As We Round The Final Turn

It’s saturday morning and it’s raining.  There isn’t much we can do about that except to accept it as part of the total Irish experience.  The town of Ballyvaughan is very active today as the Burren Bicycle Club is sponsoring the annual “Tour de Burren,” a 127 km bike race with over 2000 bicyclists participating from all over Europe.  The course winds it’s way through the varied terrain of the Burren which consists of relatively flat coastal roads to areas where the hills incline severely with corkscrew switchbacks.  No one seems deterred by the weather so if they can tolerate it, so can we.

There is also a great farmer’s market in town today.  Vendors set up shop at the local community center every saturday morning offering a variety of produce, home baked goods,  jellies and jams and preserves.  Everything is fresh from the farm and our students take advantage of this and stock up with fresh vegetables for the week.

I want to take a minute to more fully explain why we are here and what we are doing.  During the normal school year at Wheaton, students taking art courses are given a syllabus at the beginning of each semester that outlines the course objectives, dates, schedules, and assignments.  The typical art course consists of instruction, assignments, homework, critiques, etc..  The one area that differentiates courses taken at Wheaton from what we are trying to accomplish here in Ireland is that courses at Wheaton are assignment based with the assignments created by the teacher.  The Arts In Ireland course is based on the completion of a project conceptually developed by the students themselves.

Our expectation in Ireland is that each student will develop a visual concept based on limited but thorough exposure to many facets of Irish life, in a very short period of time.  We don’t impose any restrictions,  and we set no boundaries.  It is their responsibility to discover for themselves what it is about this place that fascinates or intrigues them, and then turn that into something visual.  Students are selected based on our belief that they are ready to take on this challenge.

Some examples of the choices they have made are:  pastel portraits of local farmers and folks met around town or at the college, scratch board drawings based on the look and feel of the Book of Kells, paintings that portray homes in the area with old Gaelic script collaged into the painting, anatomical drawings with exquisite detail added depicting legends, fairies etc., to name a few.  All of these projects were inspired by something the students have seen or heard or experienced since they arrived here.

I have repeatedly used the word “student” while writing this blog.  This is the last time I will do this.  On our first day here I asked all of them to no longer think of themselves as students but as artists.  There is something emancipating about the restrictive and limiting term “student” that feels so good when that heavy cloak is shed.  Here, they are free to think of themselves as artists, emerging artists, or up and coming artists.  We are all students in one way or another but these folks have passed the test and deserve to wear the name artist because of their performance.  I sincerely hope that they will continue to assume this new identity when they return to Wheaton in the fall.

When the course is complete, probably a few days after we return home, I will post a full blog featuring the work created here and a few of the artist statements that will accompany the work.  This will help you to see and understand the experience of creating the work and the impact that being here has had on each of our emerging artists.

I’m posting a few images made on the last sunny day we had, more for me than for you so I can remember what this place looks like in the sunshine.

The walls are magnificent in the Burren and are one of the main attractions, so here are a few.  One of our guides explained it this way: “when Christopher Columbus was sailing towards the new world, an Irishman was building a stone wall. When Napoleon was on a quest to conquer Europe, an Irishman was building a stone wall.  When Germans were blitzing their way through Europe, an Irishman was building a stone wall….and on and on and on.  Enjoy.