May 25, 1995
Vol. 14, No. 18

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    Quantrell Teaching Award: Herbert George

    For Herbert George, Associate Professor in the Committee on Art & Design, receiving a Quantrell Award was both a humbling surprise and a vindication of sorts.

    "Of course, I'm very happy and a bit stunned," he said. "It's wonderful to be recognized by students for my teaching. But I also feel that it is a recognition of something I've believed in for years -- the importance of studying art in general and sculpture in particular within the context of a university that believes in the ideals of a humanistic education."

    George, who joined the University in 1986, has had a long and distinguished career as a sculptor, critic and lecturer. After receiving his B.A. in 1963 from the University of Washington, receiving his B.F.A. in 1965 and his M.F.A. in 1966 from the University of Pennsylvania and studying as a Fulbright scholar at the University of London, George spent 20 years in New York City. There he made sculpture, wrote articles for such publications as Artforum, founded and published a magazine of artists' writings and exhibited his work. He also traveled and lectured around the world. His sculptures have been featured in museum exhibitions, and in 1983 he received a Guggenheim fellowship in sculpture. His latest exhibition, of sculpture and photographs, was in Rome last fall.

    "I wanted to avoid teaching when I was younger, as I felt strongly that one must mature as an artist before one can truly teach younger students," he said.

    While teaching at Cooper Union in New York, George's ideas began to evolve.

    "I became upset with the ways in which sculpture was being taught in general. Far too much emphasis was placed upon making 'art about art,' rather than encouraging work that used as its locus a shared humanity," he said. "When I was offered the position at Chicago, I realized that here may be a chance to teach a studio curriculum that could coexist within the context of a great liberal-arts education, and this possibility has become a reality."

    Since his arrival on campus, George has taught nearly the same series of classes each year -- Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Sculpture and a Core course, Art 102.

    "The reason I stick close to what I began with is that I feel the power of teaching sculpture in the context of the University lies in a clear statement of its relative difference. Art is a necessary complement to the larger curriculum," he said. "What I do in my classes is basic and fundamental to critical thought.

    "First, I teach the basic language, or elements, of sculpture. And it is a language like any other language -- to understand it you must learn its basic structure. Once that is learned, then we will begin to understand how it is possible to create complex forms from these basic elements.

    "Throughout, I try to relate sculptural ideas and the making of sculpture to what the students are learning in their other classes. When students can begin to relate visual concepts about weight, mass, form and space to other disciplines -- for example, to the ways in which language, science and sound have all helped define our concepts of what is 'the visual' -- then a real encounter with art has taken place. It's not just learning names, dates and rules, but an understanding that reaches beyond opinion that I am after."

    For George, this encounter is even more important because he finds that "for many students, this is the first time they have been asked to think deeply about a three-dimensional object in their world and about how and why it was made," he said.

    "In the end, the really challenging thing about teaching in the College is to use all the information that the students possess and direct that knowledge toward creating a sculpture. Over the years, I think I've gotten better at it."

    -- Jeff Makos