In a recent discussion of visiting artist Mary Weatherford’s paintings, a student drew on his knowledge of engineering to speak about neon. This fusion of disciplines and conversation on art is the aim of the five-part seminar taught by Weatherford, an acclaimed contemporary artist. The seminar is being offered by the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies at Claremont McKenna College.
The seminar, a half-credit, month-long course running from April 4 through May 1 aims to explore contemporary art and the Los Angeles art scene through the framework of Mike Kelley’s art. Kelley, one of the most influential contemporary artists in the world, is also Weatherford’s mentor. Since the class began, students have taken a private tour of the Kelley exhibit in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA); visited Weatherford’s studio and previewed her latest works; and met numerous important figures in the art scene, such as Scott Benzel, an artist and composer who collaborated with Kelley, and Mary-Clare Stevens, director of the Kelley exhibit.
Born in California, Weatherford focuses on distinct places in her
artwork, conveying emotion through her compositions. She recently finished a
series of works inspired by Bakersfield, Calif., that features materials
such as flash—a type of paint—and neon.
The purpose of the seminar is to provide students with an opportunity to explore the innovation and creativity behind modern art.
“We want students to learn about contemporary ideas in contemporary art,” Gould Center Director Robert Faggen said. “It’s
mostly a way to dive in and become excited about what artists do.”
The center believed that Weatherford would foster intellectually stimulating conversations on art and painting.
not trying to push a particular school of painting or a particular approach; we’re trying to get students to think from the standpoint of someone who is
well-informed and an exciting innovator,” Faggen said. “Mary Weatherford was a good person to
start discourse because of the nature of her work and because of her
During the seminar, students get an inside look at the process behind contemporary art. During the visit to Weatherford’s studio, students learned about how neon can be used in art, a technique Weatherford is using in her latest exhibition.
In another artist visit, the students met Scott Benzel, who showed them the wide range of influences in Kelley’s work. One such influence was Andrew Lloyd Weber’s music, which Kelley listened to during some of his performance art pieces.
The remaining weeks of the seminar feature a luncheon with Paul Schimmel, the former director of MOCA, and a screening of Kelley’s documentary. Attendance and participation at the visits and lectures are required course components, as is a culminating final paper written in consultation with Weatherford.
The absence of an art major at CMC was a major factor behind the launch of the seminar. The center hopes that it will help create balance and discussion across the disciplines.
“Expanding the way the mind perceives the
world is a vital part of any liberal arts education,” Faggen said.
The class has brought together students from a variety of disciplines and provided a space for learning about a topic that is not a focus of their other classes.
“Most of us are literature majors or philosophy majors or computer science
majors,” said Joel Kirk CM ’16, a student taking the class. “It’s a standard liberal arts class at CMC, but what’s really nice is
that there are a lot of people who have interests outside their primary majors
taking this class.”
A variety of factors influenced the seminar’s focus on
contemporary art, including interest from CMC President Hiram Chodosh in developing the arts at CMC and a request from the CMC Students Art Council for more CMC classes related to art. Fourteen students are enrolled in the class, which had a maximum capacity of 15.
always enjoyed art, and contemporary art has been the least accessible,” Kirk said. “I was
interested in understanding the process behind it and the current state of the art
world, and this class is doing a good job.”