Blog: Context

Christine Alfery

Posted on September 26 2018

Last Flowers in the Garden by Christine Alfery

 Featured image: Yellow Flowers

I get and read the weekly newsletter from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Art Department. I get the newsletter I believe because I am a former graduate and educator in that department. The current chair Douglas Rosenberg always writes a very thought provoking weekly column in the newsletter. This week his emphasis was on this introductory lesson to his class on context and how important context is to art today.

As I think about what he said, and the examples he used I come to a very very different take on the events he sited. So I asked myself how do I want to think of context in my work. And I found that my understanding of context was in a very different place on my art playground than his. I hope his students asked the same question my fear is that they did not. Below is how I understand context as it falls into the notion of making and creating art.

Rosenberg began his article reflecting on his recent visit to New York and the in turn a visit to the current exhibition at the MOMA about the Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done. For those who are not familiar with The Judson Dance Theater historically made its mark during the 60’s with artists who had a strong sense of individuality and creative intensity. Many famous artists worked with the dance theater at a college called Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Artists such as: Robert Raushenberg, Robert Morris and Marcel DuChamp to list a few.

While I don’t always agree with Douglas Rosenberg’s take on things in the arts, I do believe we agree on what is important for students in the arts to focus on. Students today need to “be able to experience art in the context of their own time, in the world and in the landscape of their own present.” It was when Rosenberg tied these comments, of experiencing art in their own time, to his belief in the importance of context when art is being created his understanding of context and mine appear to be different. Rosenberg in his editorial used words such as egalitarian, collaborations and morality when thinking of context. These words are today are not anything like the individual and creative intensity of the artists from the Judson Dance Theater and Black Mountain College and not about individualism and a free spirit.

There is a powerful difference between a student who engages in the context of their times in art through collaborations, egalitarianism and morality and a student who engages in the concept of exploration and discovery through conceptual aesthetics in the arts. A student will never find individuality in a collaboration, and in egalitarianism until the student understands themselves and then in turn can understand whether they are following the power of the herd or the power within themselves.

You dear reader may ask what then sort of context is worth teaching today – for me it is the philosophical concept of freedom and an understanding of freedom cannot be found until the student is free of and can recognize a professors political biases and compare it to their own understanding of why freedom is.
So while Rosenberg’s idea of context in the 60’s was like our own present. His concept of context was not a sense of discovery and exploration, a sense of understanding and finding the individual among all the clutter, his was that of encouraging his future artists to pursue in their work the De-individualization of others by working with collaborations and with egalitarian morality all thinks will eventually have a kumbaya moment and way of being. What many young students are lacking today is that very sense of individual thinking that leads

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