on scholarship

If I’d run into Dr. Benjamin sometime in the years after I left Howard, she might not have remembered me. But, I know that, while I was a student in her Art History classes, she loved me and every other person in the room. Love was in her respect for the material and in her voice when she addressed us. A seriousness. A care. (And hers were standard slide-and-lecture Art History courses!) I think of Dr. Benjamin not just as a professor, but as someone who, by demonstration, mentored her students in the practice of the thoughtfulness behind scholarship.

(I am making a series of portraits of my former teachers as patron saints in the Church of Art or something because I have Homeric epithets for them all: ‘Saint Dobard of Melancholy Passion’, ‘Mrs. Stroup, Our Lady of Irreverence’, ‘Beloved Saint Katherine, Our Lady of Elegant Perseverance’ ). My beloved Katherine, so economical with words, so persistent in doing, snapped my artist self into shape with a sentence, an idea, and, like Dr. Benjamin, an example of how to be a working artist and teacher.

I woke up this morning determined that scholarship should be my focus for the next year. For a while now, I’ve asked myself, ‘To what end and how?’ when it comes to both my art and teaching practices. And although I observe, intuit, and analyze enough to make it consistently from one day to the next, there’s a level of knowing to which I aspire. I cherish Dr. Cruz-Janzen (now Marta) because, as I worked under her for my MEd., she demanded of me scholarship. Like Dr. Benjamin before her and Katherine after her, I learned from Marta’s example the importance of knowing – cold – and attributing data and concepts, and then meaningfully applying that information.

I’ve been working on hunches. I have a hunch about perspective. I have suspicions about media. I have a feeling about community. These are, I think, functionally valid when it comes to considering the nature of narrative, and I privilege these impulses for the same reason that I encourage my students to think out loud in class: this culture will silence our inner voices with its ‘authority’ until we ourselves discredit our own thoughts and experiences. But, I also sense that, for me, now is the time to develop rigorously organized systems of solid, attributed evidence.