Concept, Context, Content: Globalism and the Arts

June, 2004

by Tim Carrigan ’04

Stanford Watson (right) and Emma Martin (center) examine her work in Drawing VI. Also shown, Jade Sisti.

Stanford Watson (right) and Emma Martin (center) examine her work in Drawing VI. Also shown, Jade Sisti.

On a blustery Thursday afternoon in mid-March, a small group of students congregate on the second floor of the Draper & Maynard Building. Mostly senior art majors, they are here for their Drawing VI class with visiting artist Stanford Watson.

In the studio, there is little conversation, as everyone seems fully absorbed in the creative process. A recording of classical music plays softly in the background. Occasionally the group breaks out in small fits of playful laughter. Meanwhile, their teacher sits back and observes the young artists working, smiling to himself. Watson explains that the students are working independently on capstone projects. The class is exploring a variety of subject matter, including landscapes, portraits and abstractions. Later, Watson wanders around the studio talking with each artist individually, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of their work, challenging them to explore other possibilities.

Watson was born in Lucea Hanover, Jamaica in 1959, three years before the country was granted political independence from England. His childhood was largely defined by the island’s struggle to establish its national identity. His years in high school and the Jamaican School of Art continued to be tumultuous times of political unrest and economic instability in Jamaica.

Stanford Watson first came to the attention of the Plymouth State community in 2001 when his work was included in the Jamaican art exhibition In the Fullness of Time, curated by Director of Exhibitions Catherine Amidon. When Amidon learned that Watson would be spending time in New York as a visiting artist at APEXART, she arranged for him to spend the spring teaching in the PSU Art Department.

Watson says he enjoys the small class size of Drawing VI because he is able to give individual attention to each student.

As a teacher, Watson says he has a unique approach to education, which he credits to his cultural heritage and personal experiences. Watson hopes to illuminate the importance of concept, context and content in students’ work. “Students need to develop their own visual language to engage viewers in meaningful dialogue,” he notes.

In his own work, Watson addresses critical social issues pertaining to contemporary events, empowered to convey significant messages. He uses constructs of style such as color, texture and line to elucidate these meanings. For example, Watson painted Dissected Dog (1999) during his pilgrimage to Kenya, but it actually draws on an earlier personal experience in Jamaica. Police searched Watson while a stray dog looked on, barking incessantly. After finding nothing incriminating on Watson, one of the officers turned and shot the dog. Watson felt that the negative social conditions he encountered in Kenya paralleled the experiences of his own people in Jamaica. In this painting, the dog becomes a metaphor, not just for Jamaicans and Kenyans, but all people who are defenseless and oppressed.

In addition to working with PSU art students, Watson is teaching Caribbean Identities, an upper division course. Here he seeks to engage students in a new appreciation and understanding of other cultures, and to assist students in overcoming assumptions regarding the nature of the developing world. As an educator and an artist, Watson believes that “it is important to provide students with opportunities to discover other worlds.” For many of the 25 students in the class this is their first such in-depth exposure to another culture, and he praises them for their hunger to better understand people beyond themselves and their immediate surroundings.

“Stanford’s role on campus is to bring a deeper understanding of Caribbean culture and people, and their contribution to American realities, to PSU and the community,” said Bill Haust, chair of the art department. “His interactions will help us all to better understand our multicultural world, and appreciate the value of peaceful unity in diversity.”

Watson is also participating in a semester long lecture series about contemporary African art and culture, The New African Experience, organized by Watson, Amidon and Jeanne Dubino, 2003-2004 campus diversity scholar. It will provide opportunities to explore issues of globalism, diversity and multiculturalism. “I want to sensitize Americans to aspects of Caribbean culture, including true history and social constructs,” Watson declares. “This will help them understand the Caribbean influence on aspects of mainstream American culture.”

Dubino agrees. “Stanford has put a face on Jamaica for our campus. We are honored to have him here.”

Tim Carrigan is a senior with an interdisciplinary major in marketing and art history. Carrigan is speaker of the Student Senate and treasurer of the class of 2004.

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