Socrates said, “Wisdom begins in wonder.”
Having concentrated most of my life on getting educated, working, volunteering, etc. it’s a treat in retirement to be able to explore the arts a bit. As a blind person, I think wonder and beauty have taken back seats to being productive, at least in my world. But as Elaine Scarry points out in On Beauty and Being Just “with its direct appeal to the senses, beauty stops us, transfixes us, fills us with a “surfeit of aliveness. In so doing, it takes the individual away from the center of his or her self-preoccupation and thus prompts a distribution of attention outward toward others and, ultimately, toward ethical fairness.” So these side trips to a poetry reading and an art exhibit may not be side trips at all but fuel for the journey.
A friend of mine went to a weekend poetry-writing workshop put on by the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild. Only ten poets were admitted and they got personal critiques from a poet who teaches at the university as well as hearing craft talks by a publisher and a poet laureate. At the end of the workshop they had a reading. I was part of a carload of five friends who went to listen. Poets ranged from an angry young man in his ‘20’s to my friend who is 75-plus. Afterwards I got to tell a couple of the poets how brave I thought they were to gift the world with their poetry and they glowed. Poetry read aloud by the writer is a treat, far superior to my screen reader (“robo-read” as some of my friends call it).
A national organization, Art Beyond Sight (www.artbeyondsight.org) sponsored a workshop at the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau (www.lywam.org/sandhill-crane-sapling-sculpture/). I organized a road trip with a couple of friends.
Did you know that Van Gogh had glaucoma? Did you know that 42 percent of all seniors experience disability? This market segment holds $220 billion in discretionary spending power (according to the US 2000 Census). Museums and other cultural institutions cannot afford to lose, or exclude by omission, this large a group from their audience, staffing or funding base. People with disabilities should be a significant part of their marketing. Art Beyond Sight gives museums tools and training to make their collections and exhibits more friendly to people who are blind or have other disabilities.
On a Saturday morning, two guide dogs, six blind people and a dozen sighted folks sat around picnic tables in Woodson’s sculpture garden. Guest artists Donna Dodson and Andy Morelein, known as the Myth Makers, conducted a ninety minute workshop where we learned about the materials and production of their piece in the sculpture garden of the Woodson.
The collaboration between Moerlein and Dodson is born from a mutual love of the wild. Moerlein takes inspiration from events in the natural world, which leave visual marks that strike a narrative chord in the artist. Dodson takes inspiration from the mysterious nature of animals that spark her imagination. Although monumental in scale, these ephemeral works are temporary in nature. Made from natural materials, they are site specific, and respond to their local audience. Meaning to only last 3‐5 years, they appear, fade, and disappear, adding a chapter to the life stories in their communities. The Wausau sculpture is of two cranes and is twenty feet tall, made of saplings and plastic grocery sacks. At the end of the workshop we got to try making a sculpture from twigs and pipe cleaners. My take away was: it’s harder than you think to take an idea and express it artistically. I will not post a picture of my sculpture of a crow sitting on a rail fence! Suffice it to say the rail fence was the easy part.
I’d love to learn more about sculpture appreciation. Every year Eau Claire brings a couple dozen sculptures to town and at the end of the year at least one is bought and displayed permanently. Next stop a tour of some of this year’s offerings and a trip to an audio-described live theater production in Minneapolis in August.