Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ryan Layton: First Impressions of the Fellowship

In the weeks leading up to my first day of work, I had prepared in every way possible. I reread the same materials that helped me before my interview, I rode the subway to and from Lincoln Center until I knew exactly how much time to allow for my morning commute, and I hit the malls until my closet epitomized “business casual”. There was no doubt that on my first day of work I would be on time, well-informed, and dressed like my dad. In hindsight, I probably overdid it a little, but the preparation helped me relax and trust that I was ready to do my best. However, on day one, my preparation served me very little.

One of the Lincoln Center Institute (LCI)’s full-time Teaching Artists came into the room, and no sooner had I introduced myself than I was helping to clear a space in the center of the room for what had only been described as a “movement workshop”. I had been at work for fifteen minutes and was already being thrust outside my comfort zone. While being told to move my body into various straight lines and then into curved lines-- and to do so in the presence of the two wonderful dancers that I work with-- I considered my reservations about maybe looking foolish. It didn’t take long, however, to realize that the more of myself I gave to the workshop, the more I would get, and I aimed to get as much as possible. I had no room for reservations.

We took turns moving for each other, discussing our impact on the space around us. We worked with partners and drew their movements and further explored the notion of space in our drawings. We imagined our bodies leaving trails of color in the air when we moved and made choices regarding color as we drew our partners. All the while we were asking questions. But the questions weren’t addressed to our workshop leader, they were to the drawings we made, and they were asked without the expectation of an answer. The whole process was like nothing I had ever experienced. But we weren’t finished. We took seats and turned our attention toward a projection screen and watched a short work that involved dance and digital media called Ghostcatching.

When we were asked to discuss Ghostcatching, I think we were surprised at how easily we grasped the artistic principals at work in the piece. But we shouldn’t have been. We had spent the morning up to that point completely immersed in discussions and actions involving space, movement, and color, which was a big part of Ghostcatching. We had been contemplating the same things that the artists behind the piece had contemplated, and so we were no longer removed from the piece, but had experience with the concepts at work.

I spent the rest of the day with my mind a little bit blown. I thought about how fun and how challenging and how incredibly integrated that whole workshop was. Days later, I’m still thinking about it. Up until that workshop, I had only seen art appreciation or understanding taught from some sort of contextual point of view: when was it made? what were the materials used? how is it significant to society? All of these are important questions but still leave too much room for the observer to ultimately say, “I don’t get it.” After my experience on my first day, I’m thrilled to know that there is another way to educate people about art and that it really works. I’m more excited than ever to move forward with this fellowship and see what other great experiences are in store for us.

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