How many people can recount meeting a legendary figure, particularly one whose career has profoundly influenced their own? For those fortunate souls who can attest, doesn’t the experience seem to affirm your chosen path? This summer, against the magical Tuscan backdrop of Spannocchia Castle, I nervously awaited the arrival of that figure. Upon his entrance, Dr. David C. Driskell transformed from myth to man as he embraced Cohort ’15 with the utmost warmth and humility. As a visiting lecturer, Dr. Driskell was invited to enrich the introductory Topological Studies course, and his words would unfold as a history of courage.
Sitting enraptured by the affirmations that propelled him on his own life path, I quickly abandoned my attempt to take notes so as not to miss any aspect of his presentation. Before dropping my pen, I managed to make note of a publication that proved life changing to our lecturer as a young artist. Published in 1952, Paul Tillich’s “The Courage to Be” outlines three types of anxieties that can distract and discourage the human mind; those of fate/death, those of guilt/condemnation, and those of meaninglessness. According to Tillich, courage is the self-affirming force that transcends one’s fears of mortality, judgment from others, and failure to make a purposeful mark on the world. To overcome these potentially crippling anxieties, Dr. Driskell noted that his own process of self-realization formed the crucial bridge to self-affirmation. Defined as “achieving full development of one’s abilities and talents”, his self-realization was made possible by a readiness to diligently approach a variety of media and genres, coupled with a fearless embrace of his personal values, strengths, and passions.
By 1953, Dr. Driskell completed the prestigious program at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Building his studio amongst the iconic pines of Maine, Driskell’s close bond with the natural world solidified as a touchstone that would unify his material explorations in painting, printmaking, collage, and sculpture. An omnipresence of the natural landscape would remain an identifiable characteristic within his artistic legacy. Pines especially recur throughout each decade of his career, as a symbol of everlasting strength and divinity.
So how does this reflect courage? Dr. Driskell spoke of the countless trends in fine art that have come and gone since his entry into the art world. With each trend, expectations can originate from within an artist looking to break new ground as well as from outside circles of critics, fellow artists, and audiences. His courage to break free of expectations to conform to the modernist styles and prevailing themes fluctuating around him was rooted in his spiritual connection to nature. Accepting his unique place outside of the mainstream proved to be the key to his transcendence. The rich and boundless inspiration found in his natural surroundings continues to ground Dr. Driskell, and the legacy of works that span sixty years and counting.