Message from the Dean – January 14, 2019

First some good news:

Danielle Herrington, UCO adjunct instructor of voice, presented an exploration of the music of Jake Heggie’s chamber opera “Three Decembers” at the National Opera Association 2019 Conference on January 3 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

More good news:

UCO’s Design Department had 11 students and former students win 20 general awards across four categories in The Flux 2018 Student Design Competition. The juried competition had nearly 900 entries from across the country. You can see their award-winning entries here. CFAD faculty, staff, students and former students continue to be a positive and competitive artistic presence across the state, nation and around the world.

Now a story:

I clearly recall the first time I had the wind knocked out of me. Prior to the invention of iPhones, gaming consoles or the internet, “boredom” was a horror vacui that required filling through the auguries of either imagination or mischief. During one endless summer afternoon in 1969, my 7-year-old mind conjured the idea of a treehouse in the backyard. As the son of a carpenter, wood scraps were in ready supply. I nailed chunks of 2”x 4” into the trunk as a makeshift ladder, and muscled a surplus piece of plywood into the crotch of a backyard maple. The makeshift platform remained sturdily wedged between three branches right up to the point when I scooted to the edge for a look straight down. When my entire body weight shifted past the center, one of the branches became a fulcrum, and the plywood flipped. Thus engaged, the law of gravity assured a quick trip to the ground. Stunned by the impact and the unexpected turn of events, I found myself unable to breathe. The fact that I remember the experience is an accurate indication of the fright I felt. I lay stunned, immobile, breathless and voiceless until the temporary diaphragm paralysis dissipated. When I could move again, I stumbled indoors crying, seeking both motherly comforts and an explanation of the experience. In my childish ignorance, I understood neither how such a firm-feeling floor could suddenly flip, nor why my body would suddenly refuse to breathe. Once she assured herself that I suffered neither broken bones or a concussion, my mother walked with me back to the scene of the accident. There, she explained the basic physics of a fulcrum, and acquainted me with the biological concept of being “winded”.

Interestingly, having “the wind knocked out of you” is both frightening and painful, while an experience that “takes your breath away” is usually either amazing or powerful. This past week, I enjoyed an experience that “took my breath away” while visiting the Mecca of Minimalism at Marfa, TX. I have stood breathless within many of the great cathedrals of Western Christendom, including the Duomo in Florence, Westminster Abbey, and Notre Dame in Paris. These houses of worship are designed to invoke awe. The towering interior spaces promote a concept of God’s greatness, and humanity’s comparative insignificance. Serving as a place of pilgrimage for over 49,000 aficionados each year, the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX includes a pair of sprawling, former army artillery sheds that have been re-walled with windows and converted into a permanent installation space for Donald Judd’s “100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum”. Originally created for pure military practicality, Judd’s artistic vision transformed these buildings into cathedrals of natural light, symmetry and complexity, disguised as simplicity. The installation combines art, architecture and landscape into a shimmering meditation on reflective light, the power of the individual, and the symbiotic relationship between humans and the environment. For me, the experience was as powerful as standing in Canterbury Cathedral.

The 100 reflective aluminum boxes, each sharing exactly the same exterior dimensions, have interiors which have been divided, subdivided and angled so that no two pieces are alike. The reflections of sky, clouds, grass and tumbleweeds play across the surfaces, creating a visual experience that subtly varies, nearly minute by minute. The work carries an abundance of human metaphors. Every individual, within the similarities of our human envelopes, develops a unique interior life. We absorb the influences of hometown, epoch and the burdens and privileges inherited with our families of origin, then project those qualities outward. Each of Judd’s works is visually altered by the reflection of the pieces that surround it. As teachers, our actions, reactions, words, attitudes and knowledge will be echoed into the wider environment by our students. Grand gestures, that will “take their breath away” are less important than purposeful daily interactions, filled with positivity and integrity. Over the course of a career, those seemingly mundane moments will reflect off of hundreds or thousands of students, magnifying in intensity, rippling out through time and transforming lives.