bigger pond

Archive for December, 2006


Thursday, December 14th, 2006

I’ve had this problem with the automatic doors of the WashU art library.
They don’t always open for me.

I pretend not to notice and just keep walking, slowing my pace as I approach. I don’t stop on principal; I will not be broken by the door. Closer… closer… and then, just as my nose is about to hit glass, they reluctantly slide apart. I grew to have something of a complex.

So there I was, the first two papers of my graduate school career clutched in hand, staring at the library doors, willing them to open. Closer… closer… oh, crap. I had to stop. Just for a split second, but enough for the door to realize I was there and open condescendingly.

I just hope that my professors disagree with the door and find more substance in my papers.

These Limestone Walls

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

I think that one of the common misconceptions about students in the visual arts is that they — due to their professed interest in thoughtful, sensitive looking and making — get to work and play in aesthetically pleasing facilities. This would be false. I used to think that Covenant’s Art Barn, tilting bravely, wind-whipped and alone for so many years, was an anomaly. Other schools, I believed, would have their art buildings embraced as a part of the campus, blessed with architectural affinity and utilitarian decencies such as right angles and circulating heat. While I of course grew quite fond of my barn, I would sometimes dream of lovely locales with modern comforts where I would pursue further study.

When I began visiting graduate schools, I experienced a small shock. When Noel and I arrived at each campus — Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Wash U — our map consultations inevitably resulted in him heading towards the central core of the university and me hoofing it to a far flung corner. At Virginia, the art buildings actually existed on an entirely separate street that jutted out from the main campus like a weird, dislocated finger. Their permanent spaces were actually being renovated (with a vague completion date), so I met one professor in a red trailer next to a frat house and the other in the basement of what apparently used to be on-campus faculty residences. Pittsburgh made me so nervous that I remember very little of their actual buildings, other than the fact that it was so far away from the rest of their campus that it was almost consumed by the neighboring Carnegie-Mellon. And, at WashU, the art and architecture departments swear that we’re actually in a different county than the rest of the school.

Still, their location at the corner of campus made dramatic expansion of the art, architecture, and art history buildings a possibility. As per the course at this small but frighteningly rich university, WashU received a pot o’ money, reconfigured the art, art history, and architecture departments into a pseudo-unit, and built a 65,000-square foot limestone clad structure to house students, studios, and the university art collection. Of course, the buildings were not completed by the promised moment of Fall 2006, but, with nowhere else to live, the Department of Art History and Archaeology gamely moved in to our new glass-and-white home, an ice cube addition to the rest of the red granite, neo-Gothic architecture on the rest of campus.

There are many things I adore about this building. The gallery space on the ground floor is superb, expansive but usable, and full of gorgeous light. Most of the basement is given over to the Art and Architecture library, a magical place where bookcases full of only art books move with the mere push of a button and overhead lights switch on when you step into the rows.

One of the unfortunate casualties of modernist architecture, however, is the eradication of comfort. (As an aside, if Covenant really wanted to keep Carter Lobby from becoming an orgy of couch cuddling, they should switch d├ęcor periods. Modern will keep anyone chaste.) The graduate reading room is a white box with gray tables and one glass wall tucked in the corner of the art library where weird, gray industrial mesh chairs collude to keep students tempted by sleep uncomfortably awake. Since the building is new, construction workers still occasionally wander around, crawling into air ducts, trying to fix light switches by drilling large holes, or, at one point, completing uninstalling and then reinstalling our glass wall for the apparent purpose of sheer enjoyment. Due to the presence of a Picasso here and a Mondrian there in our art bubble, food and beverage consumption are strictly controlled. Sustenance is a hike across campus away unless you want cheese crackers from a midway vending machine.

Perhaps there is a golden mean of art buildings, but it seems to only exist in the realm of Pure Form. Plato never really liked art anyway.

Bigger Pond

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006

Wait, who are you again?
A new St. Louis resident, a new homeowner, a new graduate student, and a new fan of Trader Joes.

Why’d you move to St. Louis? For Noel to attend seminary?
Actually, it was for the beer.

Right, so why’d you stop blogging in August?
Oh, existential reasons.

What’s with the new title?
My small pond was Covenant College, where I managed to be an academic big fish by virtue of choosing a small, misunderstood department while all the really smart people duked it out in Philosophy. My bigger pond is Washington University in St. Louis, where my place on the ichthylogical scale is yet to be determined.

Why are you studying something as elitist and impractical as contemporary art?
Keep reading.

Thus situated

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006

I think I’m back.