Earlier this evening, I entered a URL into my browser and was transported to an auditorium in Gainesville at the University of Florida where internationally known artist Oliver Herring was giving a talk about his work. Visiting artists have been a staple of art school learning since the 1960s. It is an opportunity for graduate students, primarily, to hobnob with an art star, to hear from someone who’s made it really big, to be inspired by big ideas.* These artists also inspire art educators, and Herring had a lot to offer teachers given that his work often relies on collaboration with participants. In other words, like teaching, his are social projects.
If I had shared the link for this talk in advance, you could have been there with me. You can watch a recording of Herring’s talk, though I am not advocating this as the best way to learn about his work. For that, I’d recommend PBS’s Art21. Because, to be honest, the feed wasn’t that great. The sound started out just plain awful, though it improved dramatically once Herring respositioned his microphone (the result of a Twitter exchange between a few of us watching at home and our department chair in the audience). Herring also broke what I would consider a cardinal rule of public speaking in the age of Powerpoint and spoke for nearly half an hour before he showed a single image. During the Q&A I couldn’t hear the questions and he didn’t repeat them.
What really amazed me about tonight, was that as I stood in my kitchen, listening to the talk, chopping vegetables, and sipping a glass of wine, I didn’t feel alone. I had a real sense of being alone together. I imagined my students in front of their own computers, listening in on the presentation. The feed was not password protected so anyone could have joined the audience, though I’m not sure you would feel a sense of belonging if you weren’t somehow affiliated with the UF arts community. But I could be wrong. In the future, perhaps universities will do more to advertise talks like these (I couldn’t find anything on the UF website), with online breakout chats for various interest groups to unpack what they heard in a semi-moderated discussion afterwards. That would be a redefinition of the artist talk worthy of a land grant institution in the 21st century.