~Not to pay a debt but to acknowlege it~

"These brighter Regions which salute mine eyes
A Gift from God I take:
The Earth, the Seas, the Light, the Lofty Skies,
The Sun and Stars are mine: if these I prize."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Expect a good thing."

With greatest love- for Bo-Bo

This began as an attempt to archive the memories of a special time and a special man... and soon took me on a journey to Rockford and Freeport Illinois. There I encountered people who still held close in their hearts and thoughts the man known as Philip Dedrick. To say this was a great man his humble nature would never accept. Embraced by friends and students, we knew him as someone unique who enriched our lives on so many different levels... foremost opening our eyes to what was beautiful in the world. Recently I came to understand those delightful, funny, and fascinating art history classes taught by Philip Dedrick propelled us like guided missiles into the studios of the Clark Arts Building to CREATE!

More will follow....... but for now I want to thank those who made this possible and have contributed: Roland & Louise Poska, Tom & Lynn Hartog, Jerry & Pat Hoffman, Andrew Langoussis, Rama Kakarala, Ali Hansen, Chuck Ludeke, Joe Tromiczak, Randi Williams, Bern Sundstedt, Chris Apel Walker, Mary Pryor and a special thank you to Jessica Caddell at the Freeport Art Center . It was she who found my 33 year old portrait of 'Bo-Bo' that I had thought lost.

Another rediscovered treasure is the Ludeke painting that was not only a wonderful surprise but an old friend for many accustomed to its place on the wall outside the art history room for years. What inspired Chuck in its creation is something he might share with us in the future; based on a classic it featured period cameos of the existing art faculty as well as a quietly snoozing P.D. that enchanted viewers, especially those who knew its cast of characters. It is an obscure compliment knowing the painting was part of the college art collection (Dedrick was principal architect of the art collection, which he helped assemble with single-minded devotion and guarded with missionary zeal) that was grievously auctioned off in 2006.

~Daumier's Third Class Carriage~
Circa 1976

Please note: Unlike most blogs on the Internet, this is designed
to read in chronological order... hence the posting dates have
been fudged to defeat the system... when you reach the end
of each page just click on OLDER POSTS to continue.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Dear Daddy"

Philip Bilse Dedrick was born on November 20th, 1921 in Broadhead Wisconsin... on Thomas Street. 

And every year I made profit on my largesse by receiving a check in return because he realized he had not remembered MY birthday. He told me that as a child he thought the world was just a soft cozy place until his parents gave him his first set of spectacles... then suddenly there were clouds and insect life. As Andrew Langoussis said, never did he know anyone born into a family of such total unconditional love.

His mother kept a meticulous Baby Book and within its pages were not only photographs but written documentation of height, weight for first ten months, first words, first gifts of clothing, first Valentine, first birthday card from grandma Bilse, as well as a blue ribbon he won for a flower raising contest. 

'Every grain of gain is noted
Every scratch of the scale so fine-
What's the use when the precious bundle
Far out weighs a rare gold mine'

Also tucked between these pages were thin, yellowed letters from a little boy who clearly adored his father:

'Dear Daddy-

How are you getting along at the factory? I hope you will be getting home next weekend. At school I am tring to play vollia boll but am not so good. Miss Kock wants me to take my bike over to Sheboygan but mother said no! We plan to go fishing this after noon. I miss you so so come home quick. Remember that Gods arms ar always around you and taking care of you. There is a robin building in our pine tree and has some eggs. There hasent much happened this week so I havent much new for you but remember I love you more and more each day.

Your loving son Philip'

He confided to Pat Hoffman that the only time he was truly angry with God was when his father died prematurely of a heart attack.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"It's so beautiful this A.M. sunny and warm."

Time came in my life when someone I dearly loved had died, and I often reflect back to the phone call I had with P.D. in need of his comfort and wisdom; wondering especially if there was a rule concerning the length of grief. He said he had shed hot tears in his day... yet never thought of his parents' loss... to him they were still very much alive because he dreamt about them all the time.

'Monday Eve.

Dear Philip:

Modern stationary – found this on Dad’s desk and as he’s out tonight I thought I’d help myself. He and Bob Neik (?) are out for dinner at the Freeport Hotel with an Allens salesman (typewriter) so I’m by myself listening to the radio & trying to write you. A one-track mind can’t make much progress, but I’ll finish somehow. Well we got back from Grand Rapids about 2:30 a.m. Saturday and we were plenty tired. I didn’t do anything but eat & sleep & gab but it wore me down – and Dad went to school every day – 8 to 4:30 and had all the driving too. Yesterday, we went down to church & in the P.M. we went over to Polo to watch television. Thought (??) we’d come home early & it was round 12:30 when we got home. I washed this a.m. & this afternoon we went up to Monroe and so now I am just glad to sit & try to get a letter off to my sweet boy. Your letter was waiting for us and we sat down & read it. Yours was surely an interesting trip and I should think it was a pretty hard one. Did it come up to your expectations? And was it really cold while you were out? Oh dearie, you won’t get any pictures for a little while – with all that posing & smiling & what have you, the darn film was imperfect and they didn’t print them – and Pa & I will have to pose all over & that’s more work than house cleaning. And did you write – (name illegible) said Saturday eve – she hadn’t heard from you. I’m glad you were pleased with your Easter box. It wasn’t much but you know we think of you. I’ve been listening to the return of our soldiers and I’m so happy for them & their families – I can’t understand why so few are being returned tho & I wonder what will happen to those who aren’t so lucky.

Tuesday A.M.

Well, I just got that far when Dad came so off we went to bed. It’s 9:30 and I’m sitting downtown while Dad is out paying our bills & etc. and we’re on our way to Dixon & I don’t know where else. The main thing is we’re going. I weighed Sunday and tip the scales at 140# so it must agree with me. It’s so beautiful this A.M. sunny and warm. I should be house cleaning but you know me – go – go. Dad wrote Aunt Roxa (?) about (illegible) going over there in about three weeks – leave here Wednesday & back Monday. They seem to be very anxious & I know we’ll see the country – more go-go. Roberta has been sick – seems to suffer from asthma. Poor kid. Laddie’s wife’s mother passed on in Texas and they went down – so Ag Roderick told us yesterday. Well I could write more but I want to mail this before we leave town. Hope we receive a letter from you today. We love you so very much.


Friday, November 23, 2012

"Looking forward to your visits."

Even the teacher had a valued teacher. P.D. recalled a time when Merl Blackwood, his high school art teacher, brought a Mondrian to the class and asked why it was a piece worthy of an expensive frame.

"I remember thinking it looked like tile from a bathroom. This was before Mondrian was in the Art Institute, before he was accepted as a great artist. But I kept looking at it and reading about Mondrian and his ideas. I ingested it until I understood. Students have to be cannibals. They must ingest what came before until it becomes a part of them."

Merl was still sending his student Christmas cards in the mid-1990s. Wood block prints on heavy paper stock. One was enscribed "Looking forward to your visits, Merl."

Mr. Blackwood died in 1998 at the age 101. His Dioramas are currently on display at the Stephenson County Historical Museum in Freeport Illinois. He (along with principal L.A. Fulweider) found funds to cover the walls in the Freeport High School with fine reproductions of masters, from Monet to...yes... Mondrian.

 Merl & P.D.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Princess Yogurty"?

1940's class at the school of The Art Institute of Chicago... featuring Joan Mitchell, one of the era's few female painters to gain critical and public acclaim as a leader in abstract painting... Louis Ritman, teacher and famed Chicago artist... Herbert Katzman, painter & sculptor...

Gladys Adair, Recorder, May 29, 1948
'I have known Philip since 1940... in personality he is so gracious and sincere that others immediately feel at ease. His unselfishness, happy outlook and even disposition have won him many friends who appreciate his delightful wit and humor, which never approaches the course or unkind.'

'Fine student-somewhat talkative' -Miskovsy, 1941, 'Fair draftsman'- Fabian, 1942, 'Splendid student in every respect'- Van Papelendam, 1942, 'Excellent student- intelligent'- Philbeck, 1942, 'Exceptionally perfect student in every respect... always dependable... altruistic- never thinks of himself'- Van Papelendum, 1945, 'Philip Dedrick was student of mine for two years... much creative ability... sensitive in feeling and color... excellent draftsman... well liked and makes and keeps friends... he will do well as an artist and teacher'- Louis Ritman, 'Philip Dedrick was graduated with a four year diploma in Drawing, Painting and Illustration on June 1946... his student record is excelent... has shown a great interest in painting techniques, especialy egg tempera... I believe he would be successful in college teaching'- Hubert Rop, Dean, School of the Art Institute.
Courtesy of Freeport Art Center

Faculty Honorable Mention 1941-1942
Class Honorable Mention Figure Drawing 1941-1942
Class Honorable Mention Still LIfe Painting 1941-1942
Class Honorable Mention Advanced Still Life Painting 1944-1945
Class Honorable Mention Etching 1945-1946
Faculty Honorable Mention 1945-1946
Class Honorable Mention Egg Tempora 1945-1946
Anna Louise Raymond Foreign Travel Fellowship 1946

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Moving Day"

Philip Dedrick immediately began a career at Rockford College in 1948, back when it was a girls school including the staff: Amidst all those ladies. "I thought I was going to be a painter," he once told me. During this period he pursued a Masters of Arts degree, focusing on art history, at the University of New Mexico. He also studied under D.V. Thompson at the Courtauld Institute in London.

In 1850 the Brooklyn Institute introduced sparrows into the new world; eight pairs.

In 1955 Rockford College introduced male students; number of pairs unreported.  

Then in 1964 the college moved to the new campus on State Street and its sparkling jewel that was the Clark Arts Building.

You can't move everything out of nine buildings, as Rockford College did on August 15, without problems. P.D. was puzzled over one. His problem was the giant statue of a Greek athlete which had been on the third floor of Adams Hall as long as anyone remembers. "I'm not sure how they got him up here in the first place," said Dedrick, who planned to ask the college committee for special consideration of the statue moving project. "He doesn't dismantle." The art studio on the new campus would never be the same without the statue, P.D. said. "We would like to have him out there. He has always been a favorite model for beginning drawing students- gives them confidence because he never moves a muscle." 

Forty-five years later, and much worse for the wear, the sculpture stands patient as ever. Evidently special consideration was sawing his arms and waist through as a solution to transport. Possibly when the college is nothing more than an ancient ruin he will remain as testament to the glory days.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"A single pebble..."

(left click on letter)

'It is said that if you move a single pebble on the beach, you set up a different pattern, and everything in the world is changed. It can also be said that love can change the future, if it is deep enough, true enough, and selfless enough. It can prevent a war, prohibit a plague, keep the whole world... whole.'

The Man Who Was Never Born
by Andrew Lawrence
The Outer Limits, October 28 1963

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Curious incident of the dog..."

 The arts were not limited on the new campus. P.D. and Mr. Adair also added their exceptional talents to the college chapel along with alumnae art contribution. In my day this was not an 'advertised' fact... but I remember visiting the Dedrick lithographs as well as the batik banners and altar pieces. Apparently for more than fifteen years all have gone missing.... the absence unexplained. One hopes an investigation will result in locating these treasures from the past that represent artistic achievement in the celebration of multiple faiths.

Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident.

"Silver Blaze/ The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Wings are so terribly hard to dry..."

~Travis Dreaming~
Robert John Guttke

I applied to Rockford College and was informed I would have to present my portfolio before being accepted. This I dimly remember: Standing on the green, rolling lawns of the campus, surrounded by trees, these beautiful buildings, and near to the art building with my art work (lots of scratch board drawings; a technique I greatly enjoyed) from a junior college under my arm. I was all alone. It was a sunny spring day yet I felt I had just climbed aboard the Mary Celeste. A single figure came down a side walk; a funny little man with narrow shoulders, grey hair tucked under a barre, dressed in a dark wool suit and clutching books reverently to his chest. But most startling were his spectacles with lenses that appeared to be three inches thick. He smiled at me and said hello.

I thought he was very strange .

Then thought wouldn't it be ironic if this was the man I was here to see? 

He was. 

I nervously presented my art to this kind and gentle man. Was he British? He didn't talk like anyone I had met before. His hands moved elegantly, like butterflies, with his every word. He put me instantly at ease. Then came the forever unforgettable moment. "What do you wish to achieve with your art?" he asked, very seriously. "Absolute perfection," I shot back, very flippantly. He tilted his head a bit, looked over those impossible glasses, and smiled a little dimpling smile. "Remember," he said, "Wings are so terribly hard to dry."

I started classes at Rockford College in the Fall of 1973. Philip Dedrick was my teacher and my mentor for three years and after graduation he remained my friend & family for twenty-six years.

~Fallen Angel~
Odilon Redon

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"If you can't make it good, make it big."

 "Phil!" I use to hear him bellow from out of his office above the ceramics lab; a ceramics lab startling pristine in its cleanliness which reflected Arthur Adair's strict discipline from his Navy experience. Chair of the department my first year at Rockford, he picked on me endlessly in his gruff manner and I enjoyed it greatly, sensing "a form of endearment". With sleeves rolled up past his mighty forearms he would demonstrate making a clay pot on the wheel that impressed to no end. Then the last fifteen minutes of class were always devoted to making the lab 'ship shape'. You could have eaten off the floor.

Unable to 'throw a pot' for my life, I was content to explore hand building and always worked the human figure into my work until functunal pieces disappeared entirely. Mr. Adair called them: "Guttke's nudie pots! You you should put 'em in a box with a hole and sell five cent peeps!" The pearls of wisdom just rolled from this man, and I thought the world of him. He said, "Don't fall in love with your pots," refering to the perclivity of things to crack or blow up. He presented a grotesque goblet I had fashioned to the class, saying, "If you can't make it good, make it big." When he retired that year, which saddened me greatly, I stood back feeling I wasn't qualified to add to his farewell book when he suddenly yelled, "Guttke, get over here and sign this!"

'I enjoy teaching very much," he once said. "I'm interested in my own creative work, of course, but I am not often moved to exhibit. Many artists teach from economic necessity and consider it drudgery. This can be detrimental to teaching.'

Clark Arts had the finest and most modern type of kiln developed to date by ceramic engineers. Yet Arthur Adair also designed gallery exhibits and theatrical productions and taught painting. "I don't stress the how of painting. Thus, I give few demonstrations. I feel every student must discover his own technique... this is often a painful experience.. but this is where the learning begins. If they are willing to bring order from this confusion, they begin to learn.'

The facade of Colman Library remains adorned with Mr. Adair's extraordinary ceramic plaques which represent a wide variey of cultures from around the world: Egyptian, Tibetan, Celtic, American Indian, East Indian, Mayan, Hebrew, Mesopotamian and many more.

He left Rockford to open his own studio in Taos, New Mexico. P.D. told me that often Georgia O'Keefe would stop by and visit with him. Letters from Mr. Adair to P.D. mentioned the Clay and Fiber Shop, shared in family activities, encouraged visits, passed greetings on to 'the Rockford College Gang' and ended with love from him and his wife.  This brusque, talented, good natured man with a wife, daughters and grand-children was lost in the early 90's when that great heart unexpectedly stopped.

~My First Nudie Pot~
Robert John Guttke

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Next slide please..."

Philip Dedrick said it was love at first sight when he set eyes on the most famous piece of Egyptian statuary, the 3,300 year old bust of Queen Nefertiti; exalting the beauty of 'maidens' with long, swan like necks and then lowered his voice in sympathy to those cursed with short stubby ones. This was quite an unexpected start of a fusty art history class, but P.D.'s classes were always anything but that. He said he reluctantly took on the task. "It began against my better judgement... too concerned with dates and dull facts... but once started it made me examine and verbalize my convictions."

With knowledge of religion, history and a proclivity for visiting nearly every museum in the world (and restaurants in their vicinity) he enthralled us with stories of art & artists that went beyond just memorizing dates. He would wax poetical over Giotto's Mary on her way to deliver the 'jewel' from her body that would become the Christ. Tell us how many nuns Fra Philipo Lipi was living with at the time he painted (3). How a baroque painting of the "rather corpulent" Sabine women hoisted on top of the horses would have been an easier task if the positions were reversed. How abstract artist Franz Marc's pacifist nature and love of animals ended as he stood still on the battlefield of Verdun and was killed. Refusing comment on Michelangelo's sexuality since he frowned on psychoanalyzing someone dead for over 400 years. Relating the story of unrequitted love that Botticelli felt for the beautiful Simonetta Vespucci who was betrothed to Giuliano De Medici... she eventually succumbing to a fever as the handsome Giuliano was murdered at the bronze doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti.

I don't recall what brought up the topic, but P.D. reflected to a time in his childhood when he drew and colored mermaids & mermen. Then cut them free of the paper and placed them in a hole filled with water. Innocently watching in horror as these paper creations dissolved. My mouth widened in astonishment because I had done exactly the same thing!

~A Mermaid~
John Walter Waterhouse

Anecdotes for these classes are endless. The noon hour class meant everyone missed out on lunch, and P.D. would go on & on about a Dutch still life with its succulent fruits that glittered with moisture until someone in class screamed, "STOP IT!" How many times did an image appear on the wall that he studied for a few seconds then said, "Next slide please. One must not speak ill of the dead." His formal pronunciation of Van Gogh (does ANYONE really know this man's name?) caused soft grumbles of outrage when it finally dawned who he was talking about- followed by the loud swell of angry erasers. He had planned to skip Bernini but I liked the artist so volunteered to do the lecture. Thus I waxed poetic while he sat in the front. "Take me to a vomitorium," I heard mumbled loudly. When discussing Pluto's fingers pressed into the stone flesh of Persephone there came another loud and snide, "Yes, count each and every finger!"

The perfidious Gian Lorenzo Bernini~

Then came the time when he rushed late into class, the lights already out, hurrying down the steps to the front and his head collided with one of the wooden student projects on the wall. As he spoke the blood cascaded down his face. The class was petrified. With no hesitation I jumped from behind the carrel, grabbed his arm, and lead him out and into the mens room where I washed away the blood. "I don't even have a headache," he said indignantly, confirming his strong Christian Scientist faith. "Fine," I shot back, "But you're grossing everyone out!" Class continued.

~Venus & Mars~
(aka: Simonetta & Giuliano)
 Sandro Botticelli

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Ice cream... you scream..."

P.D. was my adviser my first year, a danger in itself since on occasion he'd sign you up for a class that didn't count toward your degree... but as he often said, "Suffering is good for the young." Always loving English History I took a class that unexpectedly turned out dry as dust and fast became tantamount to the dotted line around Anne Boelyn's neck. In a panic about grades and my scholarship I turned for help and ended up at P.D.'s apartment. His solution? Everything would be fine and he gave me a bowl of vanilla ice cream. 

I passed the class (by the skin of my teeth) and my scholarship was only slightly reduced. 

This was the beginning of many visits off campus to his tiny apartment that had a ceiling to floor Langoussis painting, tiny cacti in the messy kitchen (opening the refrigerator was like opening the door of a tomb, some items fermenting since Calvin Coolidge had been in office), silk screen curtains of British grave rubbings, lots of that nasty primitive art work and fabrics that we never saw eye-to-eye on, and one singular aberration that sent chills down the spine and recoils of terror: his little cat Poobah. Named after The Grand High All Everything from Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado and a gift (!) from Roland Poska... though I often assumed she was the dark emissary of Lucifer.

~The Dream~ (detail)
Henri Rousseau

There was always ice cream, popcorn, tea, and strange food items. I warned everyone I brought over to bring a napkin and beware of the cat. Those who ignored me ended up 'chipmunking away' in their mouths something bizarre for the sake of politeness only to have a spitting fest once outside the door. Others wiggled a finger or cooed sweetly to Poobah only to be rewarded with ferocious paw strikes and a hiss like a water hose. "Oh, look," P.D. smiled as he gently stroked the vile creature in his lap, "Poobah is letting out a little air." One time a fellow art student stood and held out a piece of string to play. I sat back, arms folded, and warned, "No good will come of that!" And Poobah leapt into the air and hooked a claw into his thumb, and dangled merrily like a Christmas tree ornament. The blood made me think of a water sprinkler. And when you are visiting a Christian Scientist you are hard pressed for any typical medical solutions including Band-Aids.

I stayed in Rockford one summer while P.D. went on a trip and in a moment of mental instability offered to baby sit the furry fiend. She sneaked out the apartment and hid in a wood pile where I reached and grabbed: it was like shoving my hand into an oscillating fan. I held her by the scruffy little neck while crimson trailed along my arm and dripped from my elbow. Weeks later I told him I would stop being a vegetarian for five minutes if he would allow me to EAT that animal.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Fishy Whale Press."

"We were fitting our studio in Clark Arts Center and asked Roland Poska to design our graphic arts studio," Philip Dedrick said. "He created our Lithography facility, helped find our great press, found a great collection of litho stones in Buffalo at no cost... he also found a Washington Press and type as well, so that we are able to do all types of Intaglio, litho and relief processes and to set and print type and make paper." 

Roland originally came to Rockford College as a history major, then switched to art. With an MFA from Cranbrook Academy, he taught at Rockford, became head of Printmaking at Layton School of Art in Milwaukee, co-founded a new school called the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, and in 1961 began Fishy Whale Press: a studio that attracted artists from around the country with its lithography stones, printmaking equipment and papermill: "Where prehaps some of the finest stone litho printing since Toulouse-Lautrec is coming."

Enigmatically enough, it was at Fishy Whale that I first exhibited my early sculpture when at Rockford College; no doubt having something to do with P.D.'s influence.

Back then I remember meeting this imposing figure that had to be eighteen feet tall, touring his equally imposing facility in Milwaukee, and witness to a variety of artists' works on the wall. Eventually word came that a woman's coat had caught on one of my sculptures and dashed it to the floor- just as she dashed out the door ("Never fall in love with your pots").

~The statue that was~
Robert John Guttke

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Hot Chef's Soup."

“Phil! That’s me!” the woman in the front row of the art history room exclaimed in astonishment. There on the wall was the Palio horse race in Siena and she was part of the crowd scene, photographed by Philip Dedrick some years before.

 It wasn’t the coincidence that surprised P.D. as much as the woman up until that moment had always regarded him as “Mr. Dedrick, this…” or “Mr. Dedrick, that..”

Things happened in that room. Chuck Ludeke at the projector inserted a slide that suddenly illuminated the wall with an image of myself cradling in my arms a peculiar sculpture done by a fellow art student. This evoked a quick and pithy comment by P.D. about my parenting skills.

Naturally we were expected to remember all the dates, the periods, the movements, the dynasties, and take closer scrutiny of Marcel Duchamp’s cubist painting of ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ when the subject was revealed to be male (!). Everyone lugged along the massive, grey book ‘History of Italian Renaissance' when not using it as a door stop… but few investigated its pages until THE FINAL came up.

We had to write a paper, the topic passing approval first, but anyone who received an ‘A’ did not have to take THE FINAL... which lead to much groveling throughout the land for those with 'A-' or 'B+' papers. Rama even confronted P.D. in his office, decked out in sari and sporting boxing gloves to complain about her 'A-' paper. P.D. recoiled in laughter, “Please, just don’t hit me!” Obviously she did have an earlier success, her favorite professor's praise pure poetry... yet one ponders whether her appreciation for Masaccio had anything to do with his subjects dressing in similar flowing garments? 

~The Tribute Money~
Masaccio aka 'Slovenly Tom'

One ‘B+' paper tried to bribe him with a plate of home baked brownies, I remember, hoping to appeal to his reknown culinary desires. It was a miserable, funny, failure. That year a book called ‘The Art of Walt Disney’ was published and a girl tried to hoodwink him into this being a topic for her paper, and he snapped, “There is no such thing!”For most it meant hours reviewing slides, taking notes and MEMORIZED LIKE WE NEVER MEMORIZED BEFORE. Years and years later, possibly to P.D.’s disappointment, I revealed a word association technique developed by Bill Bruning that got us through the test. Every image was broken down into something easier to store away: the one that I have never forgot was Hatshepsut. She ruled as Pharaoh, her images often sported a male beard, and (for reasons still arcane) after she died her step-son had nearly all carvings and statues obliterated of the queen we knew as Hot Chef’s Soup.

Hatshepsut at Karnak

Friday, November 9, 2012

"What is Art... blah, blah, blah."

~Satan's Council~
Gustave Dore

We were naughty children… and Philip Dedrick seldom chided and mostly chuckled, as if he knew this was part of either growing up or being little creative devils. Chuck Ludeke sent anonymous letters to the Dean claiming P.D. was practicing voodoo (everyone knew who wrote them), he painted the Greek athlete figure orange (then spent countless hours scrapping it off), barricaded P.D.’s office with drawing benches, and masterfully created a ‘ready-made’ piece of art for a class- its story left P.D. rocking back and forth with peels of laughter. A psychology teacher entered the strangely dark lecture hall forcing him to feel about the myriad of switches to turn on the lights. Then he stood at the podium gazing at his fingers mysteriously blackened with charcoal and making whining noises, of which Bo-Bo did a perfect nasal impersonation. A charcoaled sheet of paper with slits had been taped over the light switches, which later Chuck retrieved (now streaked with finger marks) as his ‘ready-made’ art project.

We were required in our senior year to take ‘Aesthetics Class’; imagine a room filled with know it all art majors and a philosophy teacher who hadn’t taught the course before. The man loved to illustrate on the black board.

We stole his chalk.

He would turn from the black board after pathetically using his fingertip dipped in chalk dust just in time to witness a flock of paper airplanes gliding softly down from either side of the room as we gazed forward with innocent, sweet cherubim (we learned the word in art history) faces. We'd create ‘divine-corpses’ (I believe that P.D. said it was a concept of the Da-Da art period)- paper was folded into quarters and someone would first draw a head, then another the body, then thighs, and finally shins & feet. Unfolded the results were rude and hysterically funny which caused bursts of laughter- the teacher thought we were reacting to him and took heated umbrage. Taking off my socks I’d do a puppet show for Rama seated at my side. She’d hiss, “You bad boy!” and hit me. I would pretend sneeze then grab her sari to wipe my nose and get hit again. When asked a question by the teacher I tried to answer while (unbeknownst to him) Ellen on my opposite side had pulled my leg in her lap and was freely running fingers along its length. I had tears in my eyes, grimacing with restrained laughter, and the long suffering teacher grew furious with my sputtering response.

The text book for the class was authored by someone named Cunningham, and we forever took issue with its concept of art VS craft and just what was art. Its basic concept: ART had to be perceived in order to be ART. Then one glorious afternoon Gretchen asked in her southern belle twang of a voice, “But what about Beethoven’s 9th? Wasn’t he deaf when he wrote it?” It is perhaps inappropriate to say, but watching a PHD completely shatter as his philosophical rug is pulled out beneath him is a beautiful thing.

The day of The Final arrived to find every inch of the wall length black board covered with nonsensical and riotously funny diagrams, much like a deranged family tree, which connected Socrates to Plato to Sarte to rutabagas to parsnips, etc. Another Ludeke creation. The majority of us shrugged off our barely passing grade. Mr. Dedrick tisked that we nearly destroyed the philosophy teacher who swore never to teach that class again, the "poor man," he added with a sweet cherubim face.

“Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience or Reward.”
Art & Fear
Bayles & Orland