Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment | Forbidden Topics and Sheesh, Haven’t I Seen That Before?

At the beginning of this semester, a new sign appeared in the printmaking clean room. It read: “Screenprinting elective list of forbidden topics: rasta rolls, unicorns, pizza, TMNT.” In case you were wondering, I believe “rasta rolls” are rainbow roll-ups using green, red, and black. [Ed. note: the colors in a "rasta roll" are in fact red/green/yellow, see comment section below]. I’m told the teacher who made this sign was so incredibly sick of seeing class after class of undergrads make really lame prints, though as someone who participated in a unicorn print portfolio exchange a couple years back, I use “lame” in the gentlest sense. This idea of recurring trends in art is interesting because I think most artists pride themselves on their originality, though as that saying goes…great artists steal. What it is you’re borrowing or stealing, however, is pretty dang important. If you even know you’re doing it.

I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a first year MFA group critique.  As a second year candidate, I was supposed to offer up some kind of great advice or thought-provoking question.  My two-cents? “Will there be text in your final book?” While I was very mentally present at this critique, I couldn’t help but be completely distracted by the number of familiar topics I see explored fairly frequently in book arts.  Of course, all of these topics are handled differently and usually in very interesting ways. I sat down and drafted this here (almost) exhaustive list of very acceptable / “explored” topics in book arts today:

  • Dreams and nightmares
  • The Cosmos
  • Maps and topography
  • Antiquated technologies
  • Puns and other language play
  • Journeys (see maps)
  • Family/Mom problems
  • Dislocation (places, not joints)
  • Childhood
  • Light
  • Swarms
  • Metamorphosis

Yep, I counted and I have made work relating to 90% of these themes.  What is that? I’ve polled a good number of people (like 5) about why this is, and have gotten some suggestions. Maybe book arts just attracts people who have these things on their minds. Maybe it’s because programs hand-pick students who are already making work about these topics. Maybe we’re doing the best we can with a finite group of topics. Maybe it’s…the collective unconscious.

Actually, I do remember hearing somewhere that there is a finite number of basic plot lines in literature. It’s a hotly contested issue to some (and is almost offensive to a special, select few), but apparently one thing that can be agreed upon is that plots are born of conflict. There is something that needs some resolve and this need is what inspires us to write novels or make artwork. Or write this here blog entry that asks questions and gives no answers. Anyhow, here’s a video I watch that also has very few answers, but offers loads of inspiration:
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  1. Greg Pizzoli says:

    Ha. I’m the teacher who made the list you mention. To clarify, a “rasta roll” is a rainbow roll consisting of red/green/yellow.

    I feel confident that after you get a few years out of the program (as I am now), the well tread plot lines will reveal themselves even more clearly.

    I think it’s on both students and faculty to make the work both personal and accessible.

    Reply

  2. My printmaking teacher forbade the use of cheesecloth in our designs.

    I guess if you round up a bunch of people in a similar stage of life/youth and move them to a new place where they’re living away from their families for the first time and forming new tribes of friends, you’re going to end up with an exhaustive output of metamorphosis, “family/mom problems” (ha!), swarms, journeys, dislocation and childhood.

    Maybe if you had some sort of traveling printmaking bus making stops all over in different communities the poor printmaking teachers could finally see some new material.

    Personally I’d like to see the demise of “hot scary/dreamy lady representing [x]” in painting. But we’ve been stuck on that for like 150 years. At least.

    Reply

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