We have asked five alumni who graduated in January 2016 to give us a statement about their experience at IDSVA. Here’s how they responded.
The process and journey I have experienced through IDSVA went beyond the bounds of my expectations. Each year built upon the next, and I gradually grew into an independent thinker, researcher, and writer.
I have stayed connected to my daily practice of writing, and currently working on new writing for publications. I recently completed a solo exhibition that consisted of five 8 x 8 ft. paintings and one large wall painting. The work drew from Nietzsche’s writings. I teach writing-intensive graduate courses in humanities and design applications for photographers. I began IDSVA as a painter with my MFA in Painting. I would not have had the opportunity to teach graduate humanities courses with my MFA alone.
IDSVA assisted with my professional goals by providing extensive information and support. The ability to speak with scholars in the field who listened to my ideas and offered their relevant feedback has been invaluable.
Some advice to current students: Believe in your abilities, get well-acquainted with outline writing, remain patient with yourself, take small steps each day, stick with it, and give yourself the attention needed to keep going.
Thank you for your invitation to share my experiences with the IDSVA community.
It has been a busy year for me – leveraging the momentum that came from finishing the program into a new set of ideas and projects. I transitioned from the endless schedule of writing a dissertation, back to the endless schedule of an artist. But this time around my practice is heavily influenced by my IDSVA experience. It is wonderful to be able to say that my work as an artist philosopher has elevated the way I think and produce.
I continue to teach at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design where I am a Professor and Coordinator of the Graduate Programs of the Art Education Department. Thanks to my newly minted PhD, I now have the credentials to teach both studio and theory courses, which is highly valued at my institution. My department is currently rolling out three new masters program along with a PhD around the theory and practice of activism in art education. It is a very exciting time to be implementing these new programs, and to be able to take a leadership role towards their success. I thank IDSVA for preparing me for the task.
I recently showed my brainwave sculptures at Rutgers University, and I continue to make objects from data collected from my body. But most of my practice from the past year has been writing. Around the time I defended my dissertation, I published “Autopoietic Aesthetic as a Lens for Interactive Art”, a chapter in Aesthetics and the Embodied Mind: Beyond Art Theory and the Cartesian Mind-Body Dichotomy, Springer Verlag, Germany. I am currently working on another chapter for a similar book on embodied aesthetics that will also be published by Springer in 2017.
This year I presented the paper, “Disrupting Introspection: An Embodied Approach to Interactive Art” at the Aesthetics and the Embodied Mind Conference at the Birkbeck College, London. I am on the Board of Directors for the upcoming conference, “A Body of Knowledge - Embodied Cognition and the Arts” that will be at the Claire Trevor school of the Arts at UC Irvine. I am particularly excited about a panel I have put together for this conference entitled, The Singular and the Multiple in Embodied Aesthetics and in which IDSVA alumni Greg Bair will be a panelist. Greg and I have also engaged with lecture exchanges between our institutions over the past year that has fueled a great deal of inspiration for me. Joni Doherty, Jason Hoelscher, and Kathryn McFadden have also provided outstanding lectures for my graduate students.
Four years ago, a collection of IDSVA students including El Putnam, Joni Doherty, Mary Anne Davis, Kathryn McFadden, Kate Farrington, and Leonie Bradbury started the Beverly Philosophy Salon, held at my home in Beverly, Massachusetts. Other IDSVA friends such as Christopher Yates, Sigrid Hackenberg, Greg Blair, Susan Johnson, Michael Smith, Robert Anderson, and Patricia Tinajero have participated along the way. Jason Hoelscher will be leading our discussion this month. These salons have become a mainstay for many artist philosophers and the idea was completely inspired by IDSVA. Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about our programming, residencies for scholars, and how you might get involved.
My scholarship has matured thanks to IDSVA and a new aesthetic place has opened up for how I contribute within my varied communities. It was my privilege to have the time and health to do the good work of IDSVA, especially the learning of new collegial interactions that I now use every day. Identifying and deploying new methodologies for my own professional practices has been nothing short of profound. Gratitude for the opportunity to learn provides a remarkable incentive for finding your way through IDSVA. Gratitude continues to move me forward. I highly recommend it!
After graduation, in that sea of smiling faces, warm hugs, and congratulations, I shook George Smith’s hand and said: “Thank you, this changed the way I think.” I was referring to the past 9 years I had spent with IDSVA beginning sometime around the spring of 2007. Although George and I would not communicate for another year, and then not actually meet until the summer of 2009, I was already considering this program when a Google search directed me to the IDSVA website and course of study.
I never thought of myself as a theory guy. Actually, I often recoiled at the idea of theory in general. It was too evasive, too esoteric, too pomp and hot air. But, I was nonetheless curious about it. And, for some strange reason, I wanted the challenge. Let’s be honest here: for all of us who have gone through the program, and for all of you going through it, we all wanted that challenge. No one starts a PhD program under the illusion that it’s going to be easy. That challenge is more than just a lot of reading, struggling with comprehending some very complex ideas, and writing papers that test the page length of what you thought you were capable of producing. Through the course of study, IDSVA’s curriculum is designed to equip you with a method of questioning and reasoning that both enriches what you already know as well as expanding that base to better engage the contemporary world. Beyond just the academic letters the program presented me, it also gave me the self-trust to focus on what I find most important and to think (in every capacity of what that word means).
In the current precarious political moment, and in the rising siege against art education and the professional study of the humanities in general, IDSVA trains a very select group of individuals and bestows them with the responsibility to act with what they know. There is nothing passive about anything here. It was a process I came to trust, and it is a process that will continue long after my graduation date.
Currently, I am planning on returning to southern California this summer, continuing to teach, write, and hopefully learn to surf. My dissertation is back off the shelf and sitting next to my computer right now eyeing me with a stern look to get back to work and revise it into a more publishable form. I should get on that.
So I’ll close saying that for all of you on your way in the program, I wish you well and remind you of the intensely personal aspect of what you are being requested to do. As artists and philosophers, IDSVA asks us to reconsider those things that are the most intimate to us in the hopes that we will see ourselves in a more clear and truthful manner and give back to the world in this most honest and sincere way.
Now that I have my degree I’m even more impressed with the curriculum that keeps expanding and growing in terms of artistic, philosophical and geographical scope and depth. IDSVA offers a life experience that is the result of many extraordinary people involved. You don’t really realize it when you’re in it what it takes to build a program like this, the passion, dedication and commitment of many people: faculty, students, board of directors and stakeholders, past and present. IDSVA has done the seemingly impossible, staying focused on its students, offering a unique learning experience while launching a new successful business model in higher education. I am extremely grateful for having had this experience.
Since June 2015 I serve as the Executive Director of a community foundation serving 15 counties in Southwest Kansas. With my background in art history and museum studies, I was looking to advance an academic or museum career. I was hoping a doctorate degree would open new doors for me with more job security and better pay. It didn’t, which upset me at first. Instead, my career took an entirely different turn, very different from what I imagined. After I graduated in the fall of 2014 I realized how much I had changed as a person. I had become much more aware of the ethical values of being in this world. I am fortunate to work in the nonprofit sector and I like my independent status as a scholar. For me it is important that I can pursue my own interests and voice my own opinion. IDSVA has taught me a few things about taking responsibility in this world. The idea of a ‘coming community’ is always on my mind, which is not limited to professional goals. IDSVA has become a mentor in life and career.
I know how overwhelming the coursework can be but don’t feel intimidated by it. Don’t put off the work for whatever reason. Many things can be in the way – and I had my share of obstacles – but do what you can to stay connected. Pursuing a doctorate degree is like training for a big athletic event. You need to train muscles you didn’t think you had. And there will be injuries along the way. Of course it is not easy—you wouldn’t be here if it was! It all comes down to how you handle the process. The good thing is, it can be done. I can testify to that. And when you’re finished you will think back of this tremendous opportunity in your life where you could dedicate so much time to thinking and writing about the things that you are most passionate about. Think of the dissertation as a big paper, it doesn’t have to be perfect but it has to be in your own voice. And you are not doing it alone. There are intelligent people willing to help you, faculty and peers, listening to you, guiding you along the way. What incredible luxury. As George says, trust the process!
Subsequent to my 7 years of doctoral studies and now graduation with IDSVA (I began with the initial group of students in 2007), my overall impression and summary assessment is positive. The artist-philosopher theme has never, I suspect, been so thoroughly explored and elucidated as it has been and continues to be at IDSVA.
The travel component in IDSVA also creates a natural camaraderie that includes a sense of generosity and friendship. The outstanding professional quality of scholarship evident in faculty members and guest lecturers, the obligation to be well-read and to incorporate that erudition into one’s work in various ways, the many writing assignments—all of that merged and evolved at both an intellectual and visceral level into a collective scholarly vessel, so to speak, a ship that sets sail with all of us aboard. The metaphor of ship itself expands into a metaphorical voyage of learning and professional growth via the scholarly world of philosophy and art.
Currently I’m working on a number of writing/publishing projects, including a few conference papers this year, one already accepted is in Germany this November, and a couple of other possibilities are surfacing in the U.S. I am also preparing several book proposals.
The essays and books I am working on this year and into the future stand a much better chance of being accepted for publication, or at least will be more seriously considered for publication, now that I have earned a doctorate. I am primarily interested in writing about the spiritual impulse in art, especially in modern art, but also in art and aesthetics altogether. In that regard, one project I am considering with colleagues and professors, editors and publishers, is to write and publish a textbook on the history of sacred art, a textbook rooted in a thematic context of the philosophy of art.
The possibility of designing a multimedia textbook on sacred art signals one of my reasons for choosing IDSVA over several other doctoral studies programs. Even though I have a long history as a spiritual practitioner in Buddhist and Yogic traditions, I did not want to write about the conjunction of spirituality and art from a religious point of view. While I do respect religious writings to some degree, I personally don’t feel a religious approach rooted in a belief system allows for as much scholarly creativity. For example, the traditional theological or religious institutional approach, while honorable, is ultimately less about philosophy and more about religious concepts and beliefs.
IDSVA helped me to find a clarifying means for scholarly investigation, a means that could adequately articulate and explicate the themes related to the spiritual impulse in art. The professors I worked with over these past few years have been simultaneously generous and challenging. I learned to inspect and inquire, to clarify my thinking, to go beyond new age presumptions and attitudes to levels of investigation that can take into account more ineffable phenomenon and translate those experiences into a coherent scholarly language. I felt for some time—even before enrolling with IDSVA—that a philosophy of art approach to art and spirituality allows for more erudition, more sophisticated thinking, and a more detailed means to excavate and express discoveries within this thematic territory. It is critically essential to develop a scholarly language and IDSVA serves that development.
Another project I am working on this year is turning my dissertation into a book. The title of my dissertation, The Numinous Gate: A Philosophico-Phenomenological Study Of Wonder And Image Consciousness In The Fabulist Art Of Varo And Borges, indicates some of my root interests. That dissertation uncovered several related areas that I want to expand and explore in a publishable book, topical areas such as word & image, fabulism and irrealism, consciousness studies, and investigating of the general ineffability of interrelated, multi-disciplinary topics like wonder, ecstasy, intuition, and imagination. The “philosophico-phenomenological” approach points to my interest in phenomenology as methodological means, as a rubric that is able to investigate any topic.
Before I entered the IDSVA program I had already read quite a few works related to phenomenology by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Marin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, and Emmanuel Levinas, and I read them again while studying at IDSVA. I also discovered on my own the work of Edmund Husserl, the pioneer of modern phenomenology who was a mentor to the philosophers mentioned above. I ended up reading other work as well by Michel Henry, Rudolf Otto, Jean-Paul Sartre, Paul Ricoeur, Roman Ingarden, Max Scheler, Edith Stein, Jean-Luc Marion, and many other thinkers whose writings are related to my interests.
Earning a doctorate is an enormous undertaking that can help, even in modest ways, to address the value and roles of art in this volatile, chaotic world. However, gaining the understanding that comes with studying for that PhD is not easy; be prepared for an enormous amount of work, including work outside one’s comfort zone. In fact there is so much work that at certain points the process requires everything – intellectually, emotionally, and practically – of a doctoral candidate. By all means, have fun, enjoy new friendships and enjoy traveling to new countries and cities. Even so, expect to be challenged by the faculty, colleagues, and most importantly, by yourself. In this program, you do learn the necessity to challenge yourself and your own ideas.
One’s best ally is the passion for a chosen topic or theme. What is the philosophy of art topic that you are most passionate about? If you go down that road, your passion will fuel the process more than any other resource. Overall, if one passionately wants to complete the doctoral program, to complete the dissertation, and is willing to do what is necessary to complete the work and be changed by the work, that will happen at IDSVA.
After the graduation commencement in New York, I attended an exhibition at the Rubin Museum called Becoming Another: The Power of Masks. When I saw the mask below, it reminded me that inside the “me” I thought I was at the beginning of the IDSVA program, there is another being, one revealed and illuminated by the IDSVA program itself. That other being has emerged by the time one successfully completes the dissertation and graduates from the program.