Today, I enjoyed a visit and stimulating discussion with one of my earliest art school teachers, John Wertschek, currently an Associate Professor at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.
I suppose that many of John’s former Foundation students would probably agree that he has, in one way or another, challenged them to imagine the previously unimaginable. Certainly this was the case for me in John’s “3D” course, back in 1985 at what was then called the Emily Carr College of Art + Design.
I remember “The Rock Game”, an “exercise” (for lack of a better word) situated in a low-lit room on a table that was surrounded by mostly high-school-aged young people. On the table was a collection of rocks of varying sizes, which each participant would take turns moving or re-orienting. That was the whole thing. The Rock Game could be called a “no rules” game, but it required reaction, space, material and personal decisions, so although “rule-less” it might have been, it was not without structure or outcomes. Very zen, or whatever. 🙂
As an eager 19 year old who wanted to experience many new things, my take-away from that simple little game was “pay attention, feel, respond, and act for yourself”.
John liked to use words – their meanings, origins, sounds and similarities – to illustrate and challenge patterns of thought. Sometimes the challenge was a visualization and/or a creative thought experiment, such as “build a device with which to weigh a dragon”.
I also took away one deceptively simple piece of practical advice from John: “The two most important books you’ll ever use in your life are the Yellow Pages and the Dictionary.” Something in that advice told me that the door was open for me to go through, the resources and information out there if I looked for them, and that I should give myself permission to act when I needed to. (What the hell was I waiting around for anyway?)
So today, my dictionary and my business directories are Wikipedia and Google, and if I still have rocks to move around, they’re metaphysical or more often than not, composed of pixels. But the personal process contains a similar proposition: make a move, and do it with intention and integrity.
Today, John told me that back when I was doing my Foundation year, about 50-60% of the students were fresh out of high school, and that now, the number is more like 85%.
For a young generation of digital natives, acclimatized to immediate, packaged information and real-time access to a thousand opinions and personas, it makes me think that the kind of face-first, open-ended explorations which can cause you to question, reflect and think for yourself are now more important than ever.