When Words Turn to Black Cloth and Black Cloth Turns to Ink
A few fortunate things happened to me this semester:
1.I was given the opportunity to teach Introduction to Creative Writing (E210) here at Colorado State University.
2.I had a conversation over drinks with Audrey Wasielewski, who teaches Intermediate Sculpting in the Visual Arts Department.
At first glance, these two events are quite separate. Even if they have chronological proximity towards one another, there’s still a gap in regards to their conceptual bond. Well, to fill in the blank, Audrey and I came to the conclusion one night (over said drinks) that our courses needed to collaborate. We didn’t quite know how exactly, or what it would look like, but we trusted our ability to cross the river when we got there by building a bridge between our relative departments.
Here is the overall blueprint of the bridge we built this semester:
E210 is usually split into the two disciplines of fiction and poetry. Each student will turn in a fiction portfolio with a polished short story as well as a poetry portfolio with 4-6 poems. Aside from this general structure, it is a fairly open course that is merely compassed by the English department, rather than encompassed, which is a very important distinction. After talking with Audrey, we realized that her students could use the short stories written in my E210 course as a prompt for their three dimensional art projects. She was searching for a fresh prompt, something that would challenge them in a different way, and we came to the conclusion that short stories written by their fellow CSU peers would be that perfect challenge. This was the first step.
The second step was figuring out how to incorporate their three dimensional art projects back into our class. We didn’t want the collaboration to simply be a one-way street with the artists studying the stories, we wanted to activate the other direction as well, something that would bring the E210 students into the art studio. After some thought, we realized that my E210 students could write an Ekphrastic poem based on the sculptures that were inspired/derived from their own stories. That was the second step.
The third step was figuring out all the practical issues that come along with asking forty college students to dissolve their departmental walls and sincerely engage in a collaborative effort outside of their comfort zone. We figured the best way for them to metaphorically accomplish this task, was for us to literally dissolve the walls by bringing my E210 students into her art studio for an entire week of classes. This was the blueprint for the bridge.
This is the bridge as students currently walk across:
My students circle around a large black object in the entry way to the Visual Arts Building. The artist walks around the object as my students scribble notes and whisper a few hushed guesses as to which story this piece is based upon. He talks about extracting a key image from the story and trying to replicate that image while infusing it with one of the main conflicts that occurs throughout. In this case, it was the feeling of suffocation. The main character in the story suffers in a comatose like state that leaves her within a muted world. The artist describes the cloth material used to drape the large wooden box that hides behind the surface. As a group, we talk about the importance of this decision, what the artist had to think about in regards to the material and how every tactical decision must be considered in relation to the art. My students recognize how similar this exact conversation is for what they’re attempting to do with their words—considering the materiality of the language, the hidden object(s) beneath the surface, and the amount of pressure one must put upon their intricate decisions of craft. After Audrey and I help facilitate a small dialogue, we head towards the next project as some of my students glide their fingers across the black fabric and feel the ink of a seven foot poem yet to be written.