two not-quite mutually exclusive parts of me, because they live together: the "Art of Outrage" side, the one that wrote The Bush Diaries for so long, the one that demands engagement in social issues and wants to have a say; and the other, Buddha Diaries side, which favors the serenity and inner silence of much abstract work... I find that I can love two kinds of art with equal passion.
After the two presentations, we joined the artists and our host, Roland Reiss, who directs the program, for dinner at a local restaurant. What could be more pleasant than to sit over a glass of wine and good food at a big table and enjoy a variety of conversations with people who are passionately engaged in what they have been given to do with their lives. I found myself talking mostly with Rebecca about her Mormon upbringing and the path that led away from it. It's an experience shared in our own way by many of us brought up in religious households--the story of rejections, rebellion, and eventual rediscovery of those parts of our early life that have a deeper and more lasting meaning. A late evening, for us, but a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable one.
It's hot up here in the mountains--almost unbearably so this afternoon. We found hammocks on the grounds of the pleasant inn where we are staying, but both had to head for the cooler confines of our room after only a short while. Looking forward, now, to the cooling that will come at evening time.