I was recently reading John McPhee's new book, Draft No. 4, and a there was a passage that struck me about how he uses a dictionary in his writing process. McPhee says, "I spend a great deal more time looking up words I know than words I have never heard of—at least ninety-nine to one." He then gives examples of how looking up very common words leads him to much more compelling and accurate language in his final drafts—citing examples of definitions he has utilized. Simple enough, to be sure. However, the language McPhee presents in his examples felt far richer and more nuanced than what I typically find when I perform a dictionary search on, say, my phone. My immediate thought was, "What dictionary is he using, and how do I get one?!" Call me naive, but until that moment I just hadn't thought it could matter so much. 

As it turns out, I'm not the first to be so enamored with McPhee's attitude on dictionary usage. James Somers, who often contributes to The Atlantic wrote a fantastic blog post back in 2014 (shorty after McPhee's chapter had been published by The New Yorker) that not only locates the Webster's edition McPhee prefers, but goes one step further in showing you how to set your digital devices to offer that exact edition. Somers' accompanying article serves as a tidy introduction to Noah Webster and the many dictionaries that followed in his wake. Somers elegantly illustrates why these early editions have never been bested. If you want to peruse some 1913 edition definitions, you can find a website with its entries here: https://www.websters1913.com/. You can find Somer's post here: http://jsomers.net/blog/dictionary



Source: http://jsomers.net/blog/dictionary
AuthorMathew McConnell

Got Art? Show Us! | Honors College Blog

Deconstructing Art is a week-long, pop-up art gallery hosted by the University of Arkansas Honors College. The gallery will run from February 19 – 23, 2018, and will feature a panel of arts professionals followed by a reception on the evening of February 22.

  • What we’re looking for: Undergraduate student art that will help frame a conversation on the nature of art and the role art plays in society. We welcome any type of art—funky, traditional, modern, serious—to be installed for a week in Gearhart Hall. If you think you have something to offer, and you know you can install it with either your own supplies or our limited offerings, fill out the form below and let us see your work! We are looking for artwork for students from all disciplines, whether you view art as a hobby or a career.
  • Need to know: If selected, you will be in charge of installing your work in Gearhart Hall on Sunday, February 18, 2018. The Honors College can only offer a limited amount of supplies – basically, hooks and a hammer.
  • Submit your work here: Deconstructing Art Submission Form
  • Final deadline: February 1, 2018
Source: https://honorsblog.uark.edu/got-art-show-u...
AuthorMathew McConnell

Adam Posnak and Mathew McConnell were recently featured in the spotlight section of Ceramics Monthly for their innovative "Pots as Textbook" approach to Wheelthrowing (here is the original pdf of the printed feature). 

UARK Pots as Textbooks.jpg

Ceramics Monthly: Why do Introduction to Wheel-Throwing students at the University of Arkansas buy a handmade pot in lieu of a textbook?

Mathew McConnell: I had been bringing to my classes portions of my personal collection that were relevant to each assignment. After some time, I realized I was articulating something far beyond the technical aspects of a successful pot when talking about these distinct and well-known characters that inhabit my daily life. I was speaking in a very personal, even emotional way about them. I show my students the first real cup I bought and talk about all the phases of my life it has followed me through. I talk about the pots that I know are bad technically, but that always sit at the front of my cupboard. I also gently upwrap the shards of a piece that has been broken for years, but I can’t bear to throw away. These pots don’t simply serve as anecdotes for me. I truly feel connected to them, enriched by them; they have sensitized me to the world in ways I can’t fully express. I desperately want my students to know those feelings, too. And, I’m not sure you can make good pots if you haven’t been affected on a deeply personal level by them. So, what to do? The answer seemed pretty obvious: force them to buy great pots and live with them!

Adam Posnak: I instituted this practice after observing Mathew’s teaching. I thought it was such a sensible thing to do, and pure genius.

CM: How do students react when you tell them? 

AP: I have found students to be fairly enthusiastic. Though a minority of students have some prior pottery-making experience, they have not typically engaged in an in-depth discussion related to the experiential and visceral facets of interacting with pots. I often tell them that for most people without specialized training, knowledge of pottery would be comparable in the realm of painting to only being familiar with paintings of dogs playing cards; the lowest common denominator (not that I have anything against paintings of dogs playing cards).

MM: I must assume that every student thinks we are trying to lure them into a cult of some sort! And, to be fair, I guess we are. Most are happy to join—it’s an unexpected and welcome departure from the well-worn pedagogical paths they are accustomed to traveling. Some have prior experience with handmade pottery, but almost no one has been asked to concentrate so fully on absorbing the intricacies of its making, handling, and aesthetics—and, in turn, how to translate those observations into language and form. CM: How do experiences using the pots inform students’ learning?

AP: Again, I think it comes down to the interactive aspect of pottery. Students are often surprised by the profundity of their feelings toward pots, which begins to develop almost immediately upon acquiring and using their cups. They often remarked upon the manner in which a pot continually reveals itself over the course of time. Opinions and assumptions about a particular pot evolve over time and through use as well, and sometimes a student may actually come to dislike a pot in use that she/he was attracted to visually, and vice versa. 

MM: Agreed. I also like that it gives them a standard to strive for that exists beyond what any student could accomplish in a semester. We ask them to purchase pots from vendors that only have works by highly esteemed potters, so the students have the best shot at experiencing what excellence truly means. Being able to own, hold, and live with this kind of excellence ultimately propels more sophisticated work from the students. Even when they don’t achieve what they are after, they have a far better chance of understanding where they came up short. Suddenly, they’re not looking to their instructor to explain why; they know why.

CM: What is the most unexpected outcome of this approach? 

AP: As a teacher I am always taken aback by the intuitive way students take to pots. Sometimes I think of an appreciation for pottery as a relatively rarified, acquired taste, but in practice students naturally possess a sophisticated, instinctual bond with pots. I love the enthusiasm that ensues when they begin to use pots, and realize the potential of working with a form of expression that engages literally all of the senses. I point out in a class introduction that no matter how much you love a sculpture or a painting, the chances are relatively low they will ever touch your lips; a simple statement that seems to resound. 

MM: What I find most rewarding is the way a student’s purchased pot unfolds to them as they progress through the skills covered in the course. When they receive the work they may feel an immediate connection, and they may even be able to articulate some pretty sophisticated analyses right off the bat, but there’s nothing like watching a student connect the dots between an action they have just performed and a similar action taken on the pot they have been studying. There’s a real kinship developing in these moments, and an understanding between maker and maker that is wholly unique.

*Originally published in December 2017 issue of Ceramics Monthly, page 72. http://www.ceramicsmonthly.org. Copyright, The AmericanCeramic Society. Reprinted with permission.

AuthorMathew McConnell
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After last year's hiatus, we are once again hosting a NYC intersession course in May. It's going to be great—it's New York! There will be an informational session on January 30th in the ceramics studio if you are looking for more details.

NYC Poster Pic.jpg
AuthorMathew McConnell


The VCUarts Fountainhead Fellowship in Craft and Material Studies is a 9-month residency for recent MFA graduates. Fellows are provided with the opportunity to concentrate on their work, build community, gain valuable teaching experience, and participate in a vital, progressive community of artists at Virginia Commonwealth University. The Fountainhead Fellowship is a joint project of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, the Departments of Craft and Material Studies, Painting + Printmaking, and Sculpture + Extended Media as well as Fountainhead Development Services. The residency is sited in a newly renovated complex built to eco-friendly, EarthCraft standards. This mixed-use community includes artists’ studios, apartments, a café, an outdoor swimming pool, a dog park and other amenities.

The fellowship program runs mid August 2018 through mid May 2019.

2018 DEADLINE: March 15th, 2018

Source: https://arts.vcu.edu/craft/fountainhead-fe...
AuthorMathew McConnell

Sad, sad news in ceramics today.

From Artforum:

Artist Betty Woodman, a sculptor known for ceramic works that are playful yet rigorous combinations of, among other things, Etruscan sculpture, Egyptian art, Sèvres porcelain, and Henri Matisse, has died.

Woodman was born in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1930. She described her first encounter with clay in a high school art class, according to an interview with Priscilla Frank in the Huffington Post, as “sort of like magic . . . We were given some clay and using our hands we could just make it into a shape. The first thing I ever made was a pitcher. As far as I was concerned that was what I wanted to do. It fell into my hands.” She studied pottery at Alfred University’s School for American Craftsmen, graduating in 1950. In 1952 Woodman traveled to Italy, where traditional forms of earthenware, such as majolica, made a deep impression upon her. Since then, she had spent a portion of every year living there with her husband, the artist George Woodman, who died last March. (The Woodmans are a famous artist family: Their daughter, the late Francesca Woodman, was a photographer; their son, Charles Woodman, who is still living, is an electronic artist. A documentary about the clan, The Woodmans, was released in 2010.)

Betty Woodman has had numerous solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe, including “Florentine Interiors” (2017) at Galerie Hubert Winter in Vienna; “Theatre of the Domestic” (2016) at the ICA in London; “Interior Views” (2014) at Galerie Francesca Pia in Zurich; and “Of Botticelli” (2013) at Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi in Berlin. Her last New York solo exhibition was in 2016 at Salon 94—the gallery represents her—and was titled “Breakfast At The Seashore Lunch In Antella.” “The Art of Betty Woodman,” which opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2006, was the artist’s first retrospective in the US.

“Unfussy but remarkably erudite, her pottery comfortably foregrounds ceramics’ conventions and place within (or outside of) this erstwhile art-historical canon,” said Suzanne Hudson of Woodman’s show at LA’s David Kordansky Gallery for the April 2015 issue of Artforum. “The rigor of Woodman’s engagement with the medium was here belied by the visceral convolutions of color and runny streaks of paint that turn the surface of her vessels into canvaslike grounds.”

Source: https://www.artforum.com/news/id=73351
AuthorMathew McConnell