Andy Patton

In what way did your experience at The Department of Visual Arts at Western impact you & your career path?

I both taught and was a student at Western. But I suspect you want to know about its value to me as a student. in practical terms, gaining the credentials of graduate degrees allowed me to teach at various institutions—and this, in turn, gave me a certain amount of freedom, the freedom to go in whatever direction I needed, independent of any need to sell artwork. But it was much more than that. I returned to do a Ph.D. when I was 57—very late!—to study Chinese calligraphy and the aesthetic understanding that sustained it. This changed my life—this immersion in a historical culture so different from our own and so rich in thought. I turned 60 in Shanghai, spend the day with a friend from Shanghai who is an art historian, seeing the places of her childhood and having dinner with her family. 

How have you been contributing to your community following your experience at Western?

Besides doing my own work, I’ve written criticism and taught. But neither of these are unusual. I’m not even sure that these in themselves constitute a contribution since so much of the cultural world is simply an unthinking continuation of well-trodden ways of thinking, feeling, seeing and living. The artists I most admire contributed not by making work but making that came to matter, or they took a stance in writing that mattered. What a work of art must do is differ in some way that matters. Whether or not I’ve made that kind of contribution only others can say.

Can you think back and share a memorable moment from your time here at Visual Arts?

I went to China in late February of 2012. I went to see certain works of calligraphy that were crucially important for my studies. I was in Xi’an to see the Forest of Stele. I bought my ticket, then turned to see the red formal gate, like a temple gate, in the drab greyness of winter. How beautiful!

What was the most important thing you learned during your time here?

By far the most important thing for me was the study of Chinese calligraphy and aesthetic thought. I went to China to study certain historical works of calligraphy; it was an astounding experience for me, and completely life-changing. My understanding of art has never been the same.

What is something you are passionate about? What are you working on right now?

What I love most is painting, obviously. I’m working on a large painting which is thoroughly influenced by my immersion in the pre-modern calligraphy of China. Its text speaks of “the in-vain coloured oriole” which is perhaps my homage to the art of the so-poignant Wei-Jin period.

Why do you think a career in the Visual Arts is important/valuable?

I’ve never thought of in terms of a career in visual art, though looking back it might appear that I’ve had one. But I think that’s a misrepresenting of how I went about things and how I lived. The very idea of a career distorts and narrows the range of what is possible for people fascinated by art by insisting on the professionalization of it.But as to its value—whether it’s a career or a calling—I would say this. Every single human being lives within a culture. This culture is no simply something that gives your life meaning; it is what we were born into and what made us. To play some small part in the culture is valuable so long as human beings feel their lives are or could be worthwhile. In this way, asking about its value is like asking whether breathing is worthwhile—while admitting that art as we understand it obviously isn’t the only way for visual works to be made or valued.

What would your hopes be for the next 50 years of Visual Arts at Western?

Western is a small department with a small faculty, so obviously, there are limits to what it can accomplish. But I would hope that there would be an increasing emphasis on the study of at least one visual culture that is strongly different from the European tradition. I’m sure there will be a growing emphasis on indigenous art and artists in the Americas. 


Temple Ruins Park

I placed myself within/the unravelling images./
The red and bronze gates/of the fabled city. The/
pagoda built to house/the sutras that still/rises
above its walled/courtyard. Scholar trees/
whose leaves whisper/above me. Perhaps there/
is still some lesson to/be learned in the sighing/
boughs. I left my name/ on this painting. The/
leaves are pale but they/do not fall.