How I Turned Sculpture into Performance Art (and Learned I was More of a Words and Ideas Guy)

Although I was eventually compelled to major in philosophy, I began college as a fine arts major. During my freshman year I took this 3-D Design course, which mainly concentrated on sculpture technique in various mixed media. Most of my work in that class was crap, although I seemed to be getting by okay grade-wise.

Eventually, however, I found myself in a panic on the Saturday night before my final project was due (on Monday). Being an undisciplined college freshman, I’d procrastinated. I hadn’t even begun!

The Big Final Project

The assignment was to create a 3-D self-portrait. This course also required students keep a a design journal documenting their creative process. The journal was turned in and evaluated with each assignment throughout the semester. This made the final project even more daunting.  I considered artistic creation to be a rather spontaneous, unplanned affair at the time. Consequently, my creative journal entries had been faked up to that point. First I’d make a sculpture. Then I’d fabricate a creation narrative to fit the piece.

For the final project I decided to start with the journal. Almost immediately the idea hit me. Why couldn’t I, in the flesh, serve as my own 3-D self-portrait? It was brilliant, primarily because it meant I didn’t have to do any actual sculpture work. I could spend the entire remaining time–which was a single day–writing the creative journal entry. I knew it needed to be a pretty powerful journal entry if I had any hope of a passing grade.

I spent Sunday writing and illustrating a powerful argument for why I was an ideal self-portrait of myself. It was a self-referential landmine, mind you, a rhetorical dance with what I would later learn that dialectal philosophers callthe problem of the identity of identity and difference.

The_Thinker,_Auguste_Rodin

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Evaluation Time

On Monday morning I walked into the studio. All of my classmates were there, nervously placing their creations of papier mache, plywood, clay, and various other media onto the work tables for evaluation. I had carried a small stool to the studio, and when the professor entered the room I stood on the stool, thrust my shoulders back, stared straight ahead, and stood statue still.

“Steve, it’s either an A or an F,” the professor told me as he walked past to collect my creative journal. All of the other students looked at me wide eyed and began to whisper among themselves.

The Take Away

I received an A+ for that final project. And years later I ran into one of my fellow classmates, who told me that my performance had become something of a legend, a story that professor told to his class year after year thereafter.

Given that my best creative efforts appeared in the journal and not in the sculpture, it makes sense that I abandoned fine art as a major after that semester and eventually found my way to philosophy. I’m an ideas guy, much more suited to narrative and conceptual endeavors than the plastic arts. However, I did accomplish something in that class. I turned sculpture into performance art.

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2 thoughts on “How I Turned Sculpture into Performance Art (and Learned I was More of a Words and Ideas Guy)

    1. I think you have to look at it from the bored art professor’s perspective, Leora. I suspect that after reviewing semester after semester of rather predictable, run-of-the-mill student work, one of his students finally took a big enough creative chance to actually surprise him. And with surprise comes delight. I’ll also add that you don’t have the benefit of reading the highly compelling rhetorical sophistry in that journal.

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