Thursday, October 21, 2010

Answering the question

The University of Oxford is famed for its interview questions -- not because they are particularly difficult in terms of demonstrating intensive academic knowledge but, rather, because they engage prospective students in ways of knowing. Dr. Lynn Robson, lecturer in English and frequent visitor to our college during the spring Oxford interviews at Georgetown College, disclosed one of the typical questions asked of Oxford-wannabees: "Why do you think an English student might be interested in the fact that Coronation Street has been running for 50 years?" [For those who may not be familiar, Coronation Street is a British soap opera featuring stock characters (from a host of social classes) such as the busybody, war vet, and pensioner as well as youthful rebel and university student.]

On the surface the question seems mundane. It throws students for a loop because it's not a particularly scholarly question that might yield a demonstration of knowledge of the thousands of pages of literature with which the interviewee may be familiar. Yet, it is an interesting conversation starter aimed at seeing how people respond to known material. Robson notes that this question “first and foremost...brings popular culture into the mix and shows that techniques of literary analysis can be applied to other media. It could also open up discussion about things such as techniques of storytelling; mixing humorous and serious storylines/characters; how a writer might keep viewers or readers engaged; collaborative writing; the use of serialisation, and how writers/texts might move from being perceived as ‘popular’ (like Dickens, say) to being ‘canonical’.”

How would you respond to a question like this? Examples might include:

  • What is the most influential work of art that you have seen face-to-face (not through a book or reproduction)?
  • What work of literature would you give as a gift to a graduating senior and why?
  • Why do you think the Mona Lisa is considered one of the most famous works of art?
  • How does a work of art, any work of art, demonstrate evidence of the production of new knowledge?

As we bring the semester into its final third, consider these kinds of questions as you approach art, design, and research projects. Consider what your work offers to its audience. Consider its purpose, goals, and objectives. Consider decisions made at every step of the way. Are you able to articulate your thoughts about your own production and that of others? How do you see your work fitting into the larger matrix of work produced as a graduating senior, an art student, an artist, or any other identifying group? Feel free to stop by my office and chat about ways of knowing and ways of answering the question...whatever it may be.

For more information on the Oxford interview, see the Times Higher Ed article.


Prof. Darrell Kincer said...

When I was a college student, there were a number of works that were influential to me and for varying reasons:

1. Van Gogh's Starry Night—cliche I know, but I saw this at the MOMA (I believe) before I was even an art major. What struck me was the sense of encountering art face to face. So much of my previous experience had been from books or posters, but I was confronted by the work, face to face; and almost immediately I could see the differences in the real work by comparison to reproductions. Just to see the color, the real color, changed my views on seeing art first hand.

2. Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water. Similar to Starry Night, what an experience to inhabit the space.

3. Perhaps one of the most meaningful was seeing the Miserere series by Georges Rouault. A collection of the prints were on display while I was at Asbury. They were quite moving for me and have left a lasing impression.

Earl Grey said...

There's nothing cliche about Starry Night or Fallingwater. I think your acknowledgement of them, along with many others', points to reasons why they are part of the canon in art history. Both are keepers in my books, too.

And I have no doubts on the ability of the Rouaults to captivate. His work is, in some ways, transcendent.

Mexifem said...

For me, some of the most influential works that I have seen are Richard Serra's large-scale metal pieces. I was never really a Serra fan until I saw his retrospective at MOMA a few years ago. His pieces took up entire galleries, winding in and out of one another, leaning first one way and then the next.

I've never had such a physical reaction to a work before. As I walked though them, I found myself leaning with the wall as the metal twisted back and forth. Going around a tight turn in the wall, I found myself speeding up to see what was coming and then slowing down again when the curve stretched out more. I still think it's one of the most enjoyable art experiences I've ever had. And it really cemented, for me, why I love contemporary installation and environmental works- you don't take them in with your eyes, you take them in and come to understand them phenomenologically, with your whole body.

Prof. Darrell Kincer said...

Mexifem, I know what you mean. I had a chance to experience them myself in the Moma's sculpture garden when I visited a few years ago. It was remarkable to be surrounded and enveloped by his works.