Looking Backward — And Forward

In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, Professor Lane Faison and his colleagues at the Williams College art history department launched a generation of art museum directors, curators and other professionals — often called the “Williams mafia” for how that department’s undergrads, after their various grad schools, became a dominant force in the American art world.  The early 70’s were my years there — graduating with highest honors in art history in 1974.  But I decided not to go on, much to the disappointment of my teachers, although I always felt I was right.  And having just returned from a wonderful 40th reunion at Williams, I have finally figured it out.

Let me say something first about Lane Faison, the greatest influence on my life.  He was already in his early sixties when I knew him (old to me then but my own age now).  I’ve never met anyone so intellectually insightful and rigorous about everything he did — particularly about aesthetics.   We learned early on not to advance an opinion, even on purely aesthetic matters, that we couldn’t solidly back up.  He looked at everything in the world with the same keen intelligence and finely-honed critical skills.  To him, the object being critiqued didn’t matter to the process, and when I took his criticism seminar (the most difficult course in the art department), we read poetry. And he wrapped all this up with unfailing wit and humanity.  No wonder we loved him.

I also want to honor E.J. Johnson, another gifted teacher, rigorous historian, insightful critic, and a warm and generous human being.  E.J. shared with me an idea he had about Michelangelo’s Sforza Chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, which became the basis for a semester’s study there and my undergrad thesis.

What I learned from these men was more than a life-long belief in the significance of art.  I learned how to open myself to art’s communicative capacity and power — when the content is authentic and expressed with integrity.  That is what I want from art in my life.  That is what I want from my own pieces.

Which has brought me to understand why I turned away from further study 40 years ago.  Being at Williams again for my reunion (after a career practicing law) and having my old feelings resurface, I realized that I was drawn to studying art history and criticism with such lions as Lane Faison and E.J. Johnson, because they brought me as close as I could get at that time to my own creative space.  I needed age and life experience to open it up, not an art historian’s career which might forever have kept me one step away, as much as I truly value that path in others.  I understand my own path better now, and my way as an artist finally is clear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s