Cycling Back to New Beginnings

The first time I came across the work of Steve Prince was completely by accident. At the time, I was writing for the Lamron and I was assigned to cover the final event of the community art project he did for Cultural Harmony Week (the article linked is one that I technically wrote, but it does not reflect my style of writing as it was heavily edited to meet journalistic conventions). I found him to be a fascinating interview, but one that I immediately put out of mind as soon as I was done writing. Completely by chance, I signed up for my first class with Professor McCoy shortly thereafter and found myself face-to-face with his artwork once again in the context of New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. In fact, the very first blog post I ever wrote was on his work Katrina’s Veil: Stand at the Gretna Bridge. Looking back at this post is wonderfully nostalgic for me – it both reminds me how far I’ve come in terms of writing since then, but it also calls back to a more innocent version of myself. I specifically remember that Professor McCoy used the word naive in the feedback for this post, and a full year later, I now (kind of) realize what she meant by that. Thus, it makes me extremely happy that 20 blog posts and two semesters later, I get to come back to the art of Steve Prince with a new perspective and new tools at my disposal.

My disciplinary training is not in the realm of art; the only formal experience I have with art analysis are the two fine arts gen eds that I took, which, considering how large and varied the world of art is, is not enough to even think about calling myself an expert. However, that hasn’t stopped me from considering myself an art lover since a young age. I still have journals from elementary school filled with childlike drawings; in high school, I took as many art classes as I could and even went through a brief period of time where my friends and I were really into doing live recreations of famous art pieces. As I near the end of my third year at Geneseo, I wish I had had more time to pursue the study of art (not as an artist, but rather as a historian or analyst), which is another reason I am very excited to be taking this class. Thus, as I considered what I wanted from this course during and after the first class, my original expectation was that I would simply be given the opportunity to do more with art than I had been expecting while pursuing English and French majors as my primary area of study.

These first two weeks have completely shifted my perspective about what I want out of this course. The first thing that changed my perspective was re-encountering the work of Prince itself during our first class; I had forgotten how attention-grabbing and surprisingly intricate and heartbreaking his art is, which made me that much more excited about this course and the potential it has to be something truly amazing and groundbreaking. The second was the time our class spent with Prince and attending the gallery opening in the Lederer Gallery. Prince himself is a fascinating person who I am happy to have the opportunity to get to know more, and the readings he gave of his work hanging in the Lederer Gallery were breathtaking in the amount of information and explanation he was able to give and in the careful attention to detail every piece has – every line, every object and symbol has a meaning and it was so impactful to hear him talk about it. It is so rare that an artist goes into that level of detail when explaining their art at a gallery opening like that, and that has made me more determined to be able to do some of that close reading on my own and be able to recognize the allusions, symbols and more in Prince’s art on my own. I was lucky enough to talk to Prince during the gallery opening and he was so kind and patient in answering my questions and was always able to give me more information than I knew I even wanted, which set me thinkING about things I certainly would not have without his influence (see my next blog post as an example of what I mean by this). In this way, I am already beginning to understand the first course epigraph, which is attributed to Dionne Brand: “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” Prince certainly knows how to notice, as he has demonstrated in the talks he has given about his art here on campus, but I hope this course can help me learn to notice the things I would not have otherwise and to better appreciate the things I already do.

For example, my reading of Urban Mixtape has certainly already been affected by the reading we have done. Specifically, chapter XIV of Souls of Black Folk and its discussion of “Sorrow Songs” in conjunction with the reading from Walking Raddy have both been extremely helpful in considering this work of art and its discussion of the importance of music. As soon as I read the lines “Free, free as the sunshine trickling down the morning into these high windows of mine, free as yonder fresh young voices welling up to me from the caverns of brick and mortar below – swelling with song, instinct with life, tremulous treble and darkening bass,” I knew that was what my reading of Urban Mixtape was – music as a wondrous joy, but more importantly as liberation (an idea also found in Walking Raddy in the intent of the Baby Dolls and the reasons why they do what they do, and in the Second Line, among others), or at least that is how I have begun to think about it.

And this brings me to the second course epigraph, attributed to Mary Rutigliano- “We’d looked at some of Steve’s work in previous classes that I’d taken with Beth, namely engaging with the Second Line in conversation with Katrina and the Housing Crisis of the early 2000s. I felt we’d dissected a lot, if not enough. My mind really changed when Steve attended Cultural Harmony Week 2017. Hearing him speak about his work really brought into focus how much I couldn’t perceive. I wanted to know more, but knew that I didn’t have the skills, expertise, or honestly the time to devote to personal study. I told Beth that I wanted to learn, but needed help. And that’s my hope for what this class can be, for students and professors alike. That we be rooted in a pursuit of growing our understanding, a sense of wonder, and the agreement that we can’t learn anything without one another’s help.”

After the first two weeks of this course, I feel exactly the same as Mary – I want to know more about Prince’s art and the larger context it comes from, but I need help. Art is not my primary area of study, nor do I have enough knowledge to do analysis of Prince’s work on my own, but the first explorations we have done have already given me so much. Thus, I cannot wait to see how far I will have come at the end of this course considering how much I have already learned.

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