As an English writing major, I am always scoping out ways with which to exercise and enhance my craft. My mind operates in a series of live-streamed fiction, nonfiction, and poetic language ranging from my own thought processes to feelings of rapture for the works of geniuses before me—basically the mind of a psychopath. So when I heard about the implementation of the Marist Writing Salons, I was hooked.
About twice a semester, English Department Chair Thomas Zurhellen promotes unique gatherings tailored to entice your average writing enthusiast. Many people view a career in writing as limited, borderline impossible. However, Zurhellen is committed to proving that not only is the discipline multifaceted, but that there is always room for expansion. On Tuesday, February 23rd the Writing Salon promoted an “Art and Writing” Salon geared towards introducing students how to write about intelligently about art. Of course I attended the talk because I wondered, how does one type of art adequately discuss another?
Art critic, painter, and novelist Peter Plagens gave a talk titled, “A Brief, Opinionated Primer on Contemporary Art.” Plagens is an expert in his field, working as senior writer and critic for Newsweek from 1993 to 2003, and currently writing for the Wall Street Journal and ArtForum magazine. In one riveting hour, Plagens masterfully dissected the art world with a fine-tooth comb, providing insight to past and present style and sensation, ending with an interesting foresight towards posterity.
Art and writing are sister divinities; while both speak for themselves, the former communicates visually and the latter is explicative. I believe the difference in the two lay in specific criticisms and personal taste. One may read a poem and cast it aside for reasons involving structure, content, or just general dislike. The same could be said of a painting, drawing, sculpture etc. Nevertheless, one must ask where is the boundary between like and dislike?
I may meander into an art gallery and fall in love with a painting, only to find out that a five year old completed it in a spark of genius. Was I duped? In the same way I may grimace at an Andy Warhol, but because the work is the work of Mr. Warhol, is my own judgment in error? Plagens offered some consolation:
He explained that it is okay to fall in love with a piece on the grounds of simple aesthetic pleasure. However, it is important to recognize the expertise behind the product. The same strategy applies to the realm of the written word. Readers and writers alike must not only be knowledgeable, but also generous towards the work before them. This is precisely why it is imperative to explore the world with an inquisitive, analytic mentality. When one is familiar with an art form, they are far better equipped for judgment as opposed to the innocuous observer. Plagens made an intriguing point in regards to the future, one that may be extended to all areas of eloquence. He explained that although art has always carried an esteemed lineage as a small and respected community, in contemporary times popularity has waned. Nonetheless, he has faith: “Since the 1960’s, painting has been proclaimed dead a thousand times over. And somehow it still makes its way back.”
Critics may deem an art form at its apex or in a state of demise a thousand times over. But what is the true measure of this defeat? As long as inquiring minds continue to explore and appreciate art and writing, in addition to the many other fruits the human race has to offer, then these finer things in life will continue to prove their resilience a thousand times over.
At Marist, students are very fortunate to have fantastic influences all around them. Enthusiastic students and faculty alike pave the way towards discovery, helping to separate the rubble from the jewels. We have so many opportunities to be taken—all we need is the impetus of initiative. Click here to visit the English Department’s website and to find out more about the multitude of events and prospects we have to offer!