Ways of Knowing
As I’ve been working on my dissertation, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we learn from objects. How does looking at a sculpture change what we know or who we are?
People often use the word “aesthetics” to indicate an appreciation of the visual aspects of a work of art. Many people also consider this appreciation as merely a superficial survey of the outward properties. Yet, aesthetics is more than that. It’s a way of knowing based on sensory input instead of rational thought. I think that this form of knowledge is crucial. To understand works of art, we need to discuss the sensory data of works in relation to historical, social, and cultural contexts.
The Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial, 2003 in Duluth, Minnesota is one of the objects in my study of lynching memorials. I’m now thinking about how the memorial affects individuals and society. It’s easy to argue that the memorial alters the politics of memorial landscape. It’s a large structure commemorating a racially motivated lynching in a region that rarely participated in this form of collective violence. But how does the materiality of the object affect us? Do the inscribed concrete walls tell us something? Does the texture of the bronze figures elicit a particular sensation in viewers?
When I visited Duluth this summer, I took many photographs of the memorial. Several of the shots were close-ups of the walls and figural elements. I also spent a lot of time watching how people used the space. I’m hoping this research will help me uncover alternate ways of knowing.