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This column by Frank R.Rivera was prepared for the September 10,

2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Clean Sweep Season

A new art season has begun and in one gorgeous, clean

sweep, my new status has ushered in a sense of adventure and fluidity

that I had forgotten was possible. For the first September in 20

years,

I am not headed back to the classroom. I now have more time to pursue

my own work, painting. What has greater impact for me is my release

from an academic calendar — and the predictable summons of school

bells (so to speak) each September.

Asked to reflect on my experience in art education, and perhaps

uncover

a few of those ineffable touchstones that go into the making of a

working artist, I hesitated, questioning how my personal experiences

would be of interest to anyone. Then I realized that although almost

everyone will eventually face the challenge of forsaking a regular

job for the freedom of "retirement," the experience may be

different for an artist. Here’s how it is for me.

Psychologists tell us that rearranging one’s life and disposing of

encumbrances — including what one does for a living — can

play havoc with one’s notion of self. Not so with me. Apparently I

never defined myself solely as a "teacher" despite the fact

that I have taught almost continuously from my first appointment at

Michigan State University in 1962 up to my separation from Mercer

County Community College in May, 2003.

To be sure, I’ve taken many sabbaticals — formal and informal.

Several of these leaves were taken for large chunks of time in special

charismatic places — like Paris and New York; but I have also

had smaller, weekly bites of discretionary time in nurturing places

like the little town where I live.

For an artist-teacher, and equally for an artist-student, there are

two places to be and they are not mutually exclusive. There is that

physical place where one lives and works and there is that place in

one’s head, which by degrees forms the art one produces. These two

very different places have a symbiotic relationship; and if artists

are removed from the physical place that inspired their art, they

must carry that place around in their heads.

For me, long periods of living in New York lofts while commuting to

teach in central New Jersey have furnished that head place rather

richly. Artists must be exposed to art in some physical place. That

exposure can be distilled and stored, but its shelf life is limited

and it must be renewed periodically. I have learned during my long

career in teaching that this obligation to renewal is fundamental

and is a prerequisite for growth. Making art new again is the only

goal worth pursuing. The failure to renew is to be forever an art

student and never an artist.

Many of the best students are found in the better competitive schools,

where there is a better faculty, i.e., working artists and art

theorists

in a growth environment. Students will glean what they can; and their

ideas will initially have the look and feel of their teachers’ work.

It is, of course, derivative — that dreaded "D" word, and

that’s OK as a starting point.

Trying to communicate the way to true artistic independence is next

to impossible, even when the students are very good. New talent is

like a newborn infant with no concept that growth and development

are even remotely possible. Some individuals eventually pass through

the eye of the needle, breaking the yoke of derivation as they travel

toward independence.

The way in which a teacher may jump-start such a breakthrough may

be "mostly luck," as art educator Johannes Itten has observed.

In an essay on the Bauhaus he writes, "A good teacher is an alert

teacher. A word spoken at the right moment will unlock the door to

the creative center."

I could not find a good teacher in Ashtabula, Ohio, where I grew up.

I did not find such teachers until I arrived at the Yale Art School

in the early 1960s. Even more importantly, it was there that I found

myself in the company of some very good students, including Brice

Marden, Robert Mangold, Richard Serra, and Janet Fish. Only tomorrow

will we learn who their counterparts are today.

Growth also occurs outside the formal institutions of higher learning,

in environments where artists live and work. It is the interaction

between good students that leads to great art.

My own breakaway from the derivative occurred in 1964,

when I worked as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). During

the ’60s, the guard staff was said to be as well educated as the

curatorial

staff. The guards were mostly painters and sculptors; many with MFA

degrees, during a period in which the MFA was still something of a

novelty. As guards and studio artists we celebrated (in a kind of

perverse way) the gulf between ourselves and the art historians, who

made up the curatorial staff. In a triumph of fantasy, we guards felt

we were engaged in making the history of art, while the curators

merely

classified it.

Our paychecks reflected a more humbling reality, but we guards were

able to live comfortably on our $86 weekly salary. That sum permitted

me, for example, to share an apartment on East 14th Street with enough

money left over to pay the $45 monthly rent on a fifth-floor walk-up

loft on Broome Street and West Broadway.

The real epiphany for us recent graduates of famous art schools

occurred

inside the museum, where we were able to commune with the great art

of the 20th century. Sometimes those conversations with great pictures

occurred in exquisite solitude, for MoMA then was not the cultural

multiplex that it is today. At 10:45 a.m. sharp, we would spread out

like an invading army of caretakers to our assignments. Typically,

the first gallery visitors would not penetrate our space until 11:15.

The phenomenon of crowds queuing up an hour before the doors opened

was unheard of.

New York was a kinder, gentler place in that decade from 1960 to 1970,

but it was not an easy place. Fortitude was required then, no less

than it is today, for ambitious painters and sculptors, struggling

to penetrate the system. In those days — before Soho, Chelsea,

Hoboken — there were fewer contenders, but there were also fewer

opportunities. Galleries like Hirschl & Adler, Knoedler, and Castelli

were the behemoths that ruled a restrictive, narrow corridor known

as Madison Avenue. The art world of glitter and money was well-armored

against nuisance assaults by recent art graduates with dreams of

grandeur.

I have come to realize, however, that growth as an artist is not

dependent

upon acceptance — although acceptance is always welcome; and that

art is far more enduring than the art establishment of New York. If

the right people come together — either by choice or by chance

— if they talk and make demands on one another, an open, joyous

approach to making art will ensue.

As the new art season begins in central New Jersey, we can give thanks

to the many fine school galleries that shape it. Our community has

only a few commercial galleries and the schools, colleges, and

universities

provide a valuable showcase for a large population of professional

artists, including many recent talented graduates to whom this article

is dedicated.

My counsel to each of you would be to retreat to that place in your

head if you must. Should you tire of your assault on the system, seek

the company of others like yourself. Challenge authority, and break

the yoke of derivation.

Artist, teacher, and critic F.R. Rivera is professor

emeritus at Mercer County Community College who has contributed to

U.S. 1 Newspaper since September, 2002. He plans to spend the month

of November on an unpaid, non-sabbatical leave in Paris.

Art at the Colleges

College of New Jersey, Art Gallery, Holman Hall, Ewing,

609-771-2198.

"Art Faculty Exhibition," works by the art faculty

featuring

painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, computer graphics,

fiber art, video, and animation. To October 8.

"Homer’s Odyssey and the Princeton Artist Alliance,"

October 22 to December 3. "BFA Thesis Exhibition," December

5 to 16. "Mercer County Photography Exhibition," January 21

to February 18. "National Drawing Show ’04," February 25 to

March 31. "Art Student Exhibition," April 14 to 18. "BFA

Thesis Exhibition," April 30 to May 7.

Gallery at Mercer County College, Communications Center,

West Windsor campus, 609-586-4800, ext. 3589.

"Optic Axis: Early Conversations," a group show

featuring

five emerging artists and launching the new season at MCCC. Featured

artists are Dan Hodgkinson, Jason Houck, Eric Kennedy, Matt Lucash,

and Kathryn Sclavi. Artist panel discussion September 17 at 7 p.m.

with Kate Somers, curator at the Bristol-Myers Squibb gallery; Frank

Rivera, art critic with U.S. 1 Newspaper; and fine arts professors

Greg Drasler of Princeton University, Mel Leipzig of MCCC, and Kyle

Stevensen, also of MCCC. Show runs to September 27.

Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Hall Gallery, 20

Library

Place, 609-497-7990.

"Ellen Wiener: Painting Toward a Book of Hours," and

exhibition by painter and printmaker. A lecturer in the Department

of Visual Arts at Princeton University, Wiener is working on a series

based on the medieval book of hours. Gallery talk and reception is

Thursday, September 25; show runs to October 17.

Princeton University Art Museum, 609-258-3788.

"The Arts of Asia: Works in the Permanent Collection"

and "Recent Acquisitions in Asian Art: 1998 to 2003," both

shows to January 6. "Aaron Siskind at 100," photography show

on view to November 11. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to

5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Highlights tours every Saturday at 2 p.m.

Free admission.

"The Italian Renaissance City: Selections from Princeton

University Collections," September 13 to January 11.

"Photographs

from the Princeton University Art Museum Collection," September

23 to December 8.

"The Centaur’s Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek

Art."

More than 100 Centaurs, Satyrs, Sphinxes, Sirens, Gorgons, and other

fantastic creatures in ceramic, stone, bronze, gold, and terracotta.

October 11 to January 11, 2004. "The Book of Kings: Art, War,

and the Morgan Library’s Medieval Picture Bible," March 6 to June

6.

Princeton University, Program in Visual Arts, Room 219, 185

Nassau, 609-258-4712. Fall lecture series; all talks at 4:30 p.m.

"William L. Pope," performance artist, October 14.

"Teresita

Fernandez," sculptor and installation artist, October 21.

"Shahzia

Sikander," figurative painter, November 4. "Philip

Taaffe,"

abstract painter, November 11.

Raritan Valley College Art Gallery, Route 28, North Branch,

908-218-8876.

"I, Rosen," a solo exhibition of recent works by faculty

instructor Keary Rosen. Observing the classical genre of portraiture,

Rosen uses himself, his wife, and their two cats as the subjects for

his current works. The title of his show is a play on Isaac Asimov’s

1950 sci-fi novel, "I, Robot." September 12 to 25.

Rider University Art Gallery, Student Center,

Lawrenceville,

609-895-5588.

"Memoir of an Assimilated Family," etchings by Judith

K. Brodsky, Princeton printmaker, Rutgers art professor emerita, and

founder of the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper.

Brodsky’s

series of 100 photo etchings were created from snapshots of various

members of her extended family, dating back to the 19th century. Each

image carries the artist’s personal anecdote about the people

represented

and her thoughts on the process of assimilation; September 25 to

October

26.

Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, George and Hamilton

streets, New Brunswick, 732-932-7237.

"The Illustrator’s World: The Art of Maginel Wright

Barney,"

"Themes in Focus: Cartoon-ography," to January 4. "Soviet

Artists, Jewish Imagery: Selections from the Norton and Nancy Dodge

Collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art," featuring 40 works on

a variety of Jewish themes, to November 21. "American Sculpture

from the Zimmerli Collection," to November 16.

"Vivat, St. Petersburg! Images of the City and its Citizens

from the George Riabov Collection of Russian Art," celebrating

the 300th anniversary of the city’s founding with rare prints and

watercolors. September 18 to February 1.

"Newer Genres: Twenty Years of the Rutgers Archives for

Printmaking Studios," "Selections of Soviet Nonconformist

Prints: A Western Point of View." December 7 to March 21.

"Public Appearances: Images of Power," January 25 to

June 27. "Something to Treasure: Original Art for Children’s Books

by Roger Duvoisin." January 25 to April 18.

"Beyond the Botanical: Organic Imagery in Print,"

February

21 to July 27. "Soviet Propaganda Posters," February 26 to

July 6. "Transcultural New Jersey: The Mainstream and the

Margins,"

April 4 to July 31. "A-Mazing: Illustrations for Mazescapes by

Roxie Munro," May 1 to July 18.

Rutgers Mason Gross Galleries at Civic Square, 33 Livingston

Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-932-2222, ext. 798.

"Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia,

and Rutgers University, 1958-1972" tracing the early years of

avant-garde

artmaking based at Rutgers organized by faculty member Geoffrey

Hendricks,

a founding member of Fluxus. Opening reception is Saturday, October

4; closing reception, Saturday, November 1, 5 to 8 p.m. Show runs

October 1 to November 5.

Art at the Schools

Anne Reid Art Gallery, Princeton Day School, 650 Great Road,

609-924-6700.

"Iron Works," a history theme show that takes Marcel

Duchamp’s appropriation of the lowly flat iron as its point of

departure,

with reference to Man Ray’s "Cadeau" of 1921, a flat iron

with tacks. Guest curator is John Goodyear, professor emeritus at

Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. Opening reception

is Saturday, September 13, 3 to 5 p.m., for the show that runs to

October 3.

Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike, 609-924-7206.

"Andrew Chen: Natural Places, Near and Far," an

exhibition

of nature photography, to October 3.

Lawrenceville School, Gruss Center of Visual Arts,

Lawrenceville,

609-620-6026.

"Judy Lapies: Paintings and Works on Paper," September

19 to October 3. "Myself, My Camera, My World," the

culmination

of the Ennis Beley Project, a four-week photography program for

homeless

or formerly homeless teens, September 19 to October 3.

Peddie School, Mariboe Gallery, Peddie School, Hightstown,

609-490-7550.

"Tim Trelease: Embodied Abstractions," a multi-media

show by Tim Trelease, chair of the Peddie arts department. September

19 to October 10. "Michael Maxwell," paintings and interactive

works, October 17 to November 5.

"Kym Kulp," works that uses images filmed mostly

underwater,

January 9 to 30. "Catherine Robohm Watkins," mixed-media works

by Catherine Watkins. Show runs February 6 to 22. "Contemporary

Directions in New Media," a show of works by up-and-coming artists

working in new media. April 2 to 18.


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