October 7, 2012
So, today I made the four block walk back to my undergrad school, Wheaton College. It was homecoming weekend and while I did attend the requisite football game, cheer at most of the correct places, and feel my body temperature lower a couple degrees in the first cold front of the season, the definite highlight of my experience was attending a tribute/mini art history conference in honor of my undergrad faculty adviser, the esteemed Dr. John Walford organized by the new art historian on the block, the effervescent Dr. Michael Milliner.
My undergrad years were a bit of a crazy blur–transferring into Wheaton late in my education and staying there for all of about a year and a half. But, while I was there, studying art history with Dr. Walford was definitely a highlight of my education. His deep engagement with the visual world of the past, his attention to both culture and content, and his utter delight at the gift of creativity were infectious to me as an undergrad and looking back almost ten years I see that though I’ve transferred my allegiance from the somewhat higher art world of art history to the applied world of graphic design, the ways he taught me to see remain with me and are even being passed along to my own students.
Sitting in the back of the lecture room (some things never change) and listening to many diverse presenters talk about some very heady, high level art pieces and methodology for interpretation at first felt a bit like speaking a language you’d not spoken for say 5 years but once were almost fluent in, but the longer I sat and listened and absorbed and indulged my own nerdy fascination with how art is produced in certain times for certain ends in certain ways, the more thankful I became that this was my history and that as a designer and as a design educator, I am grounded in art history and in some small ways, as an art historian who is part of a very rich tradition.
I won’t get too much into the actual topics discussed, but I will say that sitting in the space and feeling the overall spirit of love and appreciation for Dr. Walford expressed by everyone present made me mentally fast forward 30-ish years in my own life and think about where I might want to be, lives I might want to have touched, etc. In many ways it feels like 30 years is a lifetime away and yet I know it will come much much sooner than later and now more than ever my choices have very direct implications on how the next season of my life will play out.
I am no doubt scared of this new journey that I am undertaking and I am the first person to bring up the idea that it’s a bit crazy really, and yet looking at his life and his teaching career, and his overall sense of courage and willingness to risk for the place where he knows he must be…I’m inspired to keep moving forward…to keep asking and probing and pushing the questions and seeing how things can be different…how things can be better. Inspiring stuff for sure.
So, thank you Dr. Walford for living your life in a way that does indeed shine out…and for teaching me how to see.
p.s. there’s also a sweet book out inspired by Dr. Walford called Art as Spiritual Perception. It’s not directly graphic design-y, but it’s definitely going into the resources page and I think everyone should check it out and feel a little smarter and a little like they can see with slightly more clear eyes.