Newsletter Issue:
Spring 2012

Three Questions For IDSVA’s Interim Director Margot Kelley

Interviewed by Kathryn McFadden, IDSVA Third-Year Student

How have your first six-months been as Interim Director of ISDVA?

Fast-paced, intense, occasionally bewildering. But always amazing.  Every single day, I get to talk with smart people about ideas they are passionate about, and even have the chance to help them nudge those ideas a little closer to fruition. Plus, all of us here at IDSVA are adding to some cultural conversations that I think are pressingly important: not just about art and philosophy, but also about educational access and about alternative models for teaching and learning—models that might well be both more effective and more environmentally sustainable than the business as usual approach.

You are an artist, too. How do you describe the intersection of philosophy and art in your own work?

Evolving. And that’s not meant to side-step the question. One of the truisms of Darwinian evolution is that over time, organisms grow increasingly complex and increasingly specific or precise. It’s not that more recent ones are more complicated, necessarily; but over times, natural selection arrives at more and more elegant arrangements.  Throughout my work, a few key nodes where one sees art and philosophy interacting have been questions of how we can know an (often non-sentient) other, what the contours of that relationship are/can be/(dare I say it) ought to be; and how linguistic and other categories pre-define what we perceive. If you laid everything that I’ve made out in front of you, I think you’d find that my way of working through those pre-occupations is becoming more precise and complex—if not yet elegant. I’m honing what I’m exploring and how I’m doing it. I think my art-making also reflects an important pair of political/philosophical commitments: on the one hand, I make work that can be understood in relation to a number of contemporary conversations that matter deeply to this quixotic self. On the other, I have the wildly democratic wish that folks who comes to my work with good will and openness can leave having found something that makes them glad they looked.

If you could be any character from fiction who would it be? Does this character overlap with any aspect of your work at IDSVA?

Now THAT’S an intimate question! Here’re the folks who come to mind: Mama Day, from the novel of the same name, Case from Gibson’s Neuromancer, the grandmother in Silko’sCeremony, Sylvie from Robinson’s Housekeeping, Sonny in Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues.” Probably you already know that I taught American Lit for a decade at a small liberal arts college before going to MassArt to get my MFA, hence the overwhelming Americanness of this off-the-top-of-my-head list. But what’s striking to me isn’t the Americanness, it’s that when you asked this question I started to think of novels and stories I love, I suddenly realized that I wouldn’t want to be the characters in most of them. What I want to read and who I want to be are quite different. The characters that I can actually imagine aspiring to be are folks who are endlessly curious or deeply compassionate, or who have come early to wisdom. So I guess those are traits I admire and desire.  Would I really want to be Sonny? Probably not really. But I’d be humbled to imagine myself in the same breath as someone with that kind of hard-won grace.


Margot Anne Kelley is a New England native who cultivates creative possibilities and heirloom vegetables. She is especially happy when helping students, growing rare beans, and developing new recipes for small-batch soaps. She lives in the fishing village of Port Clyde, Maine with her husband, Rob, who shares her passions for bold ideas and equally bold oceans.

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