Thursday, January 17, 2008

In general I follow a creative pragmatic approach in both my teaching style and the ideas developed in practice. I teach sculpture with the understanding that to do so is to incorporate real thoughts in both time and space with concrete material interactions. Which is to say, I do not make distinctions between working with material and thinking critically. In fact, thought and matter are so interconnected that for me it is essential that students explore the “continuity of differences” between the two interrelated fields. We literally involve ourselves in the objects we make. In other words, thought is the contour of the forms and movements that our lives take, and sculpture, as an embodiment of thought and matter, is an extension of life, not a reflection upon it. Therefore, connections in sculpture are not limited to dynamic material relationships only but biological and social relationships become important features of an embodied understanding of the world, where mind and matter meet.

My creative approach to teaching is fundamentally similar to the way I approach making art. Artists are makers expressing a constructionism of different aesthetic experiences. Whether I am teaching or making art, the process consists of material and thought bringing a very real dynamic to form. This dynamic exists in time, and, as such, I am interested in bringing immediacy and novelty to sculpture through the creation of unique forms, which embody the human organism as well as other living and nonliving kinds of organization. What one literally encounters in the process of making art is the creation of habitats and, with the intention of engaging other objects and thoughts, the artwork communicates across a whole diverse wildlife of form. After an artwork is completed it is often captured by a more “retrospective analysis” for measuring and comparison. One’s aesthetic experience, whether in teaching or creating art, is informed by one’s physical, biological and social relationships. As creatures our aesthetic growth is art’s living holism.

I emphasize significance rather than signification in my teaching methods. “Significance” refers to the assignment of meaning just as “signification” does, but with one key difference, which is that significance directly expresses something unique or singular, whereas signification creates a series of elements arrived at through analogy or metaphor. In contrast to signification, semiosis is the real action of signs in the world! I emphasize to my students that they be aware of the semiotic attributes of their work—and there is no attribute of their work which is not semiotic. Thus, the semiosphere is composed of all kinds of sensations: sounds, textures, movements, smells, shapes, signals of all kinds and waves. Every sense carries the imprint of another sense. For example, vision feels texture at a distance! Our creaturely world is directly situated in an expressive form of communication: semiosis. Art emerges in the interaction we have as living creatures with not only the semiosphere but the whole biosphere in general.

I find that making art is often times a nonlinear process speaking to the whole and not only the parts. I extend this understanding into teaching as well when linear methods (planning and execution) become infused with nonlinear experiences (our experience in time), primarily a combination of creation and presentation in the process of making an artwork. The process is nonlinear inasmuch as our internal sense of time converges with different states of mind. As living organisms our irreversibility marks each quality or element as a unique and unpredictable opportunity for reflection. I emphasize the importance of bringing together material connections with an open process philosophy of construction (immanence and transformation) where thought, feeling and action unite in complex ways, specifically in context to pursuing what I have called a radical natural history of sculpture. When one makes sculpture, an “inorganic life of things” comes into being, including the objects and constructions in our cultural environment. With an expanded field of perception I see what happens in both the classroom and artist studio as essential in putting art into action. The physics of matter and thought are brought back into sculpture by having sensation and expression take on new kinds lively forms. As living creatures we literally inhabit the things we create!

My relationship to institutions has always been on this creative pragmatic level where creativity and exploration travel hand in hand. The kinds of colleges I am interested in teaching at support a whole ecology of cultural diversity and concrete student interaction. As I have already noted, making art and teaching are deeply interrelated in my life. The creative process at times goes beyond the individuals involved. As a kind of “composed chaos” artworks locate new possibilities for sense making as philosophy and science share with art the ability to describe complex intensive processes. In short, a new kind of materialism has emerged over the last few generations, one which is inherently dynamic and full of “spontaneous organization.” As an artist, I see novelty and creation as open models set upon a plane of interaction, incorporating a whole ontology of matter, and, revealing in the deepest furrows those immanent qualities belonging to living and nonliving things alike.

I feel strongly about a more embodied dialogue with nature as tantamount to understanding both natural and cultural systems exposing us to an aesthetic possibility more pragmatic and wild. Our physical, biological and social processes are essential to understanding the wider implications when it comes to making art and teaching. I say this because art has to do with human flourishing and, as with deeper nonhuman elements, it is the inclusion of living and nonliving matter that a more immanent approach comes into being, bringing together experiences across different natural and cultural geographies. If culture is the way nature evolved in humans then art too must strive to locate its own natural history, one where natural and cultural systems embody more open creative processes in science, design and art.

Mason Cooley

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