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The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice by John Maeda, Mara Hermano, Rosanne Somerson

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Text and Context: Outward in All Directions

Daniel Cavicchi

How does a RISD education support the formation and illumination of a meaningful “context” around and within the “text” of works of art and design? In part through its robust Liberal Arts curriculum, which both cultivates deep learning in the humanities and fosters essential, integrated interplay between studio and seminar. Daniel Cavicchi, Dean of Liberal Arts, explores the inextricable connections between any artwork and its social and historical surroundings, highlighting examples in which such connections are profound expressions of critical and ethical thinking.

 

Musicologist Charles Seeger once explained that in order to best understand his paper on the “unitary field theory of music,” one had to begin in the middle and “then work outward in all directions.”1 Seeger was being provocative, suggesting connections between music and the broader realms of speech, behavior, and culture. However, as someone who spent much of his career working to escape the confines of formal analysis, he was also pointing to alternative ways in which one might derive meaning from an encounter with any single work, or text. The conventional way to read a text — from beginning to end — allows the text’s structure to shape the reading experience and its meaning. We thus typically locate meaning “in” the text. Beginning at its middle and moving outward in all directions, however, defies this convention and reveals how any text and its meaning ...

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