August 23, 2009

Teaching That Last Little Bit of Magic in Mosaic

In the course of creating art, there are sometimes phenomenon that are as persistent as they are difficult to explain. This is particularly true when I make my mosaics. Mosaic making is a slow process of assembling items piece by piece. I incorporate a lot of found objects in my mosaics which often slows the process down even more since it might take a while before I find just the right thing to finish a piece. There is some magic to this. When I start nearing the end of a work, with just a few more pieces to go, that last element which ties the work together and fits exactly into a preformed niche, often presents itself to me in a serendipitous fashion. I might find it in an antique store, someone’s attic, or even on the street. It is almost as if the yearning of the incomplete space conjures up just the right thing to fill it.
When teaching, I usually like to be able to explain every thing that goes into an art work. But lately I’ve added an element of mystery to the heuristic process - a blank space in which something wonderful can happen. In my most recent mosaic course, I incorporated the mystery of the desired fill-in-the-black piece when I explained to my students that just at the critical juncture in creating a work of mosaic art, the right piece will appear. To their wonderment, this actually happened. A student working on a rather ordinary mosaic consisting of rather mundane strata of green tesserae was presented with an old porcelain doll’s head by an instructor teaching a class in an adjacent room. While passing through my class, he noticed that her art work needed something and thought that this old doll’s head he had lying around would be just the thing. It was. The head with the green flowers in the hair became an effective focal point for the mosaic. Another student found an effective narrative for her work in a found tile that had a primitive depiction of a man with a club and a reclining woman. She fragmented the tile and created rivers of glass between them. Another student had a green stone in her bag of goods that helped move the green colors around the primitive tile mosaic.
Perhaps there is no real mystery to the phenomenon of the last little bit of magic that goes into a mosaic. It could be that the suggestion of Devine mosaic intervention itself makes students more receptive to exciting possibilities in their art. Or perhaps, staring at the empty pockets of space causes the shape of those spaces to be carried in one’s mind during the journeys outside the studio during the course of the day and therefore easy to see objects that fit the mental template. But explanations can take the fun out of creating, so I just enjoy the seemingly spontaneous discoveries in making art and hope that my students do as well.
The featured mosaic is by my student Karen Murchie.

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