Entry begun on Friday, May 13, 2:40 am
During the three weeks in which Julia Oldham, Matt Kish, Robert Del Tredici, Dawn Coleman, and Beth Schultz came to Cincinnati to help Steven Matijcio, Marta Hewett, and myself install, open, and interpret the 2-man Moby show at the Contemporary Arts Center and the 9-woman Moby show at the Marta Hewett Galley, students in my class in Moby-Dick and the Arts at NKU were completing their semester by presenting their final projects and taking their final exam. On the first day of any class in Moby-Dick and the Arts I always tell students that the best part of the course will be the last two weeks in which they will be presenting their final projects to their classmates, and that has again turned out to be the case during the 2016 Spring Semester. This group has come a long way since our first class meeting on January 12 when I asked each student to write on a sheet of paper the first word that came to mind when they thought of Melville’s Moby-Dick. The words from the English majors in the course were: tragedy, conquering, tedious, classic, epic, timeless, whale, daunting, and story. The words from the Honors students in the course were: revenge, vengeance, illusive, Hamlet, Ishmaelian, vast, whale, and struggle. A few would perhaps choose the same word for the novel at the end of the semester, but most would probably choose something quite different. Here are some of the artworks that students presented as their final projects and displayed temporarily near the fireplace in the kitchen of the Honors House.
Part of impromptu art exhibition
Students in my classes in Moby-Dick and the Arts have the option of presenting a research paper or creative artwork as their final project in the course. In this class, preliminary proposals were due on Thursday, March 24. On Tuesday, April 12, each student signed up for a fifteen-minute period during the last two weeks of class in which to present her or his project. We had fifteen active members in the class, so three were scheduled for Tuesday, April 19 (the day Julie Oldham visited our class), with four more scheduled for Thursday, April 21 (the day before the Kish and Del Tredici show opened at the Contemporary Arts Center). We also had four students scheduled for Tuesday, April 26, and for Thursday, April 28.
Julia Oldham with class on first presentation day, April 19
Of the fifteen students in this class, eleven presented works of visual art, one wrote a one-act play, one wrote a sequence of poems, and two wrote research papers. Works of visual art had to be accompanied by an artist statement, but the written component of each presentation was not until the last presentation day. The ‘lite’ final exam, in which students commented on each other’s projects, as well as what they learned from doing their own, was on Thursday, May 5 (the day before Beth Schultz came to town for her gallery talks at the two Moby-Dick shows in Cincinnati). Here I will briefly summarize each presentation in the order in which it was given, drawing upon the written submissions and final exams as well as the presentations themselves.
Kimberly Kromer with her Corpses and Ghosts shadowbox
Kimberly Kromer was our first presenter on April 19. She is a senior English major and The Corpses and Ghosts is the first artwork she has made to show to others. She decided to “go with a scene that made me feel emotional.” When reading the “Shark Massacre” chapter, “it dawned on me how much sadness I felt for the beasts of the sea. These animals may be dangerous (or look dangerous) but they still feel pain as real as we do. They are living creatures that die at our expense.” She chose to set her scene in a shadow box “because it is much more in your face and forces you to look at it.” For the whale, she “chose to make it white even through it wasn’t Moby Dick in the chapter. I still feel like it should represent Moby Dick because every whale did for the crew, especially Ahab. The quote I chose for the chapter is, ‘it is unsafe to meddle with the corpses and ghosts of these creatures.’ Animals, especially ‘vicious’ ones, aren’t seen as having feelings or souls. When in fact, these animals feel every bit of pain that we can feel. If they lose a child, they grieve; if a harpoon hits them, they will bleed in misery. The crew members did not respect the corpses of the whales or the sharks they killed. I found myself more appalled by the way they were treated after death than by the death itself.” In the end, Kimberly was “very happy” at the way the project turned out. She learned that “my work did not need to be perfect or the best [in the class] in order for it to be wonderful.”
Detail of The Corpses and Ghosts by Kimberly Kromer
Kirsten Hurst after presenting excerpts from True Places
Kirsten Hurst presented after Kimberly on Day 1. She is a senior English major and Honors minor. I was impressed when she summarized her one-act play True Places in class, and even more so when I read the script the submitted. Her title comes from Ishmael’s statement that Kokovoko, Queequeg’s island home, “is not down on any map; true places never are.” Her subject comes from Ahab’s obsessive, self-destructive, response to the loss of his leg that has impaired his manhood—which is matched in Kirsten’s play by the way Maya Volpe responds to the hysterectomy she feels has robbed her of her femininity. Kirsten’s gift for scene setting is seen in the first two sentences of her stage directions: “The cluttered, eccentric home of Maya Volpe looks like it belongs in a flower-themed museum. Tulips, roses, and daisies wilt in ornate vases around the room, illuminated only by the ghost of sunlight that streams through heavy sunflower-printed curtains on the left side of the stage.” Her gift for dialogue flashes throughout the six compact scenes of this 23-page script, Maya deploying a quick wit and vulgar tongue in a masterly, impulsive way that, unfortunately, ultimately, only serves to hurt herself and others. Kirsten learned from this project that “I could write a play about someone chasing a metaphorical white whale and have it hold as much connection to Melville’s novel as a direct adaptation.”
Opening dialogue of True Places by Kirsten Hurst
Our third presenter on April 19, David Fritz, a senior English major, was unable to present because of an automobile accident; he was to return the following week.
Marla Mackey presenting “I see you, Ahab”
Marla Mackey, a junior English major, was our first presenter on Day 2, Thursday, April 21. “I see you, Ahab,” her photographic project, is a striking example of making the novel your own. Like Kirsten, she was struck by “Ahab’s struggle with his madness, with his obsession.” Marla “latched onto the theme of mental illness and applied it to my own life. I really didn’t know where I was going with this piece when I first began. I had so many ideas, but did not consider photographing myself until I saw a roll of red duct tape sitting among my partner’s belongings. The idea just hit me, that I wanted that duct tape on my face and I needed to capture images of my silence, images of my struggle.” As Marla tried to work “with the white space and the theme of obsession within the white space, I fell into thoughts about race and how I do not feel empowered in white space. . . . I remember thinking how appropriate the color red was. . . . It makes me think of our most vulnerable parts, the blood and organs inside our bodies. I am exposing myself and I think exposure is a large portion of what this class is about, beyond being a literature and art class. I think Moby-Dick inspires us to expose ourselves because we join in this chase and somehow begin our own chase outside of Melville’s story, seeing our white whale alongside Ahab. I think I have many white whales. Learning how to manage my mental health is one.” Marla learned from this project “that creating artwork is a great outlet for me. In facing myself, I only uncovered more aspects of my life that I need to explore.”
Detail of “I see you, Ahab” by Marla Marley.
Liz Loch presenting her sequence of poems
Liz Loch, a senior English major, was our next presenter on Day 2. She began her presentation by saying “I’m not a poet.” She began her artist statement by writing, “To be honest, I was a little shocked a how much everyone liked my poems.” Liz hopes “to write as my job some day, both business and creative, but I still feel like an amateur most of the time—especially where poetry is concerned. Poetry is not like prose writing. Both require a bold, determined, and curious mind, but poetry requires you to pour out your soul with every word. It’s a little terrifying. If I want to write decent poetry about Moby-Dick, I have to be willing to let myself be vulnerable, much in the same way Ahab is with Starbuck when they reconcile and Ahab with Pip after the boy is rescued.” Liz found herself “relating to Ahab more than the other characters as I wrote my poetry, even though only two poems are about him. This is because I felt a little insane doing this project. Not because I was diving into a creative outlet I had only once dipped my toes into, but because I wrote my poems late at night. I literally felt I could not type a word down until it was nine o’clock or later. I tried to go to bed early, but something stopped me every time. It was infuriating, just as I imagined the sane side of Ahab was angry with himself at his succumbing to his obsession.” What Liz learned from this project was “to be vulnerable writing poetry.”
One of 12 poems by Liz Loch
Hayley Kirley with map of her Moby-Dick
Hayley Kirley, a senior English major and Honors minor, was our third presenter on Day 2. Her unique project was entitled “The Association Spiral: a Map of My Moby-Dick.” Her goal was “to fully illustrate how I manipulate the novel, Moby-Dick, in my mind. I wanted to show how the novel lives in my brain and yet fully make the words and concepts my own. I created this piece in much the same method that I would write a paper on the subject. I gathered quotes that particularly responded to the themes I wanted to explore. A lot of these quotes had to do with the visible and invisible worlds that Melville describes.” Hayley compares this to “the relationship between blank canvases and what is written or drawn onto them. How and what we put onto these invisible worlds is very important but the blankness is important as well. This is why I wanted to include the blank spaces in my Melville Spiral in the center of the piece. This conflict is central to what I was thinking about when I made my piece.” The central spiral includes a continuous line of text running into the end of the curve and back out again. The names in black at the upper left correspond, in their size and lettering, to the power dynamics on the ship. The name “Rachel” in white at the lower right, imposed over obsessively inscribed “Ahab” in black, embodies the contrast between male and female values. The handwriting in red beyond the outer edge of the spiral includes passages from Freud, Faulkner, and Langston Hughes that speak to central issues of the novel. Although “the words and passages are not mine,” Hayley notes, “I have cut and manipulated them to fully address how I think and respond to texts.” In all of these ways, this project allowed Hayley to “delve deeper into my interpretation of the novel.”
Word spiral over coffin shape in Hayley Kirley’s My Map of Moby-Dick
Kylie Stigar-Burke presenting her Chowder soup bowl
Kylie Stigar-Burke, a senior English major, was our fourth presenter on Day 2. She made a soup bowl inspired by “Chowder,” her “favorite chapter in the entire novel.” I loved her reason for preferring this chapter to all others. “Chowder” was “one of the last chapters that the audience saw Ishmael and Queequeg for who they really are. It was one of the last times these two men were the truest versions of themselves before they took part I a journey that would change them forever. There is something about the finality of the chapter that still moves me to think about even now. The last time these men would really have fun and relax, the last time the two would really enjoy their friendship without the pressure of whaling.” She decided to make a soup bowl because Mrs. Hussey’s “chowder” was “the last thing the two could really share together.” Her next big question was what color to make it, and I love the way she approached this issue too. “When I close my eyes and envision Ishmael and Queequeg, I envision a swirling green and brown, so I decided to chase after that in my soup bowl.” She associated green with Ishmael “because the color itself is very natural, like Ishmael is. Nothing about him is forced or flamboyant.” Queequeg “had to be the brown” because of his “warm and generous soul. This brown can fit into anyone’s heart or home.” She had originally thought of painting Queequeg’s tattoo on top of the colors, but then she came up with a better idea She “painted a white whale right where the two colors meet in the middle because without this whale, Ishmael and Queequeg would never have met or become friends.” When she first saw the “completed bowl” she was “unhappy with the flaws I saw.” But then she saw that to obsess like that would be “to fall victim into Ahab’s madness.” When she looked at her creation “through Ishmael’s eyes,” she realized that “this odd little bowl is something that you could stare at forever, something that everyone can enjoy.”
Chowder soup bowl by Kylie Stigar-Burke
By the end of Day 2, we suddenly had enough art work on hand to begin an impromptu exhibition in the kitchen of the Honors House. Perhaps the location was influenced by the soup-bowl shape of Kylie’s Chowder or the bread-pan shape of Kimberly’s The Corpses and Ghosts, but it seemed natural to begin displaying what we had on the kitchen table. As we left for the weekend, anyone visiting the House before next Tuesday would be able to see a nice ensemble in which Hayley’s spiral “map” and Marla’s photographic self-interrogation shared the space with Kimberly’s sharkish shadow box and Kylie’s companionable Chowder.
First stage of impromptu exhibition in Honors House
The weekend between our two presentation weeks was the one which both Moby-Dick exhibitions opened in Cincinnati, with at least five students from the class visiting the CAC for the live drawing by Kish and Del Tredici or the gallery talks by the two artists the next afternoon. I love seeing my students out in those exhibitions, and even being interviewed by Caitlin Sparks for the film she and Jay Gray are making of the two shows.
Kimberly, Lauren, Rachel, and Liz at the CAC for Kish and Del Tredici live drawing
Rachel Prokopius presenting her Cetology whales
Our third day of classroom presentations, Tuesday, April 26, began with Rachel Prokopius, a sophomore Biology major and Honors minor. She needed a whole table to present the fourteen Cetology whales she had made of clay, paint, paint brush bristles, Gorilla glue, honey, and maple syrup. She had begun this project “long before Spring Break because I knew how long it was going to take me to get everything done. I mean, I had fourteen whales to build! That’s a lot of clayworking.” Rachel was “really proud” of her process in this project because it required so much patience, not usually her strong suit. She was also proud of overcoming her previously uncontrollable drive for “perfection.” In this she was helped by “our discussion of art in class.” Rachel was angry when she heard that last year some art professors had “looked down” on work in a student exhibition because those students had not been trained as artists. She wondered how someone could “look down on another person for producing something that stems from the heart.” But then she realized that this is she does to herself “almost every day. I don’t need any critics in life because I do such a good job of it on my own.” This realization helped her, with this project, to “just let it and my mind flow together to create, and create it did.” This project did become her White Whale for much of the semester just for all the attention it required, but “it isn’t the biggest one I have had in my life, and it is miniscule next to other people.” So she has called it her My White Grampus Whale, because “the Grampus whale has been described as a miniature version of the Sperm Whale by Melville in his Cetology chapter.”
Three of Rachel’s Folio whales on display
Lauren Hensley with The Vortex
Our second presenter on Day 3 was Lauren Hensley, a senior Mathematics major and Honors minor. Laura had been “perplexed by the religious undertones” when reading Moby-Dick. Intellectually, she understood Melville’s depiction of “the apparent indifference of God.” But as a religious person she “found myself upset with his depiction of a solely vengeful God.” She addressed this tension by creating The Vortex, a “faux stained glass artwork” which served as an “outlet” to help her “process the book.” After sketching many subjects, she settled on a “symmetrical” design in which “man and whale” are “suspended” in tension, with “neither side overcoming.” Her intent is to ask whether “man and creature coexist, or will this cycle result in the defeat of one or both?” She does this by “creating equal weight on each side of the artwork, which is present any way that you turn the frame. The ship is meant to mirror the whale. The art work is meant to mirror this ever-continuous battle of man and creatures. The spiral signifies that continuity.” The medium for “for this spiraling battle” in faux stained glass was “acrylic paint, glue, and the glass canvas.” The stained glass is “smooth and continuous” when “placed on a table or some other solid, opaque object,” but the artwork appears “more gritty and grim when held to the light.” At first this bothered her, but then she realized that “Melville’s eye keenly sought out those tumultuous inner workings of life—those grim realities which blindside most of humanity in its blissful ignorance.” In the end, Lauren learned that “it is possible for me to create something which I can appreciate.” She also learned “about my perception of reality.”
Lauren’s The Vortex finding its place in the impromptu exhibition
Sabrina Clayton presenting The White Sea
Our next presenter was Sabrina Clayton, a sophomore English major. Like Lauren, she was transfixed by the religious dimension of Moby-Dick, in her case taking her back to the early verses of Genesis, which she threads throughout her art work. In the two large poster boards she calls The White Sea, Sabrina starts with the idea that Ishmael’s “whiteness of the whale can be read as a metaphorical representation symbolizing humankind’s inability to understand the world, of an incomprehensible God.” In her project, she presents her own “slightly different conclusion.” For her, “Moby Dick, the whale, is the pinnacle of many symbolic meanings in men’s identity. In my art piece I have made the sea white and all the whales blue.” For Ishmael, the white whale “seemed to represent an unnatural and threatening creature,” but “this creature lived in an even more threatening, unexplored, and inhospitable environment, the sea.” With the ocean, as with the whale, “only the surface is available for human observation and interpretation, while its depths conceal the unknown and unknowable truths. This led me to think that, if the whale is mirroring its environment, then it would be safe to say that it is the sea that is threatening and incomprehensible to men and not necessarily the whale itself.” Sabrina goes on to apply this framework to “the maddening of Ahab” (who is burdened with questions that are probably “unanswerable”) and to the fears of the crew (who “displace their anxieties about their dangerous and at times terrifying jobs at sea”). After wrestling to express questions such as these, Sabrina concluded that “it takes a lot to get your point across, clear as it is in your mind.”
Fold-out questions in orange on Sabrina’s poster board: “Can we all be happy? Will we ever wake up?”
Shelby Cundiff holding her King of Hearts
Our fourth presenter on Day 3 was Shelby Cundiff, a sophomore Psychology major and Honors minor. As a reader, she had felt that “fate playes a role in every part of Moby-Dick. It affected everyone and led to the death of many and the survival of two. Fate brought Ishmael and Queequeg together, it brough Ishmael and Queequeg on the Pequod, and it was fate that Ishmael and Moby Dick survived.” Shelby chose to explore this dynamic by creating enlarged playing cards depicting four of the characters in Moby-Dick as kings in different suits. In doing so, she was aware that “cards have different meanings in different cultures and key words that go with that card.” Shelby “used an exacto knife to cut out the basic shapes and then I used acrylic paint.” For Ahab she decided that “the King of Hearts would have been the best match. King of Hearts is also known as the suicide king—because in the original French pattern the kind was driving a sword into his head. Though Ahab is not suicidal, he drove himself to his death.” She made Moby Dick the King of Diamonds because “the words associated with diamonds are judgment, responsibility, entertainment, and Artha, the meaning of life.” Starbuck is Shelby’s King of Spades because “the words associated with the spades are acceptance, scripture, and Moksha.” Ishmael is her King of Clubs, as “the words assoicated with this suit are mind, musings, and dharma.” Shelby was surprised at how much her classmates enjoyed her art project, deciding that “I am better at it than I thought—and art is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Shelby Cundiff, Ahab as King of Hearts
David Fritz with Ahab’s madness
David Fritz was our fifth presenter on Day 3. His car had been totaled in the accident a week before, and he had suffered a mild concussion and some facial contusions, but his doctor had cleared him to return to school this week. David is not experienced as an artist but he decided to draw a picture of Ahab when “his obsessions are eating him alive” near the end of the novel. His goal “is a simple one: to communicate the detrimental outcome allowing oneself to be fueled by one’s own vices.” The colors surrounding Ahab’s face are red and gray, colors “connected to the sensations of madness and decay.” Inside Ahab’s’ mouth is a monster, as his emotions “speak from within.” The “red lines on his face” show “what is inside him taking over.” This Ahab is “a shell of his former self who has lost all control, with his body cracking and no longer holding the ability to prevent him from inflicting harm upon himself or others,” a victim of “his own design.” In this attempt to make Ahab’s madness visible, David “gained a better understanding of the ‘layered’ aspect of the novel, the meaning underling the meaning.”
After class on Day 3 we added Lauren’s faux stained glass and Sabrina’s double poster set to the growing ensemble on the kitchen table of the Honors House, while also discovering that Rachel’s Cetology whales and Shelby’s enlarged playing cards were a perfect fit in front of the fireplace.
Impromptu art exhibit after Day 3
Sarah Kellam with The Heart of the Sea
Our first presenter on Day 4 was Sarah Kellam, a senior Electronic Media and Broadcasting major and Honors minor. A longtime admirer of Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, she was thrilled when the film by Ron Howard was finally released just before our course began. Our study of Moby-Dick took her deeper into her fascination with the Chases and Coffins of Nantucket, so it is natural that she devoted her research paper to comparing the ill-fated voyage of the whale ship Essex in 1819-20 with that of the Pequod as written by Melville in 1850-51. The title of Sarah’s research paper gives some sense of its scope and ambition: “The Coffin Connection: How Queequeg’s Coffin, the Coffin Family, and Melville’s Allusion and Imagery Point to the Essex Inspiring Moby-Dick.” After presenting a cogent summary of the history of Nantucket and the voyage of Essex, Sarah launched into a striking series “character and crew connections” between the Essex voyage and Melville’s book. This was followed by a fascinating section on “The Epilogue, the Coffin, and the Fortunate Rescue” in which Sarah suggests a connection I have yet to see made by any Melville scholar, relating the fictional fact that Ishmael is saved by Queequeg’s coffin in Melville’s with the real-life fact that Owen Coffin, one of the sailors in Captain Pollard’s whaleboat when they had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive, sacrificed himself for the sake of his boatmates. Sarah does not know whether she will go on to graduate school or become a golf pro. If she does pursue graduate studies, she has a fine topic for further study here. One thing she learned in working on this project is that “there is still quite a bit about the novel and its creation that we will never know.”
Madison Cyrus presenting Moby Dick “after”
Our second presenter on Day 4 was Madison Cyrus, a sophomore English major. She chose in her final project to do “an extension of my midterm paper, which focused on the similarities and differences between how Moby-Dick and Ahab were viewed when the book was first published and how they are viewed in today’s society.” She did this by creating “two wood carvings each of Moby Dick and Ahab, one before and one after.” As she began her carvings, she “realized that what I really wanted to focus on was the innocence of Moby Dick and Ahab before the journey vs. the madness that they both developed as the journey went on. I attempted to show this in the carvings themselves as well as the colors that I used to paint the carvings. I chose to paint Moby Dick white in both the ‘before’ and ‘after’ carvings, because though he caused great harm to many people, he was acting on his instinct and cannot be blamed for his retaliation to being attacked. However, in the ‘after’ I chose orange for the color of the waves because I wished to give them a fire-like quality to represent the turmoil that was surrounding the chase, and the destruction it caused.” In the Ahab paintings, Madison “chose to make his eyes completely black in the ‘before,’ and attempted to give him a more haunted look, painting the orange to represent the madness that surrounded him and threatened to overcome him. In the ‘after’ carving it is inverted; his eyes are now orange, and the background black, to represent the fact that he has allowed the madness to overcome him, and it is all he sees, the sole purpose of his life, causing everything around him to be blacked out.” Madison learned from this project that “you can be an artist even if you don’t see yourself as one, and that the line between madness and sanity is very thin. . . . Madness is something that is often hidden very well even from ourselves.”
Madison Cyrus, wood carvings, Moby Dick and Ahab, each before and after
Jay Jung, in his corner perch
Our third presenter on Day 4 was Jay Jung, a senior English major. He got away before I could get a photo of him, so I show him here, in his customary corner seat, on the day Rachel presented her Cetology whales. Jay presented our second research paper and it, too, was a tour de force. He is a student of film and he used four films to explore the title of his paper, “Moby-Dick in Film: Can a True Adaptation be Done?” Before sampling individual films, he established his own criteria for a successful adaptation. Certain “central characters” must be included. Major “themes or ideas” of the novel need to be addressed. And the film “needs to stay authentic to the action of the book.” Jay applied these criteria to four films that differed greatly in genre and time period, making for a very informative as well as entertaining presentation. He began with a “truly terrible” full-length modern adaptation, 2010: Moby Dick, made by “the production company responsible for cult-worshipped Sharknado.” Jay’s second offering was entirely new for me: a 2006 film edition of a one-man Moby-Dick performance piece created by Jack Aranson in 1978. This film scored well in the character and story criteria, but it “completely lacks any action.” Jay then turned to “the most famous adaptation of the novel,” the 1956 film directed by John Huston. This film did quite well in character and action but it suffered greatly from “the poor performance of the most important character in the film,” Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. Jay concluded by arguing that the “most authentic adaptation of a whaling story” is not a Moby-Dick film, but Ron Howard’s 2015 In the Heart of the Sea. Jay’s conclusion at the end of this study: “it would be almost impossible to make a great film adaptation” of Moby-Dick.
Alex Salyers presenting As Above, So Below
Our final presenter on Day 4 was Alex Salyers, a senior Finance major and Honors minor. She had originally planned to make a pop-up book, “so Moby-Dick could be shared with a new generation.” When she realized that this way beyond her “skill level and time restraints,” she wanted to “embroider a whale,” but she could not come up with a satisfactory design. So she decided to do a “galaxy painting” in acrylic on canvas. That painting would have two “galaxies” or “constellations,” one representing Moby Dick, the other the Pequod. Alex “enjoys galaxies” because “I consider them beautiful and mysterious but also because they put life into perspective, which I find soothing.” She also enjoys mythology and “the stories that relate to constellations.” Moby-Dick fits into this context because it represents “an eternal struggle, the wish for revenge, and the consequences of trying to attain revenge.” As such, it “can serve as a warning to readers that it is often better to move on with your life and be happier with what you have, than to remain bitter over the things you have lost.” Alex entitled the piece As Above, So Below because “the painting is set in the stars but it displays something below, on the sea.” The mysteriousness of the sea answers the vastness of the sky. After painting the shapes of the ship and the whale, she drew the outlines of each “with larger stars and connected them to give the appearance of a constellation.” She is “very pleased with how the piece turned out because I feel it does a good job of both looking like the actual images and looking like constallations.”
Alex Salyers, detail, As Above, So Below, “galaxy painting” with Moby Dick and the Pequod
Our fourth and last presentation day had brought us two more artworks for the ensemble on the kitchen table. In our final arrangement on the left side of the table, we juxtaposed Alex’s galaxy painting of Moby Dick and the Pequod with Lauren’s faux stained glass of Moby Dick and the Pequod. We placed Madison’s wood carvings of Moby Dick and Ahab Before and After between Hayley’s spiral Map of My Moby-Dick on the one side and Kylie’s chowder bowl and Kimberly’s shadow box on the other. I love how the white whale head on Kylie’s chowder bowl completes the white whale body on Kimberly’s shadow box. And how the primary questions about human existence on the orange flap of Sabrina’s poster board resonate against the fiery orange that Ahab’s madness brings to Madison’s wood carvings. And how the white word Rachel over the black name Ahab crowded into the lower right hand corner of Hayley’s spiral “map” does give hope of deliverance in the darkness.
Left side of the kitchen-table exhibition in the Honors House after the last presentation day
It just turned out that the kitchen table and the fireplace to its immediate right were the perfect size for the artworks presented in our class during the last two weeks of the course. We left the exhibition in place until we returned for the ‘lite’ final exam one week later.
Final exhibition of class in Moby-Dick and the Arts, April 28 – May 5, 2016
My ‘lite’ final exam usually consists of six questions to answer with a brief paragraph each. The first four questions usually ask students to comment on the final projects of their classmates. (This year: Which final project impressed you the most? Which most surprised you? Which did you most enjoy? Which gave you the most insight into the subject of Moby-Dick and the Arts.) Question 5 asks students what they each learned in the process of creating their own final projects. Questions 6 asks each student to select the one word that best characterizes the final presentations made by the class as a whole.
In some years there is quite a separation between the most successful and the least successful projects in the class, so the answers to questions 1 – 4 might cluster around the five or six top projects, with some of the others getting no mention at all from their classmates. This year the praise was spread widely among all fifteen presentations, and each of the fifteen was praised by one or more classmates.
In some years the answers to question 5 are quite variable, with quite a few students being either very articulate or deeply satisfied with what she or he created, but quite a few of the others being either less satisfied with the project or less engaged with the question. This year I think it is fair to say that all students were quite articulate about what they did or did not learn from creating their projects.
I am always interested to see what students will think of the work of their classmates as a whole. Here I will briefly summarize the responses of this year’s class.
One student chose “bravery” to summarize the work of her classmates. “I think it took bravery for each of us to produce a piece of work to share with the class.”
Another chose the word “unique.” “Everyone put a bit of themselves into their projects.”
Another chose the word “personal.” “Each of these presentations showed each of our personalities through the different mediums or angles we used to interpret Moby-Dick.”
Another made a similar point with the word “telling.” “Each project represented the person so well. Each had bits of pieces of each of us inside of it, and our final project are really ours and no one else’s. I learned a lot about each person just by seeing their final projects.”
The student who chose “beautiful” had a similar thought in mind. “Everyone had a different idea / thought process for their piece and really put forth the effort, and that’s what makes them beautiful.”
The student who chose the word “dedication” was similarly impressed with the effort. “This devotion was shown by the array of talented and idealist people in this class.”
The depth of the projects impressed the person chose “insightful.” “The words [of the book] really allowed us to go deeper into the art and create something substantial.”
A similar point was made by the person one who chose “impressive.” “Everyone is able to bring a unique part of themselves and give everyone else something new to think about.”
Similarly impressed was the one who chose “analytic.” “There were some great character analyses, book-history explorations, and real-world connections that blew me away.”
Three students used the same single word—“diverse”—to characterize the presentations as a whole. One noted that “everyone’s focused on something different that drew them to the course material.” Another “would never have imagined all the different art works and research that my classmates were inspired to create.” A third emphasized that “No one did the same thing, really. Everyone connected with a different element of art, and a different part of the book.”
Another student who appreciated the diversity of the final projects chose the word “various” to characterize the “different forms of expression.” Another chose the word “chowder.” “We had pottery, drama, research, wood-carving, painting, and photography in this collection of final projects, and the hodge podge of projects definitely is a chowder much like the novel is.”
The one remaining word that was chosen is “valuable.” The explanation of this choice is simple but it is profound, because one would not always be able to say this about all of the presentations at the end of a course. “Each final presentation added value to this class.” Nothing can make a teacher—or students—happier than when this happens.
Several students had to leave as soon as the “lite” exam was over, so we gathered for a photograph just before the exam began. We had taken down our impromptu exhibition before the exam period started, too, so students had one last, intimate look at what their classmates had produced.
Students in Moby-Dick and the Arts with final projects, Spring Semester 2016