By Kris Brandenburger, writer, mechanic, and faculty member in the Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts MFA Program and the Bachelor of Arts Completion Program
“To be an artist is to ask questions, to probe material in search of its weakness, strength, durability, vulnerability, in search of some unknown thing that is and is not the material, to make associations with or to find the correspondences between the limited matter at hand and the larger world, to articulate—visually, aurally, structurally, metaphorically—something intuitively if not intellectually known, to configure/constrain matter within a conflicting and/or contrapuntal form in order to persuade the invisible (the unknown) to emanate”.
-Laura Farabough, Playwright
Farabough’s description of the nature of an artist is very germane to how I think of Creative Inquiry—artist and inquiry-centered in the ways that I believe we would like our students to be. The notion of probing or evoking or enticing material to find correspondences or associations with what is not yet known is an exquisitely alive way of being with the material(s) in a given piece. Much of course depends on the understanding of material. And among other possibilities, I understand material spiritually, so that at the heart of the inquiry it is the spirit being probed--the spirit of the artist and her world(s) of embeddedness. It is the search for the rhizomic infrastructure of the material.
Too often, inquiry is understood as most effectively based in the scientific method, which prizes objectivity and seeks to avoid subjective expression. There are the known methods: observation, evaluation, modeling, etc., all based in a particular logic congruent to the inquiry at hand. In distinction, art making is understood as illogically, personally, “expressive” and subjective (which of course it is), disqualifying it as a method of inquiry in and of itself. But as Farabough reminds us, and as we seek to remind our MFA students, to be an artist is to ask questions, to engage a deep curiosity. So here is a question: “How can a rock, the quintessential physical object, be metaphysical? How can a stone sing?” I wish I had asked these questions (Nancy Rosenblum did in ‘Chinese Scholars’ Rocks’) because they stem from such a profound curiosity about material as to be crackling with vitality and joy. And I believe we have to be committed to joy as a fundamental part of inquiry, as the underlying heart that moves the blood through the body of inquiry. We need the power of love and joy to radiate through the arts practices we engage, and until and unless that is the case, we are lost.
The Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts program creates a space for students to use their art as a tool of inquiry—personal, political, spiritual, etc. Inquiry takes us to the heart of our own wildness and wilderness. It demands the “yes” that Gertrude Stein put forth, when she said: “The only word an artist needs to hear is ‘Yes’.”I say yes to what is real, and not yet known. I say yes to Art.