As you may already know, the co-founders of the Library as Incubator Project (myself and my wonderful colleagues, Erinn and Christina) graduated from the UW-Madison School of Library and Information Studies with our masters degrees just over a week ago. As our formal education comes to an end, I think it appropriate to talk a bit about one of my classes, one that forever changed the way I think about and approach – particularly the making of – art. The course title is “What It Is: Manually Shifting the Image” and was taught at UW by Lynda Barry, cartoonist, writer, playwright, teacher, and the UW-Madison Art Institute’s Visiting Artist in Residence for spring 2012.

What It Is: Manually Shifting the Image is a class that met twice a week for a total of five hours a week. Here’s the course description:

Open to both graduate and undergraduate students from all academic disciplines, the focus of this class will be the relationship between the hand, the brain, and spontaneous images, both written and visual. No artistic talent is required to be part of this class, but students should have an active interest in spontaneous memory and ideas, how pictures and stories work, how the brain works, and what the biological function of the thing we call ‘the arts’ may be.

Class time will be used for active studio work, creating projects entirely by hand, evenly divided between writing stories and making pictures.

You know how it says “No artistic talent is required to be part of this class”? Well, I hazard that I fall merrily into this category, at least in the way that I’VE always thought about art – especially drawing and painting. But something about the course description for What It Is caught my attention. I attribute it to the work that I do for the Library as Incubator Project – I see marvelous examples of visual art and creative writing all the time, and for some reason it’s not marvelous in an intimidating way, but an inspiring way. I itch to “make” when I see all of the splendid work that our friends, readers, and colleagues do. A class, I thought – this is the ticket. Dive in head first and learn from Lynda Barry.

This will sound crazy, but I can’t really articulate what I learned in this class, beyond that it was a ton of in-class exercises, lots of recording what we did the day before, and lots of writing and making visuals. We didn’t talk a lot about theory, we didn’t critique each other’s work, we didn’t even learn the names of our classmates until – wait for it – the last day of class. It wasn’t about who we are now, which department we’re in, what we “do”. It was about being with each other for five hours every week, sitting side by side and making things – whether that be a timed writing exercise about a car from our past, or drawing cartoon versions of ourselves in ninety seconds. If you are interested in learning more about the class, I encourage you to explore Professor Lynda’s Tumblr, thenearsightedmonkey.tumblr.com (I’ve linked to page 35, since Lynda is an animal and posts all the time!) to see what we did, and even better, to get the links to some awesome writing/diary-keeping videos that Lynda made for the class.

Our final project was to create a handmade book. Mine (captured above in a few photos) is, as you might expect, pretty library-incubated. I wrote about seven stories about traveling libraries (writing based on source images that I found of these libraries – you can see a few of them in the gallery above), and about a book that makes its way into each of these traveling libraries, and about the people who find this book. I made visuals to accompany each story. I have to say a special thank you to the Wisconsin Historical Society, whose digital collections I explored to find the source material (keyword: “traveling library”), and of course a very important thank you to my classmates and Professor Lynda, whose class gave me permission. – Laura

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