The following are excerpts from papers by students in Aesthetics, Fall 2008 and are published with the students’ permission (sometimes anonymously). The titles in brackets are created by the instructor.
Tragedy opens door
Kant’s concept of the sublime inspires Greg Kittle to quit smoking
Aly Freese’s venture in artistic living
[Tragedy opens the door]
Truth, beauty, and goodness. When we received this project, aporia set in almost instantly. My day-to-day life has always been just that: the day-to-day, sequential, often random, spontaneous events that came and left with no fanfare or grand moment of epiphany. Being someone who constantly feels like she lives in survival mode, the task of living my life artistically and in constant reflection for the period of this project honestly scared the death out of me. I had no idea what would transpire and certainly no idea what lessons were in store for me. I was not ready for the community experiences I would embark on, the pedestal-rocking moments that left me humbled and laden with new perspectives, and the death of my friend that rocked me to the core of my heart. However, what did come out of it twisted and turned its way into the perfect, short-term adventure with perfect long-term benefits.
Truth has always been a tough area for me because there was a long period in my life that passed before I felt like I truly understood what truth meant. It was only when I became a Christian at eighteen and became intentional about sorting out the demons of my past that I came to my own working definition for truth. I learned the ultimate truth of God, the characteristics of loyalty, integrity, humility, and brokenness, and how I fit into all of it. I came to believe that someone who lives in truth is someone who stands firm in their convictions, remains integral in their actions, and acknowledges the faults of being human while accepting them at the same time. Throughout this project, I found myself coming face to face with these traits of truth in an array of events that could only really happen to me when I am engulfed in a project such as this. God has always had His funny moments of perfect intervention in my life and this project gave Him a lot of material to work with.
Goodness is also a difficult area for a pessimist such as myself. I see life of goodness as being one of consciousness for others, life of moral character, and to be blunt, just not being an asshole. Being in teacher education, the idea of morality and ethical behavior is pounded into our heads everyday with threats against our future careers serving as great motivation to get our acts together. However, all of life is not spent in front of a classroom and not all of life is good all the time. My mother was a tough woman, but the greatest thing she ever told me was this: “Sometimes you have to live through the bad stuff so that you can even tell what the good stuff is because it is only when you know what hurt feels like that you can know the feeling of healing.” I do not have a relationship with my mother and have not had one in a long time. However, this one sentence she told me has shaped my life and shaped my experience with this project.
Beauty always sounds so beautiful when we would discuss it in class. I only wish that it worked out that way in my everyday life. I honestly never thought about what living in beauty would look like until this class. I decided in the beginning stages of this project that my goal would be to learn what living and doing my life with beauty looked like and to then live it out every day. I had this grand plan of keeping a record of things I did, pick one thing that served a purpose outside of myself, and trying to live out and express that one thing in a beautiful, artistic manner. I was inspired by the work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who worked with the idea of working, mundane tasks being performance works of art that the human condition depended upon. Her “Maintenance Manifesto” of 1969 and “I Make Maintenance Art One Hour Everyday” from 1976 expressed where she saw truth, beauty, and goodness working out in the actions of herself and plain maintenance workers in New York.
So, I had my task at hand. Reflecting back on the beginning of all of this now makes me laugh at myself and at how I honestly thought that this huge endeavor would be a piece of cake. I had my little journals with lists of things I did everyday and starred the ones I thought sounded the best and most artistic. I started new devotionals, I joined new groups, I took on new activities, and I went to more museums and galleries. I felt I was knocking, but beauty did not seem to answer. So I decided to change my approach a little and tried to be a bit more aggressive. I tried sitting outside for periods of time and stared at trees, I tried beautifully rewiring and fixing computer hardware at work, I tried switching my hand-writing to cursive, I tried smiling more, I even tried being around babies. However, I was not getting the kind of trumpet-blaring, overwhelming, flood of beauty that I thought I should be. I was only getting frustrated because I felt I was wasting my time. I had small moments where I felt a flutter, a slight wisp of “Ahhh!” but not much more than that.
Then, three weeks into the project, everything changed. The day I received the news that my friend was killed while serving in Afghanistan was the day I cared less about doing beautiful, artistic things. How could I possibly find beauty when things around me were taking a very ugly turn? My friend Nick died Monday, October 27th, from a Taliban suicide bomber attack. He was one of two casualties from the blast that occurred inside the Afghan police station he was stationed in. He has two young boys here at home who look just like him and look up to him as their greatest hero. Nick was our hero as well. He always lived his life with a strong sense of mission and service, even before he ever considered joining the Army. Monday, October 27th, was the last day I kept a record of my “beautiful” activities. As I see it now, the ugly side of truth, beauty, and goodness entered and changed the scope of this project.
Things snowballed after the news of Nick. That same week, I had to quit my long-time job, my church that served as my only haven discovered that we could lose our building, and I failed an extremely important project for my major. I was tired, angry, and trying to keep up a cracking façade of being okay. I started hating this project and started to doubt whether the expression of truth, beauty, and goodness was even possible for me.
I started feeling like an overall failure in everything, especially at my job right before I quit. I was superb a as a computer systems analyst here at Kent State. I always saw my technical skills with hardware and software as an art form. To me, the art of taking forty-or-so different pieces and parts, all that do something so discreet, and arrange them together so that they work in perfect harmony together was like painting a majestic picture; the twist and coils of the wires and IDE cables were like my strokes of paint dashing across the logic board composition. But, in the course of this project, it last that artfulness to it. It became mundane, boring, and irritating. I did not care anymore; I was spent and falling into crisis. I always say, “The second I don’t care about something is the second I quit.” So I did just that and took a much lower, less technical job, in another college on campus. I was depressed but knew I did what I had to.
This low-point of both this project and of my life actually serves as the highlight of my experience and where I found my expression of truth, beauty, and goodness. I went back to my example of Ukeles’ works wanting to discover, again, what inspired me to take this all on in the first place. It was then that I made the connection: I was trying to force beauty to happen and to happen for only me. The point of Ukeles’ work was the interconnectedness of our duties and the dependencies we must fill for each other. So again, I changed my approach and dropped all expectations, even dropping the expectation of finding and forcing beauty. I volunteered at church, I called my younger siblings more often, I set up a scholarship with excess funds I received a while back for students in my major, I prayed with and for my friends, and I did what I am called to do: I put myself and my agendas last. When I did this, my project had actually taken an upswing without me even noticing it. In taking time to come up under a friend of mine that was having a hard time, we discovered that we were both dealing with the recent deaths of friends. The healing that came from that opportunity was immense. In helping out at church and serving for our different ministries, I had gotten to watch community come together and move together to help others. After quitting my job and going back to the low end of the totem pole, I found the paint strokes in the wires again. It was, dare I write it, beautiful. For the first time in the period of this project, I felt like I was not only witnessing beauty move, but also being a part of it. It was like living a small moment of fulfillment and accomplishment: My manifestation of beauty and artistry lay in service to others. Who would have thought that it would be in the actions that as a Christian, I am called to live out every day? To take a second and think about the radical action it takes to really do unto the least of those, it is just mind blowing. I realized there is so much truth involved when putting oneself aside and living out the example of Christ towards someone else in the form of humbleness and serving with a heart of integrity. The goodness radiates from the selflessness of giving oneself to a higher cause outside of personal gain and elevation. The beauty is in the sublime feeling of watching your actions set off a chain reaction of love and service that reaches and expands far past what one person could ever imagine. The beauty for me is in the lessons the hardships throughout this project taught me. It took the realization that I cannot go out and do tasks beautifully for others when I am really out doing them for myself. It took the acknowledgement of truths that were hard to swallow at times, but were required for transformation and renewed vision. It also took a strong desire for goodness and morality.
Reflecting back on all of it now at the end of the project, I wonder if this is how Ukeles’ maintenance workers felt when they finished their project for “I Make Maintenance Art For One Hour Everyday”. How did it feel to be a part of an artwork that sought to forever change the notion of mundane service? Their emotions of duty and loyalty to their tasks exist now, 22 years later, as a thought and example of interconnected responsibilities and dependencies. If I had to guess, their art performance didn’t stop at the end of the project. I also do not think that my project is done with the end of this paper. I must let my emotions of community, service, humility, and selflessness live on, just like a piece of art, as a thought of Christ and love.
. . .
In the end, I am very thankful for this project and the lessons it taught me about aesthetics, philosophy, and about myself. I think that the whole experience in itself was necessary on so many levels and will not end with my last punctuation mark here. I still have a long continuance of experience to live and I am ready for the ride.
18 November 2008 [Name withheld by request.]
[Kant’s concept of the sublime inspires Greg Kittle to quit smoking]
I smoked my first cigarette in the woods behind the library. It was a Marlboro Red, we called them cowboy killers. I was hesitant at first, I even remember telling Tyler that I quit a couple weeks ago to try and play it off smoothly. It didn’t work, and instead of looking like a coward I put the soggy filter to my lips and inhaled. The smoke choked my lungs and I started to cough. It was this day, after school with a bunch of outcasts that I became a smoker. I was 13 years old.
From here, I wasn’t an everyday chain smoker or nothing, the addiction and habit were gradual, after all it isn’t the easiest thing in the world for a young teen to get cigarettes, but it can be done. Friends brothers, friends of friends, strangers, hell even friend’s parents would sometimes buy them for us. This is how it starts, and it could sometimes be such a pain in the ass to get them that we couldn’t wait until we were old enough to buy them for ourselves. So the addiction continued. It made us feel very cool back then, it was something that made us dizzy and we didn’t see it the dangers in it at all. I have many fond memories of smoking back then and honestly I wouldn’t change that if I could. But now, I need to take my life in a new direction. I no longer have the excitement of sneaking under a bridge and hotboxing a few cigarettes with my friends and feeling an immense buzz afterwards. Now it has just become a filthy and expensive addiction that I need to stop.
The truth to behold in all of this is that I started smoking to impress my friends. If it sounds cliché, it is. That’s why all of us started I think. Our parent’s smoked too, and I guess I always figured that if they do it, so can I. Another truth in all of this is the marketing schemes of tobacco companies to subliminally promote smoking. Cases in point, annoying anti-smoking ads, smokers hate these ads. These advertisements often feature a bunch of snooty teens playing the rebellious role singing flamboyantly gut retching songs about the dangers of smoking that endlessly annoy the smoking community. This makes the smokers watching them immediately feel rebellious in their own way and want a cigarette so that they can “show those stupid kids”. Having some preppy looking actor telling me about the dangers of smoking only made me want to rebel against them and smoke more. The truth that I am talking about here is that big tobacco companies pay for all of these commercials. Truth.org, Standup, all of these anti tobacco groups are supported heavily by big tobacco themselves. As the result of recent major lawsuits to their companies, Phillip Morris, and R.J. Reynolds must pay billions in advertisements for the “prevention and awareness” of smoking. So, looking out for their own interests, they purposefully market annoying ads that make smokers want to rebel and smoke more.
So, that day came where it was time to quit. I had been thinking about it for quite some time, and had two previous failed attempts. It was the day we went over Kant, and his thoughts about humanitarianism that gave me the strength and mindset that I needed to quit. We discussed the importance of self respect, and it became clear to me that in order to reach my full potential and to obey the golden rule, I must first treat myself with the utmost respect. Only then would I be able to give that same respect to others. Doing this included throwing away this disgusting habit once and for all.
I think that Kant would look to my thoughts of that day as being very higher ordered brilliant faculties that uplifted my understanding of myself. I also think that he might describe my thought process and determination to quit as being sublime. Not in the way as when we stand in awe in front of Niagara Falls, but in the way that I have empowered myself over the external forces around me. I have looked into the truth of the commercials, peer pressure, and negative forces in my life and used my new found knowledge to change my life for the better. If this is not a sublime task of the human mind, I do not know what is. Some people spend hundreds of dollars, and month’s even years dedicated to trying to quit smoking, I have accomplished it simply by reading an excerpt of a book. Knowledge is power.
After realizing that I have accomplished something great and empowered myself to change for the better, I took into account the artistic aspect of this project. Art is a huge part of my life, and will one day become my livelihood. I have been empowered by art before, and looked to images that remind me of my new found strength. After discussing the artistic aspect of this with my professor, we both looked to the same image from Eugene Delacroix and his 1830 painting Liberty leading the People. This image provokes in me a strong feeling of glory, integrity, and freedom. The people in this image (including Delacroix himself) are fighting for something that they believe in. I hung a copy of this painting from my bathroom mirror, to remind me everyday of why I was kicking the habit and how hard I had to fight back the urges to smoke.
For this act of hanging an empowering picture to remind me of my goals on a daily basis, I looked to a close follower of Kant, his name is Hegel. Hegel says that “art’s task is to bring the spiritual before our eyes in a sensuous manner” (Hegel, 150). Certainly, Delacroix paints this scene of bravery, and strength in a sensuous manner, glorifying the soldiers and even exposing a breast of lady liberty, yet I looked at it as sensuous in a much different manner. I interpret this line from Hegel as meaning that art has the ability to affect us in a powerful (Hegel calls it sensuous) way. This is the essence of what I was trying to accomplish by using this image everyday in my goal to quit smoking.
So far, I have discussed the truth of my project with the hidden truths of deceptive advertising, reasons for starting the habit, and excuses I made to continue smoking. I have also discussed the beauty in my project and the sublimity I feel when I think of the fact that I am no longer a smoker. I would like now to look at how this project will carry on into the future in the realm of goodness. As I mentioned before, I must treat myself with the utmost respect if ever I wish to understand what it means to respect another in the same way. I plan to become a school teacher when I graduate, more than that; I hope to be a role-model for future generations of learners.
To continue with this project I must look at it as more than just a school assignment, and look to it as a life decision that I will carry with me after graduation. I have already started this thought process and begun to think of ways I will maintain this decision once this class and this assignment come to an end. For this, I must enlist the help of goodness. I feel that my understanding of goodness has grown throughout my study in this course, and that the goodness I feel in passing along respect to others will help carry my commitment to quit smoking for a very long time to come. The fact is that being an educator requires of me the ability to respect all of my students with the most cherished level of reverence. Accomplishing the task of making myself healthier by quitting smoking has given me the ability to cherish and respect my future students in this way. This concept is goodness in its purest form.
Kant says, “the mind is made conscious of a certain ennoblement and elevation above the mere sensibility to pleasure received through sense, and the worth of others is estimated in accordance with a like maxim of their judgment” (Kant, 137). My mind has certainly become conscious of my newfound ennoblement and I have become elevated, not only in my understanding of the truth, beauty, and goodness in my decision to quit smoking, but in the degree in which I respect myself. Kant has given me the power to overcome one of the hardest addictions to beat. It was with his words, and this assignment I was able to realize my goals, and as of today I have been smoke-free for well over a month, and plan to carry out my self-discipline for a long time to come.
Well, week one is over. It has seemed like forever since I had my last cigarette. It is true what people say, this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It takes mental and physical strength to overcome this addiction. I have been carrying pockets full of life savers wint-o-green mints with me everywhere. This helps to curb my oral fixation, but it is only temporary. It is hardest to resist the urge when I usually always smoked a cigarette…after a meal, before I go to sleep, or while driving.
The first few days were the worst, yet I stuck it out and didn’t cheat. I have heard stories about those who have tried to quit, and their attempt usually fails as soon as they even have just one more cigarette. I have avoided the temptation as much as possible. Not cheating makes me feel empowered over this addiction. I feel like I am no longer a slave to nicotine.
At the end of this week, the dreams started. Every night now (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) I’ve had a dream that I was smoking a cigarette. When I awoke I felt ashamed that I couldn’t make it without a cigarette. I regretted smoking and cheating on my goal to quit for good. After I realized this was only a dream of course, I felt good again that I hadn’t smoked a cigarette and this made me stronger in a sense. From now on, when I had an overwhelming urge to smoke, I remembered how I felt when I awoke from those dreams. I was being taught a lesson is a sense, that the pleasure of a five minute cigarette would not overcome the regret I would feel afterwards.
Week two has started. I no longer have the intense urges of last week. I still carry mints, but have been slowly weaning myself off of those as well. This is tough, I now think to myself that smoking isn’t that bad and I could have just one, but constantly go back to the lesson I learned from my dreams of last week. The total time of being smoke free has been 11 days. I should be in the home stretch for the nicotine being out of my body.
I cannot put into words how wonderful it is to be able to smell again. Never take for granted the little smells that waft by your nose all day long. It sickens me to think that I smoked so much that I lost these wonderful scents. It has been years since I have been able to smell dried leaves, fresh air, or cut grass. This may be hard to believe, but it is completely true, I could not smell these subtle scents while I was smoking. My taste has improved as well…food is beginning to taste much better (or worse depending on what I am eating). I am proud that I am closer to finally achieving this goal.
So many of my friends smoke, and they know that I am trying to quit. They offer to go somewhere else when they want a cigarette, but I tell them not to. If I am to live in a world with smokers while being a non-smoker, then I must condition myself to be around them. I have the urge to smoke when they light up, but I control myself and simply suck on a mint or two. They all praise me for quitting, I am reaching two weeks smoke-free now and that is longer than any of my friends or I have ever thought we could go without a cigarette. It is hard to fathom just how addicted I was to cigarettes.
So I almost smoked a cigarette the other day. The urge to smoke is nearly all gone, and I think that was partly the reason that I wanted to smoke. I felt as though if I smoked just one, what would be the big deal? I never did have that cigarette, but it made me think, will I live the rest of my life without ever smoking another cigarette, or will I be able to have one every now and then, will I want to? These are questions that I have been asking myself that only time will be able to answer. For now, I must maintain my promise to myself.
It’s been hard at parties and other social get-togethers. Many of my friends still smoke, all of them have been very supportive of my choice to quit and I have even received a lot of admiration from them. I still can’t help but feel like I am now somehow not included in that special social sidebar of smokers. In a literal sense, I am not, I no longer smoke. But there is something special in those social circles of smokers. That was probably the strongest force keeping me smoking. Smokers are oftentimes a close group of people who share a unified feeling just due to the fact that they smoke; this rebellious unity has become more predominant now that smoking has become more and more socially unacceptable. Part of me can’t help but feel that I have lost some of my rebelliousness.
It is Kant who I return to when I feel this way. I must remain steadfast in the notion that I have risen above the power that nicotine had over me, and that to put it bluntly, cigarettes made me their slave. Well, another week down, and I still haven’t cheated…it feels good.
I feel great. The cravings are nearly gone completely. What a change from even a week ago! What I find remarkably strange is that I hardly even think about smoking anymore, even when I see a group of smokers. There was a time in my life when I couldn’t watch someone smoke a cigarette without “enjoying” one myself. I mean, I used to preach about why people should take up smoking, and the rebelliousness of the whole thing! I really must thank you for turning me onto the writings of Kant. In all honesty, I almost weep when I think of the positive change in my life this assignment helped me realize.
I think back to the woods behind the library, as if it were a chapter of my life that I put behind me. I no longer need to smoke cigarettes to empower myself; instead I do just the opposite. By abstaining from smoking cigarettes, I prove to myself that I am stronger than the addiction that once ruled a large part of my life (and my wallet). As of today, I have saved over $130 by choosing to quit smoking. I guess if nothing else, this has been an assignment that has saved me a lot of much needed money. In all seriousness though, one of the hardest things to see now is any disadvantage that quitting smoking has caused me. The only disadvantage that I can even remotely relate to this choice is the feeling that I no longer belong to the crowd of smokers. However, the pride that I created within myself overpowers that emotion.
Again, I cannot describe how good I feel, how mighty I have become in this past month. However, this journey did not begin and end within this short period of time. This was a journey that has taken over eight years, 32,000 cigarettes, and untold health issues to develop. I am overwhelmed that Kant gave me the power I needed to end this struggle with nicotine addiction once and for all. I am powerful, I am mighty.
Greg Kittle, November 18, 2008
[Aly Freese’s venture in artistic living]
It is eight o’clock in the morning and the alarm goes off on my phone, the one that is set automatically for Monday through Friday every week, and the one that I most despise. I reach over to turn it off and sluggishly get out of bed, no need for the snooze button I am awake now, I might as well keep it that way. I grab my toothbrush and toothpaste and head to the bathroom where I quickly brush my teeth and hair so that I can hurry back to my room and dress in the outfit I picked out the previous night. After I change I stand up, look in the mirror, think, “I guess it could be worse”, and continue with my routine. I sit down in front of the mirror with only ten minutes to go until I have to rush out the door. Next, I apply my usual make up with no time to consider creativity or variation in my palette. It is just another day. By this point in time I have somewhere around five minutes left to gather all of my necessities, check my email in hopes that a class may be cancelled, take one last look in the mirror, and turn out the lights as I walk out of the door. Thirty minutes is all it takes for me to get ready in the morning and these thirty minutes, though perhaps the most monotonous, are not far off from the rest of my daily routine in their repetitiveness. How do we break through the uniformity of everyday life and crack open the surface of the routines we have buried ourselves in? Can we learn to find value from the seemingly insignificant moments in life and in turn perhaps learn the true significance of living artistically? I believe that if everyone took the time to truly contemplate and appreciate the beauty in life then the truth inspired by this beauty would initiate a goodness with a more powerful potential than has been realized since the time of the renaissance.
To begin this project I first tried to think about times where this thought process was most significant in my life, when had my appreciation of beauty ever lead me to discover truth and aspire towards goodness? Automatically, my mind travels back in time to this past summer and an experience I will never forget.
I took a trip to Chicago, the windy city, to visit a friend of mine for his birthday. I fell in love with that city, but my most memorable moment came when I least expected. We spontaneously decided to take a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, nothing all that special, right? Wrong. We walked around for a while and I enjoyed seeing some names that I recognized Dali, Kandinsky, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Poussin, Renoir, and many other renowned artists in a list too long to exhaust. Slowly I became overwhelmed and completely engulfed by the beauty contained within such a small space. I can remember the feeling so well that some of that inspiration is pulsing through my mind right now. The best part came as I rounded the corner and my friend said, “Wait till you see what’s next.” There in front of me stood Georges Seurat’s, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, almost 7 feet tall and 10 feet wide. My jaw dropped to the floor. I had seen this piece many times before in slide shows, books, and pictures, however, the in person experience jolted a truth through me that I had somehow missed before; these legendary works are real. They do not just exist in textbooks; they are true physical works that are treasured and preserved today for a reason. Seurat’s use of pointillism creates sheer detail and importance in every fleck of paint upon the canvas and allows for a softness to flow out over the viewer. He truly achieves the effect of sitting out by the lake on a lazy Sunday afternoon, no one could argue that fact, and though I had been told all of this in my art history classes multiple times, experiencing the atmosphere in person created a reality I would otherwise never have experienced. The authenticity inspired truth and knowing the truth of such an encounter has lead me to desire more experiences, more truth and in turn more beauty, therefore, also creating goodness in my craving to gain knowledge. Enlightened by my first memory of the Art Institute of Chicago I decided that the time had come for me to discover another museum a bit closer to heart and home, The Akron Art Museum.
As an architectural studies major I have heard much in regards to this museum. The rarity of this type of structure in our area is of more value to me than most. The international architects, Coop Himmelblau, and their structural engineers, Bollinger and Grohmann, created a modern spectacle that is exceptionally advanced and innovative for our time right in our own backyard. To have such world-renowned architects building so close to home is not something that happens here very often. So after living in Kent for over two years I finally decided to take the twenty-minute trip down the road to the museum. My automatic thought when I first glimpsed the museum was, “Why did I wait so long? This should have been a trip made within my first year here.” Maybe I did not realize this building’s significance, maybe my professors should have emphasized it more, or maybe I had never given it much thought. I think it is the latter, which I am now a bit ashamed to say. How could I, as an architecture student at one of the best architecture schools in the country, have overlooked this astonishing building? There seems to be something drastically wrong with that scenario in hindsight. Anyway, as I stood across the street taking countless pictures of the façade the same feeling of being a bit overwhelmed started to fall over me again.
The museum itself is broken up into three major components, the Crystal, The Gallery Box, and the Cloud. As you enter into the building you are experiencing the first of the areas, the Crystal. This structure is phenomenal and the most aesthetically pleasing part of the building. Using mostly glass and steel the architects created an entry space that houses all public functions including a lecture hall, library, and café. As you look up into the space beams and glass panels interlace in ways that are ingenious to the trained eye and seemingly impossible to the ordinary. I was literally so inspired that I lay down in the middle of the lobby to take pictures of this breathtaking sight. The experience of such a space can be mind-boggling and is the exact reason why I am so drawn to study architecture. As an architect I will have to ability to create spaces like this for people to experience and hopefully the environments that I design will spark the same curiosity, drive, and reaction as I have felt.
The next major part of the museum, the Gallery Box, is the least architecturally stimulating, however, it houses the museum’s collection and exhibition display area and is extremely functional. The space is literally a metal box with no openings and a white interior; it is the art held with in this space that truly matters. As I walked through the gallery I saw some pieces that were very creative and interesting to me, the most of which was an installation piece that responded to the viewer’s movement so that you could affect the outcome of the artwork. Another piece that I specifically remember was a painting that depicted a lake and forest scene at night. However, while I found some works to be a little stimulating, nothing compared to the building that housed them. The best work of art in that museum, at least in my eyes, was the museum itself.
The final and most structurally stimulating component to the museum is the Cloud or flying roof. As innovative designers, Coop Himmelblau always push their limits as far as possible and this project was no exception. They decided to ask themselves, “How can you make a roof fly?” because the planned roof structure, which is as long as a Boeing 747, was to be supported by a single column. This extreme structure was to function as an attention-getter to draw people into the museum and distinguish the structure from its surroundings. The Cloud cantilevers out just over 40 meters, which is a record in Ohio, and uses state of the art technology to achieve this impossible feat. To me this is what makes the building so remarkable, whereas others may completely over look the sheer improbability of this construction, I have some understanding as to how demanding it is to build this type of structure. I was so interested in the beauty of this museum that I was inspired to research and discover the truth in its process and hopefully this inspiration with stay with me and provoke goodness in my actions to create my own architecture.
Perhaps, most importantly in this project, was the process that I went through to solidify my own ideas of truth, beauty, and goodness. I found that at first my understanding of these concepts was very limited and vague, however, with a great deal of thought and consideration they developed into the following. I have come to feel that beauty possesses a type of complex simplicity in that as human beings we all have the ability to recognize the presence of beauty even if we are unable to explain why something is in fact beautiful. In an instant the presence of beauty can descend upon us without warning or reason stimulated by, a beautiful act, a beautiful moment, a beautiful thought, a beautiful song or word, a beautiful anything. I believe that everything can inspire beauty if we only take a few moments to truly consider its value. If we can realize this value and identify the source we can then say that we have found truth. I believe that truth is realized in aspiring to uncover the origin of beauty and divulging into the complexity that most would shy away from. When there is truth there is inspiration and with inspiration comes the final idea of goodness. Goodness is achieved when a person takes an action which is inspired by truth and supported by beauty, to better humankind and in turn create even more beauty to start the process over again. The cycle that is created can support, inspire, and create a world greater than we could even imagine if we could only get the process started. The questions, however, still remain when will this happen and what will be the cause?
Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte
Coop Himmelblau, The Akron Art Museum
Commentary on Experience Report
If there is one thing that has become more apparent to me over the past few months because of this class it is the fact that I now pay much more attention to my own thought process and the small details of life. I find that I am always questioning why I feel the way I do and wondering what was the cause. Why is something beautiful? What makes it beautiful? Does everyone think that it is in fact beautiful? I marvel at what it would be like to actually be a philosopher and put so much consideration into all of my thoughts and actions every single day. I think that it would get quite tiring after a while but I also think that our society needs more people like this to help us along. I think that today’s world is lost with in its own self-interest and because of this we have become numb to our surroundings. How many people take time out of their day to research something that interests them, read a good book or even just sit and watch the snow fall and be amazed that such an occurrence can in fact happen. Our generation in particular has lost all sense of appreciation and respect for the little details in life and I feel that most, with a few exceptions, have absolutely no conception of beauty, truth, and goodness. Things that should catch our attention and be considered inspiring or possibly beautiful are often looked over because we are living such fast paced lives due to technology and have become desensitized to these encounters. At least ten people walked by me in the Akron Art Museum and continued straight up the steps to the gallery without ever pausing to consider the extraordinary space they had just entered, and anyone that I have tried to explain this project to had responded somewhere along the lines of, “Oh that’s bad,” or “I’m sorry you have to do that” before I get a chance to explain that I have actually enjoyed the process. I am beginning to think that everyone should have to do a project like this at some point in their college career to gain a general background in philosophy and start the process of solidifying their ideas of truth, beauty and goodness. There are two philosophers that we have discussed in class that I feel I best understand and have most helped me with this process Heidegger and Dewey.
Heidegger has perhaps had the most influence on me particularly in his concepts of truth, being, and art. First in our readings from the book Heidegger talks about living in truth and the craft (or techne) of thinking and how a work of art contains a thingly character. I think that this can relate to what I mentioned before in that we all need to learn to live in truth, or appreciate the beauty of life, and master the craft of thinking, or learn to realize and know the importance of this truth. This applies to the thingly quality of art in the way that an artwork can show us the reality, or truth, of things and can sometimes be more informative than philosophy is able to be. However, sometimes we lose the context in which the works of art are created, and this can lead to depreciation of the value and truth contained in the work itself, just as I experienced in my repeated exposure to Seurat's painting before encountering it in person. As said by Heidegger, “As a world opens itself, it submits to the decision of an historical humanity the question of victory and defeat, blessing and curse, mastery and slavery.” Meaning that as a world, which is always changing with in a context, is recognized by others it puts itself into the hands of those who are also part of the earth, which is fixed and contains worlds, and lends its future to be interpreted by others however they see fit. So we must learn to interpret a work of art in its entire setting and historical context if we want to learn the truth that is contained with in the work. This leads to the next Heideggerian concepts of figure, shape, and Gestalt.
I remember when I first heard the word Gestalt in one of my architectural history classes and at the time it was very hard for me to grasp the concept, however, repeated exposed and examples have lead me to better understand this particular idea. Heidegger says that gestalt, “Is always to be thought in terms of the particular placing and framing or framework as which the work occurs when it sets itself up and sets itself forth.” So the wholeness and context of a work of art can shape and create how we perceive the “thing” in the Heideggerian sense. This applies in my experience to the Akron Art Museum in the fact that the environment that it was built in, namely Akron, affects the way that we view the work as a whole. A building of such innovation is extremely rare for this area and therefore the museum stands out and this changes the way we perceive the architecture. If this piece was placed in a different framework such as in New York City or Chicago then its design may not have as much impact if any at all when compared to the competition of the surrounding buildings. At the same time in the context of today’s technology and advancement it is also possible for people to walk right by and miss the experience completely because we have been desensitized to the impossible. While it seems difficult to decipher the truth of this building now the true test is to be able to take and understand works of art out of context after the world in which they existed has ended. “Not only the creation of the work is poetic, but equally poetic, though in its own way, is the preserving of the work; for a work is in actual effect as a work only when we remove ourselves from our commonplace routine and move into what is disclosed by the work, so as to bring our own nature itself to take a stand in the truth of what it is.” Art, as truth, can embody tension and wholeness, or gestalt, of a world within the earth, preserving [that world] for future worlds to come. Only in understanding the past from which the art originated can we find truth from which to learn.
Another work that I particularly found interesting is Heidegger’s essay Building, Dwelling, Thinking. This writing is enlightening to me because as an architect it offers me a different perspective on the meaning of building. A museum is not merely a place to house artwork; a library is not just a place that houses books, a house provides more than shelter. Sure every building has a function, however, in Heidegger’s definition there is more than building, there is dwelling, and it is characterized by gathering and assembling of the fourfold. He uses the example of a bridge, “The bridge gathers to itself in its own way earth and sky, divinities and mortals.” The importance in building does not lie in the structure that is created but in the space that it creates and this space creates an experience, which leads me to my second philosopher, John Dewey.
John Dewey’s Art as Experience is one of the works that we have read that I think I can completely agree with. I believe that we have experiences, which are inspired by beauty, and with each experience we become closer to gaining truth and wanting to do good. These experiences can be completely spontaneous and even sprout from everyday occurrences, but they stand out when compared to specific examples, “…the storm that seemed in its fury, as it was experienced, to sum up in itself all that a storm can be, complete in itself, standing out because marked out from what went before and what came after.” There are many times in my life where certain memories stand out over others and more specifically and relating to this project are my experiences at the two museums. First with the Art Institute of Chicago where I had a specific encounter with beauty that particularly stands out to me over other similar encounters and second with the space that I experienced created by the structure of the Akron Art Museum. I have seen many artworks, entered many spaces, and gone to many museums in my life but these specific experiences stand out in my memory. I will always remember the feeling that overwhelmed me while starting at Seurat’s painting or the wonder that filled me as I stared up into Coop Himmelblau’s architecture. In these experiences the ideas of truth, beauty and goodness blended and it became impossible to have one without the other. I saw and recognized beauty, I was absorbed in the process of finding truth, and I became compelled toward goodness all in one unforgettable and astonishing moment.
Aly Freese, November 18, 2008