Space and Creation: Kenilworth's 2014 Open Studio

Apr. 21, 2014
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"For years I said if I could only find a comfortable chair I would rival Mozart," wrote twentieth century composer Morton Feldman. While most would not insist on such grandiose results, it is easy to commiserate with Feldman: the success of a creative endeavor is tied up with the space of creation. It seems intuitively true that the 'great American novel' could not be written in the stultifying square footage of a cubicle, but appropriate that 120 Days of Sodom was furiously scribed in the Bastille as the French Revolution was about to break out.

This is not to say that all artists desire comfort, as did Feldman. Others have courted discomfort. The great eighteenth century German poet Friedrich Schiller kept a drawer of his writing desk full of rotten apples. When the Muses began napping on the job, Schiller would rouse them awake with a sharp nostril-full. 

And at a young age, Dalí discovered that pain stirred his creative powers, writing, "Subsequently I have realized that in all my lectures I would seat myself in such a way as to have my foot so uncomfortably twisted that it hurt and that this pain could be accentuated at will. One day when this characteristic contraction coincided with my wearing of shoes that were painfully tight my eloquence reached its height. In my own case physical pain certainly augments eloquence; thus a tooth-ache often released in me an oratorical outburst." 

Proust's preference was a bit more relatable. Awake sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, smoke a bit of opium powder (to relieve asthma), write from bed in a cork-lined room designed to minimize the auditory intrusion of the outside world.

I was forcefully reminded of the importance of space in the creative process when visiting Kenilworth's open studios - an annual celebration in which the public is invited to view the work of the Peck School of the Art's students and faculty.

About ten years ago, UWM undertook the gargantuan project of transforming 500,000 square feet of warehouse space into, among other things, studio space for the students and faculty of the Peck School of the Arts.

The six floors are unobtrusively decorated, with the walls painted modern-museum white. Load bearing beams and other support structures are bared. The space is stark yet striking. It is the perfect decor for a place devoted to the possible since its purity is experienced as an invitation to create.

Peck's students and faculty have eagerly answered the invitation. The event has passed, but a glance at the schedule shows the overwhelming amount of creative activity contained in the Kenilworth building. Experimental documentaries, sexually explicit satires of disingenuously demure advertising, and harp playing that would have done Harpo proud were but some of the many offerings.

Sadly, the event is held but once a year. But it's never too soon to mark your calendars for next April, and of course, to keep yourself abreast of Peck's numerous upcoming events.


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