Sit down, open a vein, and a couple hours later walk out with a 20- or 30-page novella that a panel of thoughtful experts will comb through to judge your scholarly worth.
At least that’s how an academically weary doctoral student described the comprehensive exam experience as we sat in a classroom one floor above the watchful bust of Walter Williams.
Stuff your brain with research data, compile a stack of notecards with names, theories and facts connected to whatever it is you’ve spent the last few years keyword searching in academic journals. And then unleash it.
Of all the heady stuff that bounced around the room during that methods class, the thing that sticks with me the most is the anxiety we get to enjoy while anticipating comps.
Now, I sit 95 miles from the stony gaze of Mr. Williams, and I open a vein. Not to expel exam anxieties or anxieties about methods courses and doctoral seminars to come. No, something happened at the end of my summer break – something that compelled me back to this column after almost a year.
My wife and I reconnected with some old friends on the outskirts of tourist-choked Branson. Just being around them reminded me how satisfying it is to make art.
For me, writing is like sculpting. You mold paragraphs, chisel away flabby passages, delete words and add back what you hope is good stuff.
Anyway, Jenny and Olof Pierson are two working class artists who make you want to get creative. You look around at all of the good work they’ve done and you wonder what the heck you are waiting for. When they aren’t making art or helping others make art, the Piersons are building or remodeling or being cool parents of really creative children.
After we left, I thought of all the excuses I made for not writing anything besides academic papers, grocery lists and sticky notes to myself. Well, there’s no excuse for inaction. If you are not working on something creative, you are simply existing. And that’s not living.
This summer, we certainly lived it up. But we needed a change of pace after a few days of living next to the unblinking stare of a giant chicken that guards the entrance to a family restaurant, illuminated by the billboards and theaters for Baldknobbers and countless other comedic and country gospel singing sensations.
So, we found a nice pebble beach, swam in cool, clear water and then found our friends and met a few new ones.
Branson is fine, but on the other side of the tracks is this peaceful little place called Kimberling City. You can breathe there and look out at Table Rock Lake and not wonder when you will be able to make that left turn so you can make it to the show on time.
And Jenny and Olof brave Silver Dollar City traffic to call that peaceful little place home. Back in Branson, they ponder the future of public art from their new gallery, RockBottom Studios, next door to a massive outdoor shopping mall called the Landing where a fountain synchs fire and water to “Moondance” as fog rolls off the frigid waters of Lake Taneycomo.
In the meantime, they contemplate ways to lure anyone who appreciates art to the cool basement space they remodeled into an art gallery and social club. Their kids and skateboarders and other folks from the community paint and congregate in the main gallery surrounded by serious, some seriously expensive and some seriously inexpensive, original artwork.
So, here I am 160 miles from Kimberling City, wondering what’s new at RockBottom Studios, creating something new during the last weekend before classes begin.
I’m still getting used to the overwhelming feeling of meeting new students, reuniting with old students, hearing their success stories and having my heart broken by watching others drift away.
Art is an anxiety killer. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t experience a touch of it while making this, but who cares? That’s just part of the process.
Let’s make stuff.