By Brent Pantaleo
Daily Arts Writer
His idea may be open-ended, but that’s exactly how author and New York University Prof. Lawrence Weschler likes it.
Weschler works to uncover possible associations between works of art, whether the objects are paintings, music or even fossils. He calls these associations “convergences” and unearths them by embracing the mind’s ability to freely associate.
He will bring his convergences to campus today at 5 p.m. as part of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitor Series, put on the School of Art & Design. The lecture will be held at The Michigan Theater and admission is free.
Weschler is the director of NYU’s New York Institute for the Humanities and artistic director for the Chicago Humanities Festival, an annual presentation of lectures, concerts and films. He also wrote for The New Yorker for more than 20 years.
His practice of examining convergences in art, though, started as a hobby.
“It’s a whole different kind of art form for me,” Weschler said. “It validated a way of looking at the world.”
The lecture will be primarily based on his book “Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences,” released last year. Weschler will exhibit examples from his book and discuss his findings.
Weschler doesn’t impede his practice of finding convergences in art by creating an agenda. The point is to emphasize whatever the work of free association can uncover.
A photograph of George W. Bush kissing a baby juxtaposed with a Goya painting of the Roman god Saturn eating his children needs no in-depth analysis. A comparison of a painting by Mondrian to a chart diagramming Chicago neighborhoods by race and wage, on the other hand, sets Weschler off. He cites Hitler’s love of realism as the reason why Jewish modernists like Mondrian were the earliest targets of the Holocaust.
“It’s about giving yourself permission to follow where your mind wanders,” Weschler said. “And in turn, not to push it too far.”
He understands that there’s a fine line separating a tangible correlation from an unrealistic stretch, but the convergences can explain many things that would otherwise go unseen. Weschler argues it has to do with decisions, deliberate or subconscious, made by those involved.
“People make these associations all the time, but they are told it’s a bad method because the associations can’t foster proof,” Weschler said. “The reality is, not everything is susceptible to proof. You can’t prove that an artist wasn’t influenced by a certain photograph when he was painting his piece.”
Weschler said that even if the artist didn’t consciously decide to model a painting after another piece of art, his mind could have subconsciously made the connection to replicate the image or idea onto the canvas.
Weschler’s idea really took off when Mcsweeneys.net, a particularly absurd website, asked him to become a contributor. Weschler posted his convergences, which rapidly became a hit.
The acclaim Weschler received spawned a contest on Mcsweeneys.net where anyone could enter their own convergence for Weschler to provide feedback. He’s even used entries in “Everything that Rises.”
Though the idea may not have a concrete method to its madness, the popularity of Weschler’s convergences speaks for itself. Weschler expects to publish another book soon titled “I Hear America Converging.”
“You can argue that the biggest convergences are the books themselves,” Weschler said.
Tonight at 5 p.m.
At the Michigan Theater