Newsletter Issue:
Fall 2016

An Interview with IDSVA David Driskell Fellow: Eric Bess Cohort ‘15

Jonathan Morgan, Cohort ’15

IDSVA David Driskell Fellow, Eric Bess, Cohort '15. Photo by Simonetta Moro.
IDSVA David Driskell Fellow, Eric Bess, Cohort '15. Photo by Simonetta Moro.

JM: What compelled you to pursue a doctoral degree in art?

EB: I’ve been interested in a doctoral degree since my undergraduate education. One professor always suggested getting a PhD. He said that a PhD in artistic practice was more prevalent in Europe than in the United States but that such programs were beginning to develop in the United States. At that time, I thought it would be wise to follow a path that first focused on artistic technique and then theory so that I wouldn’t be limited in my ability to express myself in my chosen medium. My main goals are to know my subject matter thoroughly, to understand how my approach to my personal work is historically informed, and to have a better understanding of how I may develop my own work to the height of my ability to express.

JM: What was the thing that pushed you to choose IDSVA?

EB: After speaking to the professor mentioned above, I began to search for options. IDSVA and Ohio University’s Interdisciplinary Phd programs were my two top choices. I was considering Ohio University’s program since I would have in-state tuition, and IDSVA still wasn’t accredited at the time. After experiencing many setbacks, and by the time I finished my MFA, IDSVA was accredited. I reached out to another professor at my undergraduate program who had a doctorate in Art History. I first asked her advice on applying for a doctorate in art history. She advised against it. Several weeks later, I asked her opinion on my consideration to apply to IDSVA, and she told me to go for it. She said that she had seen so many IDSVA students at CAA events, etc., and that their papers, and questions, were so interesting and thought-provoking. I began applying that day.

JM: How do you see philosophy intersecting with your artistic practice alongside your faith?

EB: My faith is the most important thing in my life. Sometimes, I don’t live up to the principles; I fail to reach the standard I’ve set for myself from my understanding of those principles. However, my faith is always there in the background of all of my decisions. Philosophy, and my limited understanding of it, currently helps me better understand how I can create works of art that are not faith-based but that also do not violate my understanding of the principles within my faith. I’m learning which philosophies and philosophers align more with the principles within my faith and which ones would be completely opposed to my approach. I also look forward to studying the aesthetic principles of different cultures and seeing how those may influence my artistic practice as well. After the inspirational residency, I purchased several books on the aesthetics of different cultures that I think would interest me and be helpful to the direction of my studies.

Righteous Thoughts,  in progress
Righteous Thoughts,  in progress

JM: What was your reaction to being chosen as this year's David Driskell Fellow?

EB: I was surprised. It’s not often that I’m recognized in such a way. I was also humbled. As I did more research, I realized, to a degree, what it means to have the name of David Driskell associated with my own. I heard stories over the summer about David Driskell’s journey that emotionally stirred me. His story is a truly inspirational one; his name serves as a reminder for me to be true to myself, to endure my hardships, to realize my own potential, and most importantly to be a good human being.

 JM: What is your opinion on the workload and content of IDSVA courses and residencies?

EB: This might sound strange, but I’m having a fantastic time. I love the content that we’re covering. I don’t need to agree or disagree with it in order to appreciate and respect what these authors and artists were attempting to accomplish. I love exploring the ways in which the authors are speaking to one another and how they are speaking to me. The act of intertextualization is like trying to solve a moving puzzle that doesn’t have a clear answer or end and is always adding new pieces: it’s fun. The summer residency was really intense; I call it the most intense educational experience of my short life. However, I feel so prepared this fall semester and am not overwhelmed by the workload because of that residency.

JM: Have you found a particular thinker or philosophy that you had not considered before?

EB: I really didn’t know about most of the thinkers or philosophies before the program. I had a limited understanding that for the past one hundred years or so representational art was bad and non-representational art was good. I was somewhat familiar with Western Philosophy including; Marx and Freud, and I had read The Republic before along with other texts by Plato. Everything else I studied is considered Eastern philosophy: Lao Tzu, Confucius, Chuang Tzu, Sakyamuni, etc. I haven’t attached myself to any line of thinking yet as I feel it's too early for me to clearly know the philosophies of these great thinkers. I’m still open to learning as much as I can from as many as I can without interjecting my own belief system… at least not yet.

JM: What words of encouragement would you give to those considering joining IDSVA?

EB: I simply love art; it is one of those things that's inseparable from who I am. I still come across people I met fifteen years ago who can't remember my name but mention my art. I want to know this thing that defines so much of who I am as a person; I want to know it as thoroughly as I can, if it can be known. I believe I owe this much to myself. IDSVA offers me a community in which I can explore and maybe, just maybe, come to understand the ideas that compose the confines of the universe that is the arts. I think it depends on the person and the place they are in their life. I'd encourage those who are on a similar journey and know themselves as artists, to engage in an educational experience like this in the hope that they too come to explore what it means to be a philosopher and consummate that exploration into artistic practice.

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