Recently, I took a trip to Kenya to see three of the last Northern White Rhinos in existence. Suffice to say, this wasn’t a vacation for me. I was driven to Kenya by one of the questions that has stayed with me throughout my life as an artist: the question of who is afforded subjectivity and who is not. Why, for instance, should human beings be the subjects of so much art when animals have so much to teach us?
I believe that the answer lies in the notion of symbolic language. We know animals are capable of emotion, forethought and memory. So what separates us from them? As humans, we create. We make pictures, films, paintings and works of literature. We take the sense of memory and emotion that we share with animals and translate it into something greater than the sum of its individual pieces.
I will never forget the feeling of meeting the first of the White Rhinos I spent time with in Kenya. He was a male named Sudan. I remember thinking that, in a way, Sudan represents the last of his species. He is the last perfect example of his kind. During my time spent with Sudan, I realized almost instantaneously that the Northern White Rhino is not simply a species of animal: it is in fact a world unto itself. This animal actually represents the will to survive and endure in the face of destruction and human encroachment. To this day, I’ve rarely experienced anything like that first meeting with Sudan.
It is largely due to my time spent at ArtCenter College of Design that I’ve been able to embark on this ongoing personal journey. They have blessed me with the opportunity to examine our world in all its unfolding beauty, as well as the many varieties of species that inhabit it. An ecosystem is just that: a place where all manners of natural specimens struggle to cohabitate and make sense of a changing world. Which, come to think of it, sounds a little bit like ArtCenter itself.
Staying in touch with the world outside your front door is essential if you want to lead an examined life, especially as an artist. If you want your art to mean something, you have to stay in a kind of dialogue: with people, and also with ideas that are current. There’s a myth that artists are lone wolves, recluses, but any real artist will tell you that community is essential to the whole process. ArtCenter also granted me the chance to create my own community: to work alongside young artists, many of whom I’ve been able to borrow inspiration from. The truth is that I want to know what’s going on inside their heads. I want to know what they’re thinking. As an artist, I’m not holed up in my ivory tower, divorced from the realities of the world. I’m living it every day, and that itself is a tremendous privilege.
At ArtCenter, I learned not just how to make things, but how to think about things. I was taught craft, but also ways of applying thought. In the Grad Art program where I currently reside, we read a great deal. We read books, we read philosophy, we read theory. We read everything and everything is relevant in our department. As a collective and as individuals, we must compel ourselves to stay curious about the world we live in. You may work with just a handful of ideas your whole life, but a place like ArtCenter gives you the ideas and tools to create something truly lasting out of it. I hope you will consider supporting ArtCenter so that others can help to make sense of this beautiful and changing world.
MFA 1990 Art
As a collective and as individuals, we must compel ourselves to stay curious about the world we live in. You may work with just a handful of ideas your whole life, but a place like ArtCenter gives you the ideas and tools to create something truly lasting out of it.