“Art comes from the place where you dream. It comes from your unconscious. It comes from your white-hot center. It comes from the compost heap… I use the word ‘yearning’ with my students because it suggests the deepest level of desire… I think that if you dig deeply enough, the yearning at the center [is] I yearn for the self. I yearn for an identity. I yearn for a place in the universe.”

Published interview from publication: Butler, Robert Olen. Interview with Ryan G. Van Cleve. The art of yearning. The Writer, online April 25, 2017.

Letter from the Director

When acclaimed writer Robert Olen Butler refers to ‘yearning’ he is alluding to the insatiable but wistful desire for something just out of reach. A variant of this sentiment is longing, which insinuates a more earnest and melancholic desire for something loved and lost. The nagging urgency of this sentience is, as Butler affirms, the driving force behind authentic storytelling because yearning is the wind that pushes (or pulls?) humans forward. This semester’s exhibitions consider the role of yearning in the intuitive and often laborious process of art practice and production, thinking about how obsession, desire, and unshakable preoccupation with an idea carries artists from idea to finished work.  

Visitors to the gallery will witness themes emerge from the artists curated into exhibitions: repetitive labor, passionate fixation, serial visitation of ideas and forms, and unyielding inquiry. Where do good ideas come from? Does yearning come from the head or heart? When should the flames of obsession be stoked and when should they be extinguished? Is obsession critical for idea formation, creativity, and systematic tinkering? How can it manifest in helpful and harmful ways? If unquenchable, why yearn at all?  

All of the artists in these exhibitions consider the act of collecting a foundational stone of their practices, objects ranging from familial ephemera to thrifted trinkets, textiles, and tchotchkes. Through their work, artists focus our gaze to appreciate our shared world in new ways: the smooth ghostly profile of a white vase, the shimmer of graphite handwriting on the back of an envelope, the oxidized edge of an old tin toy. Guided by intuition and desire, these artists share an intense respect and love for their muses and the act of making, a radical sentiment in a time where efficiency and unemotional productivity is often valued above the urge to wander and wonder.

Mara Baldwin, Gallery Director