One of the most valuable experience art students can avail themselves of, is the immediate and often unfiltered responses to their work in a public setting.
The faculty and staff of the UW Art department devote a great deal of energy into creating opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students to exhibit their work in our gallery spaces and elsewhere. It is in these public showings of their work that students put theory into practice; it is where they are no longer able to speak for the work, but where the work begins to speak for itself. I began thinking about this late last Friday when the lights went out in the Art Lofts Gallery as one of our graduate students was installing a show. The work most certainly can not be seen in the dark and luckily the problem was resolved. But I could not stop thinking about the metaphors of illumination, about the tensions around how much we need to, or wish to explain or illuminate the work even before a public has had the chance to weigh in, through artist’s statements and other signage. If art is about illuminating ideas (for instance), perhaps it is most illuminated and illuminating, in the shock of a first viewing, where the work of art separates itself from its surroundings; in other words when it “pops” out of its relationship to other works in the vicinity and the architecture of the space it inhabits. This is similar to what Roland Barthes refers to in photography, as “the punctum,” an object or image that jumps out at the viewer within a photograph—”that accident which pricks, bruises me,” he notes. It is in that moment of the punctum that for Barthes, the photographic image is illuminated not by a constant source of light, but rather by a flash of light more akin to a lighting strike.
We have seen numerous shows of our students’ work this semester and as you encounter the remaining exhibitions this academic year, think about not only how the work illuminates its own intentionality, but also how, in that moment of illumination, you the viewer also illuminate the work at which you gaze.
Chair, Art Department