I’ve been writing this entry in my head for quite awhile and the announcement of Gene Wilder’s death prompted me to write it down. While this entry is focused on one song in one movie, his acting across many movies and plays etched its way into our cultural granite.
I remember being a child sitting in a movie theater and watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for the first time. The somber tone of the first part of the movie highlighted by Wilder as Wonka walks out of his factory limping with a cane to welcome the lucky golden ticket winners at the factory gates. He falls! The fall turns into a sumersault and a triumphant ta-dah and a smile. We then enter the factory, filmed as if we were one of the guests. Strange things begin to happen and we're crowded into a tiny optical illusion filled room. And then the door opens and we see the chocoloate room as the song "Pure Imagination" kicks in.
Wonka teases the guests as they proceed down the stairs, as they have to pay attention to his pauses, stops, whipping cane, and goose steps all the while wanting to focus all their attention on exploring the fantastic chocolate room opened up in front and around them. The eagerness, anxiety, and pure happyiness all playing across their faces. And there's Wonka who not only still enjoys his chocolate room, but also enjoys showing it off to them.
Forty or so years later and the movie and this clip continue to impact me and the teacher I am becoming.
I teach photography – digital, darkroom, and alternative processes (weird, odd, arty, processes created in the 1800s, blending digital and darkroom techniques, toy cameras, instant film, etc) classes. In all of the classes I teach, I try to bring a sense of fun and creativity to the class – sparking the childlike sense of wonder and excitement and exploraiton to the class that is captured in this one song.
I’ve been known to show the “Pure Imagination” clip from the 1970s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” in class, telling them I am Willy Wonka introducing them to the wonders and fun of the photography chocolate room. I’m there to open the door to their sense of wonder and fun.
Wilder's performance introducing the visitors to the chocolate room is much like the first day of class teaching. There's the sense of excitement, tension, apprehension, anxiousness of exploring something new and unknown. The way he leads them down the stairs, starting and stopping, making them pay attention to their progress while at the same time they want to scan the room to take in the wonders there.
In the classroom, the students have an energy and excitement. I am eager and excited to introduce them to the wonders that are in front of them as they explore photography. I don't tire of looking across the photography lab and I gain energy from their energy. It is the first day of class.
The movie also contains other lessons such as sometimes you run into situations where there are unwritten rules that can cause you problems in life. I try to remind the students, and myself, of the risks of just jumping into the chocolate river because you’re so excited to drink from it, drinking too much fizzy lifting drink, wanting to try new technologies, etc, without thinking about the risks or consequences. The antcipation and energy of exploring the new with a slight pause, like Wonka leading them into the chocolate room, is lost and forgotten later in the movie. In life, we find ourselves rushing ahead without remembering the lesson to sometimes slow our entrance into the chocolate room.
The childlike amazement isn’t confined to the chocolate room in Wonka’s factory as the sense of playful experimentation and exploration permeates the entire Wonka factory. They can permeate your entire world and day. The world and your day are filled with places where it’s ok to smile, have fun, and let your inner child shine. It's ok in life to find and bring that same sense of exploration, the removal of the serious masks we wear in our everyday worlds, to smile and have fun, the permission to skip and laugh and hold a bunch of balloons, the asking of “What if…?” while at work or making dinner, to watch the clouds and find shapes, to log roll down a hill and not worry about getting grass stains on your clothes and knees and elbows.
It is in finding this zone of exploration where the self-censoring editors are put aside, our tendencies and habits are suspended, and the creating from the inner self comes through and out. Where we put aside the "am I doing it right?" anxieties and let our true uncensored selves come out, explore and create, and be seen by ourselves and others.
Pure imagination to change the world if you want to. There's nothing to it.
Jul 6, 2016
So, there have been blog entries since March's review of Zootopia but apparently I somehow didn't upload them correctly. Missing content is simply missing. But a quick run down of things since March.
I taught Alternative Processes class at a local community college. The semester was condensed into 7 1/2 weeks. The students got the same amount of class time and lab time as they would in a normal 10 or 15 week semester, but we just got all that lab time in a shorter period of time. I think that was beneficial to everyone. It gave us two days a week, 4 hours a day, working in the labs which gave them the ability to stay aggressive with their work. I'll consider this format again if I get to teach the class again. And I was able to get an exhibition of the work they created at a local gallery. The whole thing came to be in a short period of time and I'm grateful to 22 North Gallery for trusting us to get work together on short notice and to the faculty at staff at Washtenaw Community College for supporting this opportunity for the students to have their work seen in a gallery setting and learn a little about what is involved in making work for galleries.
I have work up in the Ann Arbor Art Center's Real American exhibit.
I'm currently doing an artist in residence at A.I.R Studio in Paducah, KY. My focus is on site-specific installation art creating work based on the history and culture of Paducah. But if you're reading this, you've probably already been through the blog posts covering my time in Paducah.
Dec 5, 2015
Wow. What an interesting month plus.
I've ended my residency program at the Mayflower Arts Center, tried to re-acclimate to my home studio integrating work and materials from 4 months of productivity into an already overloaded workspace, teaching photography classes three days a week at the University of Michigan, and all the details of re-entry into a more traditional lifestyle and mode.
Plus trying to not fall into as many old habits, patterns, and rituals related to the norm before the residency.
It's a lot to adjust to. Plus trying to keep moving forward in the many areas I was making progress in...
But changes and strides are being made. Just the creative productivity has been suffering.
Oct 19, 2015
I sit at Panera for my internet fix and blogging time. The blog tool I'm using for now doesn't allow for easy updating and blogging, which may be a good thing.
I'm a few weeks away from the end of my residency and pondering the transitions coming down the pike. It's been a flurishy few weeks of transitions. Making trips to help celebrate the retirement of someone making the transition from working to playing and a ICU visits as another transitions to an unknown (but promising) transition after an unexpected event. So it's hard to get too wrapped up in the end of my residency and that transitions that it will bring, or I hope it will bring.
I guess that's the thing I'm pondering. The things I've done and not done during my residency and what habits I will maintain and sustain when I return to my regular studio space. And what changes I will be making in that space and activity when I return.
The last four months haven't really been as much an artist in residency as a relocation of my studio and practice to a new place. In reading books about the creative process and such, a lot of creatives (artists, writers, etc) make regular excursions away from their normal studio space, often maintaining a cabin somewhere where they go for a few months each year to fuel their creative fires and energy and this experience has been more akin to that than a focused artist in residency, primarily because of the duration.
I prepare myself for beginning to pack up things in my space I haven't used or am done using and the dismantling of the space to move out and move on.
I need to make a list of the things I want to retain from the changes that have happened to me over the last four months. The removal of the distractions that tainted my creative practice and energy before this experience will be key.
A quick note: last weekend the Mayflower Arts Center hosted two Hallowizard Parties, their 3rd annual. I created 40 light up wands from twigs and branches from the ivy that once covered the walls of the Mayflower and created a character of an absent minded wizard that led the party participants through various adventures and projects. I've been pondering installations and been keen to dig into one lately. The opportunity to be part of a team creating an experience was great fun and only whetted my desire to make a large, complex story-laden installation.
New adventures await me as October turns to November. Including cooking up some installation ideas, going through the various works and projects I've made the last few months, and doing some teaching at a local Unversity.
Keeping the pump primed. The virtual t-shirt I'll be wearing the next few weeks and months.