A Letter from Art Chair Paul Ramírez Jonas

A pig outline in green, purple, and blue.

Leang Tedongnge cave painting. photo / AA Oktaviana

Art at 100

"The present of past things is memory; the present of present things is attention; and the present of future things is expectation.” St. Augustine

One hundred years is just not a lot of time. What is remarkable about the visual arts as a field of study and practice is that it is a discourse based on tradition. Every artist in the department, whether a student, faculty member, or member of our staff imagines and creates work that makes meaning in relation to what came before and what will come after. Making art and meaning is a process of call and response, and it is about making a place for yourself within it. 

But, one hundred years is not a lot of time. For example, a current student might read this letter and google "oldest paintings in the world." The top hit would lead to: "Archaeologists Have Discovered a Pristine 45,000-Year-Old Cave Painting of a Pig That May Be the Oldest Artwork in the World." This student might then incorporate this painting of a wild pig from the Leang Tedongnge cave on the island of Sulawesi into next week's assignment, and suddenly 45,000 years is not a lot of time, either. 

One hundred years is not a lot of time. For 50-60,000 years, what we now call art has been consistently mixing and hybridizing across cultures. It has been and continues to be borrowed respectfully and not, outright stolen, cast into an imagined future, and revived from its own past. This cultural back-and-forth and side-to-side is a relay between individuals. And this constant motion has often managed to transcend membership, nationality, biology, religion, other forms of identity. Art suggests that we can knit together a self-organized, spontaneous group across cultures and time. Our community is one hundred years old this year.

Paul Ramírez Jonas
Chair of the Department of Art,
Director of Graduate Studies,
Professor of Art

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