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Shire Gottlieb

STRAIGHT 'A's
ARE NOT ENOUGH


Hannibal, Missouri (population 20,000), was an idyllic place to grow up; but aside from Mark Twain's historic home and cave, there were no museums or galleries.  The Mississippi River offered miles of natural beauty, of course, as did the wooded terrain along its banks; but unless you count movies at the Orpheum Theatre, there were few venues for the arts.



Jan Stussy, "Death of the Magician,"
1984, acrylic on paper, 35 x 46".






Clinton Adams, "Triptych", 1993,
watercolor on paper, 6 1/4 x 9 1/16".
Perhaps because of my environment, I never thought about "art" per se, even though I had been drawing since I was old enough to hold a crayon.  I became an art major in high school as everyone expected, then enrolled at UCLA as a painting major when my family moved to California.
    
But even there, even while studying with Jan Stussy, Clinton Adams and art historian Karl With, I never truly put it together.  Though I received A's on my "Philosophy of Aesthetics" essays, I never connected the dots.  Like a sponge, I just listened to what I was told, absorbed what I saw, then wrote it all down.
    
Fast forward 25 years.  My husband is an attorney, an art room in our home is in constant use, and our kids have grown up surrounded by the arts.  Now that they've left and gone to college, I decide to go back and get my Masters.

Since we live in Long Beach I applied to CSULB, but there was a long waiting list for this highly respected art department; I enroll, instead, on a whim in Comparative Literature.  Ah, the fickle finger of fate. Two things immediately happened.
    
One.  My classes taught me a new way of thinking.  Instead of studying separate schools of thought (i.e. Classicism, Impressionism, Expressionism or Post-Modernism), we compared what the painters, poets, playwrights and musicians were doing at any given time in history.  We noted how different cultural periods affect the lives and expression of the artists who live within them.
    
Eureka! I found it. Artists create out of the world in which they live!  They either reflect what they see or reject it--create a mirror of what it is, a picture of what it isn't, or a vision of what they wish it would be.  In short, whatever existing conditions surround and confront artists during their lifetime, these events and contexts serve to influence and/or inspire their creativity.
    
Two.  The newly founded University Art Museum offered exciting exhibits every month, but few students on campus seemed aware of them.
    
Frustrated by low attendance at such first rate exhibits as Eric Fischl, Claire Falkenstein, Laddie John Dill, Laurie Brown, and Robert Motherwell, I walked into the campus newspaper to inquire why there were no reviews for the shows on campus.  When told they had no one to write them, I walked out with an unexpected job.

It was while reviewing exhibits for the CSULB Student Union that I was first challenged to look, see, think, feel, and make connections about the dialogue taking place between the artist and the viewer.

That was 25 years ago.  Since then, I have been writing about and teaching both art and theater.  As Stephen Sondheim so brilliantly says in his musical, "Sunday in the Park with George:"
"Art isn't easy...bit by bit, dot by dot, day by day...putting it together" is a life-long process that changes, just as life does, as time goes by.