When I had installed the Golden Shadow Cycle in Campion Hall, the student union building at Saint Joseph’s University, I realized that, although they were beautiful, they were, perhaps, too subtle for the undergraduate population. I decided to do the next commission for the adjoining room as a more didactic and more readily “available” series of images. I think the ploy worked. Many students have told me how much they love one or another of the Cave Cycle but many, too, are enamored of the whole Golden Cycle in terms that are truly humbling.
The value of having works of art, hung permanently in a school building, especially works done by faculty, can have a subtle, profound and even permanent effect. I have always thought this, while often doubting, on the other hand, that anybody ever takes in anything visual–or takes it seriously. I worked very hard to get works of mine hung on the campus where I am a priest/ painter/ teacher. The “work” of it included putting up with extremely potent statements from colleagues and administrators about the self-serving aspect of exhibition or the wasteful use of time and wall space.
My inspiration came from Christo and Jeanne-Claude whose artwork, enshrouding buildings, bridges, seacoasts, and entire islands, includes the years of planning and politics, preliminary to their fabulous installations. I learned to consider the fight part of the performance. The experience left me wounded often, but, in the end, students do really see, appreciate, choose, learn, and sometimes even thank me for the opportunity. I am reminded of van Gogh’s pitiful plaint to Theo about wishing someone would come in and sit by the fire tended so carefully in the house of his heart. I feel that too and this sharing has been good for me whenever someone says that my work helped him or her.
So, the whole affair of trying to teach with images is still valid in our rapidly vapid videoed civilization. It helps the didactic artist to share. It helps the visual learner to learn. I makes a school more a micro-civilization with a culture as well as a mission.