Stonework is published by Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college located in New York’s rural Genesee Valley. Stonework seeks a diverse mix of mature and emerging voices in fellowship with the evangelical tradition. Published twice a year, the journal reflects the arts community at Houghton College where excellence in music, writing, and the visual arts has long been a distinctive.

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  • Issue 6
    Poetry by Paul Willis and Thom Satterlee. Fiction and interview with Lori Huth. Essay by James Wardwell, and student poets from Christian campuses.
  • Issue 5
    Poetry by Susanna Childress and Debra Rienstra. Fiction excerpt by Emilie Griffin. Art from Houghton's 2007 presidential inauguration and a forum on women writing.
  • Issue 4
    Matthew Roth--new poems. Diane Glancy--from One of Us and an interview. John Tatter-on gardens and poetry. The Landscapes of John Rhett. Stephen Woolsey--on the poetry of Jack Clemo. James Wardwell--on Herrick.
  • Issue 3
    Poetry by Julia Kasdorf, Robert Siegel and Sandra Duguid. Fiction by Tom Noyes. The portraits of Alieen Ortlip Shea. An anthology of Australian Poets
  • Issue 2
    Thom Satterlee - Poems from Burning Wycliff with an appreciation by David Perkins. Alison Gresik - new fiction and an interview. James Zoller - Poems from Living on the Floodplain.
  • Issue 1
    Luci Shaw — new poems with an appreciation by Eugene H. Peterson & Hugh Cook — new fiction and an interview

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Called Into Art

"Gold Gash Vermillion"

Ted Murphy decided on the role of an art professor, because it is “a life of the mind, and that’s what I wanted.” He enjoys the opportunities he finds to share artistic ideas with the few art professors on the Houghton campus, as well as professors and students in music, creative writing, and other practices of the arts. He makes few distinctions between the role that art plays in his work as a professor, artist, father, and individual. As he puts it, “the college pays me to read books and paint pictures- I am an extensionist, in the sense that what I do for work is what I do anyway.” Murphy also believes that he was “called into art” in a way similar to being called into ministry

Murphy has always been drawn to abstraction, though he has also painted in a very realistic style. He abandoned his original non-objective work to pursue photo-realism during his years of graduate school; however, he has now returned to his first form of expression. As he states, “Abstraction is a language that all art students should familiarize themselves with, even if abstraction is not his or her true artistic voice.”

"Willow Cabin"

Some artists that Murphy resonates with include Diebenkorn, Morandi, Rouault, Motherwell, and Joan Mitchell. In his words, “These are people, when I look at them, I feel like I am reading a text in a language I know by heart. Art is a difficult language, but it can be learned.”

In order to develop this particular conversance between artists and styles, he encourages students to be aware of the art world in all its forms, so that they can better understand their place in it.

When describing more about his own “Art is difficult, there isn’t some kind of outward use of language that explains it. Some of us are just predisposed to thinking like this. We can do it. As a society, we’re always looking for the footnote guy. Sometimes he doesn’t exist. Artists show better than tell. Filmmakers too. There’s nothing more dreadful than a film that talks too much. People rush to texts… they misunderstand information for understanding. I can give you a lot of information, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to understand it. It really is a different level of communication.”

While this form of communication is very distinct and often impenetrable by many individuals, Murphy greatly appreciates the communication that occurs when someone understands a piece. I asked him whether there was a particular driving force behind his sense of aesthetics. For him, it is highly rewarding when a person understands something about the piece to such a degree that he or she doesn’t know what to say. One woman entered his studio and commented, “your pieces seem sad.” Murphy states, “There is something always melancholy about my work. Elements of depression, or guilt. I want that feeling in the work that I see in other people’s work. Sometimes it’s a formal issue, the juxtaposition of a color next to a line that will achieve that feeling. It means a lot to me when someone senses that there is something there that they connect with. I like the world of shared meaning.”

I asked Murphy about the sometimes subtle, sometimes extreme developments in his style as a painter. He explained the endless process of painting, contemplating, revisiting, and observing his own pieces. “Matisse would often put out his work, and take notes on it. He looks for a certain continuity--every piece I do is making a place for the piece following it… “ I make a lot of paintings that are failures. Sometimes I don’t know if they’re failures. If I look and then realize that I’m repeating myself I change. But let the historians figure it out. We’re the birds, they’re the ornithologists.”

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of describing abstractions with paint is communicating content to the viewer. For many painters with aesthetic styles and modes of communication similar to Murphy’s, paintings serve as a kind of crystallization of all the thoughts and feelings that would otherwise drift away unremembered. Murphy agreed with that thought, saying,
“I think that’s true. And often art makes us recognize ourselves in those things. That’s the magic. In the last line of “Middlemarch” by Eliot, she refers to ‘the unremembered acts of heroism of people buried in unremembered graves.’ That’s what a person is, a collection of all these things. As artists, with our emotive tendencies and something akin to despair, we place our hope in works valued by posterity. We cheat death by creating something that will be valued by someone beyond us. Like children.”

Murphy continues to create visual windows into an outside realm, beyond the constraints and bounds of linear thought and time itself. In these painterly pathways toward freedom and the preservation of memory, he subtly persuades and informs the viewer: “As individuals, we are very persuaded by the arts. That’s why I love it so much.”

Sarah Richards for Stonework­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Prof. Ted Murphy lives with his family in Houghton, New York, teaching art, art history, and the history of film at Houghton College.

Artwork, in order of appearence:
Gold Cash Vermillion
Willow Cabin
Ohio Light
Quiet Italian
Young Ones