September 24, 2013

The comics artist Lynda Barry joins the University of Wisconsin faculty as an assistant professor of interdisciplinary creativity.

Interdisciplinary creativity.
In addition to engaging with people of all ages in classes, workshops and projects, Barry says she looks forward to collaborating with experts across campus — ranging from the sciences to the creative writing program — to further study something she calls the "biological function of the arts." In other words, what makes us long to be able to sing, draw, write, dance or play music even after we've given up on ever being able to do these things well?...

"The metaphor for me is like a restaurant that serves food based on what's in season, what's fresh and around," she says. "If I find that there's an interesting rehearsal going on for a one-man or two-man show or there's some creative project going on campus that I can invite people to do here, I will. People won't always know what they're going to see when they come to the lab — kind of like the chefs that just go to the market in the morning and write the menu based on what they've found."

37 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Sounds like a Liberal Arts College rediscovered like no one ever heard of such a thing before.

David said...

hey, it's working. I'm laughing already.

John said...

Nonsense like this is why college is both expensive and worth less and less.

RecChief said...

I don't have an opinion on her curriculum or expertise per se. However, I receive quite a few advertisements for some new "Masters in Interdisciplinary something or other" monthly. I've always wondered why. I think it is because somewhere my name is on a list of people who still have GI Bill benefits that haven't been used. But I digress. Why all these new programs of study that you can get a degree in?

Paddy O said...

Oddly enough, yesterday I gave one of Barry's books to my wife for her birthday. I saw it in an artist friend's house a few years ago, but never got around to getting it. It's a meaningless but interesting coincidence to buy a author's book for the first time, then see her featured in a post, when I've never otherwise heard her mentioned before.

Paddy O said...

That sentence was an example of interdisciplinary creativity.

MadisonMan said...

I suppose in times past she would have been a Resident Artist of something.

I know a psychology prof who has interacted with Ms. Barry and it was very beneficial for the prof and her students. Good for the UW!!

This is the kind of hire that is miles miles miles above an Asst/Assoc/Full Dean of Diversity.

RecChief said...

Also, is this the next "cool" thing? Interdisciplinary folderol? Clever marketing strategy by universities?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

In other words, what makes us long to be able to sing, draw, write, dance or play music even after we've given up on ever being able to do these things well?...

Chesterton had it right: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." Is there anything else, really, to be added to that?

But, honestly, "Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity" is the most ridiculous academic job title I've seen since Angela Davis chaired the History of Consciousness Department at UC/Santa Cruz. I'm not sure it doesn't even top it.

Bleh. And I like Lynda Barry. Well, used to, at least.

Big Mike said...

Does she know any mathematics? No, not arithmetic, I mean partial differential equations. Or at least linear algebra. Any physics? Microbiology? So I guess there are limits as to how "interdisciplinary" she is even capable of being, right?

Bob R said...

@RecChief - "Interdisciplinary" has been B14 on the academic buzzword bingo card for as long as I can remember.

I think Madison Man has it right that this is a pretty traditional artist in residence program with an extra layer of BS. All such programs depend on the quality of the artist - the BS doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.

Econophile said...

I had a feeling this was funded by WID... In every media piece covering WID there's this "intersection of science and art" mission, wherein some art project is haphazardly tacked on to whatever they do.

The thing is, their science really *is* great--I just can't figure out whom they're trying to placate with this science-and-art schtick.

gadfly said...

Well - she reportedly leans left in her comics, but if this one is any indication, then she is OK by me.

SteveR said...

Tenure and a nice pension?

Larry J said...

RecChief said...
Why all these new programs of study that you can get a degree in?


It's just another form of marketing. They keep packaging and advertising different ideas hoping to find someone who'll bite and shell out tens of thousands of dollars on a marginal (if not completely useless) degree. Walk down the ceral aisle in a large grocery store and look at the number of different products and sizes available. They're hoping that there will be something there to satisfy just about anyone. Same for the college degrees.

David Carlson said...

so, your saying the university is a joke.....

Jeff Gee said...

Her 'Naked Ladies Coloring Book' is aces and afforded my daughter and me endless hours of fun.

"What makes us long to be able to sing, draw, write, dance or play music even after we've given up on ever being able to do these things well?" Jeepers. I don't even know where to start with that. It's like asking why do people continue to want to have sex even after they're no longer trying for more kids and they understand that the whole porn star thing is never going to happen.

Ann Althouse said...

"I suppose in times past she would have been a Resident Artist of something."

She was already that.

Comics are as important as any other art in the art department, and there is a long and revered tradition of interdisciplinary work at UW.

Comics are actually inherently interdisciplinary, combining drawing and writing, but Barry is connecting to other parts of the university. It's kind of dumb to make fun of this, unless you think art and creative writing don't belong in a university.

madAsHell said...

She bounced between my high school, and an alternative high school in Seattle. She always wore milkman overalls. I'm surprised to see that she is married.

Titus said...

She dated Ira Glass.

hawkeyedjb said...

"Comics are as important as any other art in the art department"

I believe that.

"Comics are actually inherently interdisciplinary, combining drawing and writing"

Yep. John Constable, he wasn't interdisciplinary, all he could do was paint. And Virginia Woolf, all she could do was write.

But Lynda Barry! There's a college education worth getting.

Sam L. said...

I remember her Punk Poodle cartoon.

ErnieG said...

Having an interdisciplinary background means that you could discuss Pound's poetry, or Kant's philosophy, or Pollock's influence on art, while preparing a Grande Caffè Latte.

MadisonMan said...

I enjoy the juxtaposition of this comment

It's kind of dumb to make fun of this

right after this one:

so, your saying the university is a joke

I will say -- and I do think her hire is a good idea -- that someone up on Bascom likely took far too long deciding what her title would be. I will guess it was at least a week of time. But hey, Deans and Provosts do have to make these important decisions.

Pete the Streak said...

"It's kind of dumb to make fun of this, unless you think art and creative writing don't belong in a university."

But we can laugh at it, right?

After all - it's a cartoon.

Pete the Streak said...

"It's kind of dumb to make fun of this, unless you think art and creative writing don't belong in a university."

But we can laugh at it, right?

After all - comics!

SGT Ted said...

What could also be considered "interdisciplinary" that she brings to the table is her success business owner as a commercial artist/cartoonist and the knowledge that would bring students who are mainly focusing on artist skills and not the economic or business skills of putting it to use to make a living.

We often criticize Academia for their lack of "real world" experience. She brings that with her and it serves as a good example for students seriously interested in making a living being an artist.

George Grady said...

I just don't see what's so interdisciplinary about what she's doing. From what is in the article, she appears to be doing art, full stop, and she wants other people, such as scientists, to do art, as well, in the vague hope that "it might help people with the other work in their field." She mentions that "if I find that there's an interesting rehearsal going on for a one-man or two-man show or there's some creative project going on campus that I can invite people to do here, I will." Will she be having her students go to physics lectures? Attend some Putnam club meetings in the math department? Work with engineering students to enter the competition for the Schoofs Prize? I don't see much evidence for actual two-way interaction, just a lot of "come and do some art! It'll do you good!"

Perhaps the flow of knowledge really is going both ways, but the article makes me have some doubts.

Big Mike said...

George Grady is right. And Lynda Barry needs to read Richard Feynman's autobiography. A scientist learning how to be a very capable painter is straightforward. A doodler trying to do science -- not hardly likely.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Prof. Althouse,

Comics are actually inherently interdisciplinary, combining drawing and writing

You mean, the way Schubert the Lieder composer was "interdisciplinary," because, hey, there's words and music. An opera composer is yet more interdisciplinary, because there's the libretto, and the music, and the indications for set design, costuming, &c.

For some reason it's been possible to study opera for a long time without having to call the study one of "interdisciplinary creativity." Probably because it's only in academia that music, drama, set design, costuming, &c. are "disciplines." Out here, we call them "lines of work."

Steve in Toronto said...

Please post links to what ever projects she's working on I have always enjoyed her work in the New Yorker. However what's wrong with just calling her an artist in residence?

MadisonMan said...

However what's wrong with just calling her an artist in residence?

I will guess at the answer.

At some point in the past, the Artist in Residence somehow ran afoul of the Powers That Be at the University, and those Powers That Be had difficulty in getting rid of the Artist in Residence because the AinR had tenure, or some such thing, so the definition was changed so that the moniker can now only be used for one year at a time.

John Althouse Cohen said...

You mean, the way Schubert the Lieder composer was "interdisciplinary," because, hey, there's words and music. An opera composer is yet more interdisciplinary, because there's the libretto, and the music, and the indications for set design, costuming, &c.

You are correct. Any song with words is a combination of at least two different disciplines. And opera or musical theater combines at least three different disciplines.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Lynda Barry is a legend in the comics world and an inspiration to more than one generation of cartoonists/graphic novelists. Highly respected by her peers, including Art Spiegleman of Maus fame, Simpsons creator Matt Groening and ex-boyfriend and TAL maestro Ira Glass, Barry deserves more recognition and support than most, lesser lights get from academia and the world of the arts. Good for her and great for UW.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

JAC, exactly. And yet people have managed to study Lieder and other vocal music and opera without professorships in "interdisciplinary creativity."

Hell, a lot of my graduate study was of Monteverdi, so I was up to my neck in Italian poetry, back to Petrarch and forward to Marino. It never occurred to me that Monteverdi, in setting poetry to music, was engaged in "interdisciplinary creativity." It never occurred to me that I, in studying how musicians set words, was studying "interdisciplinary creativity." Naively, I thought that I was studying vocal music, where the interaction of notes and text is sort of the point.

People have been unpacking the relationships between words and notes for about as long as people have been writing about music. It's only now that we've come up up with "talking about music and words" as a subset of "interdisciplinary creativity," as opposed to what it always was before, a place of contact between literature and music. Scholars of poetry and of music have always made contact wherever poetry and music made contact. Why make a production of it?

RecChief said...

Ernie G said "Having an interdisciplinary background means that you could discuss Pound's poetry, or Kant's philosophy, or Pollock's influence on art, while preparing a Grande Caffè Latte."

Isn't that what a traditional BA enabled you to do? besides the caffe latte I mean.

will stevens said...

"Having an interdisciplinary background means that you could discuss Pound's poetry, or Kant's philosophy, or Pollock's influence on art, while preparing a Grande Caffè Latte."...Ernie G nailed it.