It is no surprise, then, that next week’s event featuring Kevin Fitzgerald and renowned impressionist Raoul Middleman goes under the heading “symposium.” While the term has developed a dryer sense in recent times, in it’s truest sense a symposium is a kind of ideas-fueled party where a group of people share and question notions about the whats and whys of a particular concept.
What separates a symposium from a lecture is that there isn’t a logical conclusion, let alone a logical progression and this is what puts Middleman squarely in his element. Speaking earlier this month on the planned symposium, Middleman didn’t want to lock down a topic. Although he’s been a professor of art at the Maryland Institute College of Art for decades, lecturing hasn’t ever been his bag.
“He was a popularizer in the classroom,” Fitzgerald said. “When he finished with you you felt like if you weren’t going to be a painter you were wasting the rest of your life.”
Middleman gives the impression of having always had the attitude that comes from overwhelming passion; as if he loves making, talking about and teaching art too much to take it seriously. It’ not as if he’s flip about it but he refuses to add mystery that isn’t there. It’s in that way he helps to reveal the more basic, truer mysteries involved in even thinking about art.
Fitzgerald studied under Middleman and even though the student has gone a different route in his studio pieces, his teacher’s influence is with him whenever he’s working. The two have done several talks of this kind before and Fitzgerald agreed with Middleman’s assessment that to try and totally plan the route of a symposium wouldn’t only be counterproductive but might actually cut off topics in which people are truly interested.
Among Fitzgerald’s favorite Middleman stories — and it’s clear that Middleman is one of those people who is kind of a story-generating machine — has to do with a lecture about the point of impressionism.
In it the professor pantomimed taking a train ride to Paris. He made a big production of getting off the train, walking through the streets and marveling at all the buildings. In mid-sentence he wolf-whistled at an imaginary woman and elbowed his imaginary friend saying, “Look at her.”
The story translates poorly, but that’s not the story’s fault. It is the fault of the teller. Finding something among all the potential astounding sights and experiences in the world that jumps out and then getting it to jump out for others takes more than a talented hand. It takes a commitment to the telling. A way of making the story translate above the mere facts of the matter.
From Middleman’s perspective it’s all about engaging the audience which is why he’s so excited to hold another symposium with Fitzgerald.
“Some people are shy and introverted, I’m not one of them,” Middleman said. “I’m really kind of a superficial ham.”
What’s more likely the case is that, as an impressionist, he struggles daily with the difference between what an individual, or every individual, is presented with by their senses as opposed to what’s really there. The impressionist. like his audience, sits on a peak between two chasms: having the experience and relating it. And as a result is as interested in engaging in conversations about how we know what is real as much as he is questions about brush and color choice.
The result is that the symposium will be an enjoyable stimulating evening for anyone to whom intellectual stimulation appeals, not art enthusiasts alone. The only thing the presenters seem to require is an audience to engage with, rather than to lecture at.
“I work best if I’m fielding things out of the blue,” Middleman said.
This is a pretty rare event for Berlin but both men said they hope it’s one that gives people a taste for it because it’s certainly an evening worth having with some regularity.