Communal Aesthetics — This past week, my family and I participated in Chihuly Nights at the Biltmore House in Asheville. During this special evening viewing of the garden exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures, the artwork is made even more striking by the use of lighting effects. The light plays off the colored glass, deepening the hues and sometimes creating a prism effect. The light also plays off the plants in the garden, casting dramatic shadows and enhancing the visual connections between the plants and the glass sculptures. Since Chihuly draws much of his inspiration from the botanical world, participating in Chihuly Nights is like touring a wondrous midnight garden.
Chihuly Nights has proven to be very popular. On the night that we went, we were joined by hundreds of other people as we wandered down the dimly lit garden paths and gazed at the glass sculptures. For me, viewing this exhibition in the presence of many other admirers of Chihuly’s art made the visit even more pleasurable. I did not know any of these people, but we were brought together through a shared aesthetic experience. I enjoyed observing the other participants’ reactions to the sculptures and listening to their comments. On several occasions, a person standing next to me struck up a brief conversation with me about some aspect of the artwork that we were viewing together. For the span of a few hours, the participants in Chihuly Nights became part of a community–a community that flickered into existence because of the catalyst of Chihuly’s sculptures.
My interest in communal aesthetics is not limited to the visual arts. One of the reasons I helped establish the Center City Literary Festival is that it provides participants with an opportunity to enjoy oral readings of poems and stories in the presence of other people who turn to the literary arts for pleasure and meaning. To this end, I am pleased to report that Angie Williams and I met last week with Ann Duplessis, the Associate Director of UNC Charlotte Center City, and we worked out the financial details for this year’s Center City Literary Festival. Although we still have not set a firm date for the festival, we know that it will take place in March 2019.
As I see it, Chihuly Nights and the Center City Literary Festival both tap into the the communal aesthetic that I associate with shared cultural experiences. This type of shared experience adds a new dimension to the works of art that the participants are enjoying together. The actual work of art, be it a glass sculpture of red reeds or a poem about a dodo bird, doesn’t change when it is the focal point of a communal aesthetic experience, but the perception of it does change. I am reminded of the umami flavor that foodies often mention. It is hard to define, but it makes a real difference.
English Learning Community News — The English Learning Community volunteered at KidsFest on Saturday. Members set up an activity table and helped kids of all ages create bookmarks. The festival was well attended, and the ELC stayed busy throughout the day making sure their young visitors had fun.
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Allison Hutchcraft and Juan Meneses have published two translations of contemporary Spanish poet Concha García’s poems in the current issue of The Massachusetts Review.
Quirky Quiz Question — The exhibit of Chihuly glass sculptures at the Biltmore House will close on October 7. However, there is a long-term exhibit of his work at a museum called Chihuly Garden and Glass, which is located in the city where Dale Chihuly currently lives. What is the the name of this city?