On the very first day of INTD 288, I was highly considering dropping it. When my classmates passed around artwork and we were forced to work with one another to try and interpret an artist that I was unfamiliar with, I was scared. I did not truly think I could contribute to anything in the course without having extensive background knowledge about art. However, once I convinced myself to step out of my comfort zone and embrace this unknown territory, I was met with new tools and a new grasp of what a community is. To me, community is created in our class through the process of integrative learning with various professors from different disciplines coming in for lectures and our group discussions of the lectures which occurred with students with various academic backgrounds. Our class is a microcosm of a community that supports integrative learning and helps students to help each other gain new tools to express ourselves both personally and academically. On our syllabus, we have epigraphs to show what this course will cover. Part of an epigraph fits the community-based learning that I experienced since day one. The epigraph is from Mary Rutigliano and she states her goal that as students, “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.” My experience perfectly fits with this epigraph; if it had not been for the sense of community fostered by interdisciplinary lectures and conversations, I would not have succeeded as I did with gaining new tools throughout the semester.
Requiem for Brother John by Steve Prince
Community is such a pivotal aspect in everyone’s lives. I did not realize this until I took INTD 288: The Art of Steve Prince. Steve Prince taught me how influential and powerful community is in art and life. In several of his compositions, he draws connections to the community centered in New Orleans. Specifically, he focuses on the second line and music. In his artwork, Requiem for Brother John he connects both the second line and music and how they intersect in community settings. I remember first analyzing this composition with a group of my peers and being puzzled by it. For a class activity, we chose this as the piece so the class can help us unpack and analyze it. Now, reflecting on my attempted interpretations of this piece in my previous blog posts, I feel more confident now to understand the intent of the composition. I now know that the second line is for grievers and mourners to celebrate and lament over the recent loss of a loved one. In Prince’s composition, as in a real New Orleans jazz funeral, the music helps facilitate the drive of people to keep moving and feel the support of the community behind them. I did not know this was a tradition in New Orleans until taking this course. Prince highlights this recurring motif to show that community can help build each other up and be that support when we feel weak. His compositions show that family, friends, and neighbors are there when we need them in the most trying times. Prince discusses Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath through his artwork; this subject is another example of community members uplifting one another in moments of adversity. After Katrina hit New Orleans, thousands of homes were destroyed with personal possessions lost such as family photos or cherished memories, and with lives lost as well. Community members helped each other by cleaning up the debris, mourning the dead, and being the support when someone needed it.
Katrina’s Veil: Stand at the Gretna Bridge by Steve Prince
As an artist, Prince addresses the both/and of the complexities that can exist among communities, specifically in regard to Katrina’s aftermath. He demonstrates this by highlighting how communities can do the opposite of supporting one another — communities can hurt other communities. An example of this is Katrina’s Veil: Stand at Gretna Bridge where it shows the narratives of people trying to leave before the storm comes and the police officers denying them the access to cross sides. The two sides show conflicting subsets in communities. Some of the police officers were New Orleans natives. However, they associated more towards their fellow police officers that they went against their fellow New Orleans. The other side, New Orleans residents trying to escape the city, shows how communities are still there for each other in the most difficult time. Throughout the semester I have analyzed this piece in depth trying to truly unpack it. Now, reflecting upon the composition specifically community, I see a new side of the work. I see how Prince shows the conflict and support of people, and how communities can tear or build each other up. He shows both sides of the story. Over the semester, I focused numerous time and attention to this composition. What I have learned is that every time I revisited the artwork I noticed different dimensions of it. For example, before I did not know the backstory of the piece. Now, I know the intention of the piece. Additionally, I did research on how this piece was influenced by Francisco Goya’s Third of May art piece showing the massacre of a battle. The entire semester I delved more in-depth with the piece to identify and see how this relates to community through the arts and history. Prince is a part of the art community and he shows the historical similarities of the communities between Goya and current times. Prince and Goya address both/and in their respective compositions by showing communities having subsets of conflict and support. Both confront viewers with the difficult yet vital question, what community do you support in the most trying times?
Besides connecting to New Orleans, Prince likes to draw on his own community with his family to inspire him in his compositions. An example is his composition Sow where he shows his female ancestor escaping slavery with her children. Prince then discusses how his mother passed down the art of quilt making to his sister, so she can pass the tradition down to her children. This artwork shows various communities; Prince shows how his family is his community through these depictions of his family in the piece. Additionally, Prince connects Sow to his ancestors who were formerly enslaved–when Prince came to SUNY Geneseo and gave his “Kitchen Talk,” he mentioned how African American women had the tradition of quilt making and passing it down to other females in their family. He identifies with this greater community besides his immediate family. The tradition of his ancestors strengthens his current family members and their foundation. Prince demonstrates this strengthening by drawing in elements of both communities in one piece to deepen the meaning of it.
Urban Garden by SUNY Geneseo Students
Furthermore, Prince also demonstrates community through his process. In his process Prince does not just paint or draw; he connects the experience to, and draws his inspiration from the environment and the people around him. I remember this vividly when he visited SUNY Geneseo at the beginning of the semester to create the project Urban Garden. As a campus, we came together to work on an art project about interpreting the world with the negative past and present and the hopeful future. During one of the days when Prince was on campus, there was an RPO trumpeter named Herb Smith who visited to collaborate with Prince. He came to perform in the Kinetic gallery while Prince drew. Prince became grounded with the environment surrounding him — the music and people. He drew with intensity based on how Smith portrayed his emotions through a song. For example, Prince would draw sharp, sporadic lines when Smith was playing with severe intensity. Prince would also draw flowing lines when Smith slowed the music down and connected the notes. I remember watching him work and connect to the music and thinking how interesting and different this was as an artist. He connects to the music to draw Herb Smith playing and to feel the energy in the room. This process reconnects to community because he shows how with anything you are doing you can connect to others; whether it is through music, or the energy in the room, you can become connected to others. When I was in the Kinetic one day, working on the Urban Garden project, I drew the emotions that were pouring out of me. While working on it I felt like I was not alone. Others were there too and we fed off of each other. I independently worked on my part of the project, and when I returned the next day, someone had built off of my creation. Now I reflect on that experience and recognize that I was in a community. We were all building off of each other with ideas and visions of the future and the past that you had to interact with one another. It was a different kind of a community that occured in the Kinetic at Geneseo. Although I may never meet the people that took my idea from my drawing and stemmed off their own, we were part of this community that contributed to a larger and greater goal. Prince shows in his process and craft that an activity that has been viewed singular can connect to other disciplines of life. When Prince was in the Kinetic he connected to music with art. He connected to the environment and energy around him. He did not ignore them, but instead embraced the outside forces and implemented them into his art. I believe Prince creates a both/and with his process. He both works with his emotions and connects it to the outside with people, history and the environment he creates a project. I experienced this both/and personally when I both thought about what I individually wanted to say about the world through my work on Urban Garden, and I connected to others while accomplishing this process.
In addition to this class showing me community through art, it exposed me to a community in our literature. Just as this class introduced me to an artist, it also introduced me to different communities through the literature we read. One text that comes into my mind strongly is the anthology Walking Raddy: The Baby Dolls of New Orleans. This anthology exposed me to a community located in New Orleans called the Baby Dolls. This group was created by a group of black women that show their freedom through dance. This group shows a strong sense of community. When they first formed in a time where black women were oppressed and silenced, they supported one another on the streets during Mardi Gras by going against standard conventions enforced by society. The author of the anthology, Kim Vaz-Deville, came to Geneseo to provide a lecture about the Baby Dolls. The most important aspect I learned from her lecture was how the Baby Dolls actively participate in modern day America. Vaz-Deville described it as a “Renaissance” occuring in New Orleans where the old generation is teaching the new generation of the traditions that have been created in the Baby Dolls. Additionally, she mentioned how although the Baby Dolls preserve the old traditions they incorporate new aspects. An example is the inclusion of white people into the group. Before, the Baby Dolls were meant for black women to express themselves on the streets. However, over the years the group has been more inclusive because they wanted to change the times of where segregation was heavy in America. One person who contributed to this was a woman named Miss Antoinette K-Doe. She was the wife of famous trumpeter Ernie K-Doe. Antoinette K-Doe made a mark with the Baby Dolls by creating her own Baby Doll group called “the K-Doe Baby Dolls.” K-Doe explains that the reason she wanted a mixed race group was because the members wanted to stress black and white because, as she puts it, “we’re in a time now where black and white get together now. We didn’t want that separation” (207). The reinvention of the Baby Dolls shows how the community has expanded to include more people into their cause of freedom and service.
Writing this reflection has made me see how community has impacted me greatly. This semester I was grounded in the course material and learned that we are all a part of intersecting communities both big and small. So how does this show my progress with the course? The community around me with my peer members has shown my improvement as a contributor to the class. Before, I used to think I could not contribute to class discussions. But as the class progressed and my blog posts were posted weekly, I noticed how many tools I have retained and how many I was starting to utilize in my thinkING process because of other people in my community. Interdisciplinary was shown in my class community with guest lecturers from various disciplines and also the students in my class. Everyone came from a different background of knowledge and learning. Some are not English majors while others are. Additionally, my peers’ background of life was different from mine even if they are in my same discipline. Everyone is on a different path and journey that I did not experience and they have not experienced mine. With the different paths of life it shapes our different views of a composition and makes us see something that I would not have noticed before. It also evokes different emotions in all of us which is why I love interdisciplinary learning. The class discussions and various guest lecturers made me realize how vital the mutualistic nature of interdisciplinary is. So, why is this important? It is important to me because it shows how communities can influence your growth and help you. Just as Prince and Vaz-Deville have shown the impact their personal communities have affected their process, and thinkING in their careers and personal lives, this class has shown me that being a part of a community can shape you into an active member who can support others in society and contribute in any manner that they can whether it be showing up to an organized event for a specific cause, or asking the leader who is running an event if the organization needs help or support in any way (as Vaz-Deville encouraged in her talk at Geneseo), or any number of other ways to practice advocacy. Being a part of a community gives me confidence to find other communities and help and support them.
Interdisciplinarity matters in this course and in this world. To me, interdisciplinary learning was crucial in cultivating my learning and thinkING process during this class. If I just had one scope and thought of Steve Prince with one lens, I would have been limited in my analysis of his works and been limited with addressing the both/and in his compositions. The same goes for reading the material in our class. If I just looked at it through one disciplinary scope I would not have truly seen how impactful the Baby Dolls were and are in New Orleans. But, with all of the guest lecturers from various departments such as history, philosophy, art, poetry, math and more, I was able to see Prince’s work in a new light — I was able to see it with all these disciplines and try to unpack his work. I was able to do the work to unpack and connect other disciplines to the Baby Dolls with Vaz-Deville’s anthology. I believe interdisciplinary learning matters because it has the potential to shape and transform communities. Something that Prince’s work has shown about community is that it is unavoidable. As much as humans might want to avoid communities and the outside world, you cannot. It shapes and molds us and we can be either active or passive in this shaping; it is our choice. For Prince, he chooses to be active in his communities by demonstrating their part in his process and thinkING, which influence his compositions. For INTD 288, I chose at the beginning to be passive, thinking I could not contribute anything valuable. But then, I decided to become an active member and contribute in discussions within our community and the blog posts because I wanted to use Prince’s approach to thinkING and the process. Interdisciplinary learning has made me shift away from the either/or thinking that is promoted by the conventions of typical public education systems and pushed me to grasp the complexities of both/and thinkING with a more holistic approach to learning.