Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bill Finneran

 In 1962, I transferred from the Liberal Arts College at The University of Michigan to the Art School. My parents dream of me being a Philadelphia lawyer crushed in it's infancy, I was finally embarking on the adventure I had always known was my only realistic path. I got in quite easily because when asked, I told Bob Iglehart that my favorite painter was Franz Kline. Since Dean Igelhart had never met an applicant for undergraduate study who had ever heard of Franz Kline, I was accepted on the spot. I was turned unceremoniously over to a gaggle of art teachers who set to work showing  me the ropes and one of them was a young instructor named George Manupelli. I was alarmed to find out that he, unlike all the rest, was actually a Doctor, a fact I found odd, since I felt fine, better than I had in years, but I guessed the powers at be were playing it safe just in case I took an unexpected turn for the artistic worst, which I did, but much later.
   I'm sure that everyone wants to write about George's exploits as a hero of the avante guard. He was an experimental film maker, performance artist, rubbing elbows with Bob Rauschenburg, John Cage, Andy Warhol, more importantly, bluegrass legions, Don Reno, Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cut Ups. All those association are real, but I remember George in a much more mundane way, but in my mind a more important way, as a really great drawing teacher. I'm sure he would be appalled by that, but frankly dear I don't give a damn. Many art teachers I have known, and I have known a lot of them (I left the profession as a art department  chairman) don't have a whole lot to say for themselves. They seem grateful to have an easy good paying job with health care and they tend to see art students as a kind of necessary nuisance. The standard teaching style I most remember is walking  around offering  a comment here and there and calling it a day. Not George, he talked for the whole damned three hour class. He forced students to keep focused on their work. He taught in a very active and engaging way, like any person would who knew how something was done and sincerely wanted you to know too. Too many art teachers seem fearful that they might tyrannize their students and interfere with the individual solitary self expressive process. George seem to believe, as I came to believe that culture is tyranny and if you want to make a difference you have to fight your way in and make your voice heard. He felt that students need input and an example to adopt or reject. As the semester moved on, George's  talks ranged into subjects beyond the mere technique of drawing to what he saw as the kind of behavior one needed to adopt to be an artist. The focus on questioning conventions and making a commitment. When I started teaching a few years later I based my teaching style mostly on George's and it worked. George took art students seriously so they could feel free to take them selves seriously and there are a lot of successful artist around that got a real helping hand from George.
  Well, George once told the whole class, "That any job worth doing right, wasn't worth doing at all." That's a whole lot better advice than the Benjamin Franklin original, a large majority  of the people in the world think that is a cynical and terrible thing to say. However, many people understand that that is just a different and a lot funnier way of saying."Some where ages and ages hence two roads diverged in a yellow wood......... I took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference. Thanks, George.   Bill Finneran

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