by Doug Geyer
Artists find inspiration for new ideas in a myriad of ways at atypical times. Unpacking the process behind where their visions come from – why and how they come – is itself an adventure.
Matt Hart, Associate Professor and Chair of Liberal Arts at the AAC, stumbled upon a new venture while he was running. But the vision wasn’t for a new poem or song. The idea that began bubbling up as his heart pumped and his pores sweat was for a new class at the AAC.
A running class.
To be clear, there’s no Physical Education major offered at the AAC. Not a minor one either. So what Matt was imagining was not a traditional offering. But that’s right up the alleys of both Matt and the AAC.
“When I’m out running, I’m often thinking about class, school, possible courses we can offer. And one of the cool things at the Art Academy, being a small place, there isn’t a giant bureaucracy you have to get through to propose a new class.” Matt had a lightning bolt moment (figuratively speaking) during a weekend run.
“It would be great to teach a class about the running process and the creative process! I’ve often thought about the fact that running takes a kind of determination, takes a kind of preparation, how it involves your whole body. It allows you to shut down certain practical parts of your mind and turn on the more meditative, more associative, free-flowing parts of your mind (much like the creative process). I thought it would be really interesting to teach a class where we got to explore those connections and those possibilities.”
So one Saturday, Matt texted Paige Williams – another long time runner and current AAC Studio Program Chair – to share his class idea and how she should teach it with him.
Paige remembers being somewhere with a friend when she got Matt’s enthusiastic text, “I showed my friend and said ‘This is why I love my job! Look at this!’’
The class meets every Friday for almost three hours to run and to discuss the required reading. The main text for the class is The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life by Amby Burfoot. They’re also required to run twice outside of class and keep a runner’s log where they reflect on their running process and the reading.
An additional element of the course is creating and sharing a ‘runner’s gift’. Reflecting on the social and collaborative elements of running as a class, Matt wanted to turn the artists loose with this thought in mind. “They need to think about what the people around them might need that they can provide.” It could be something like a team mantra they repeat as they run, or something they make – like a playlist. The first student to share a runner’s gift made buttons with a caricature of Matt and Paige and one of Matt’s favorite quotes, “Don’t be noun, be a verb.”
Another parallel Matt shared with the class involves the inherent risks with being a verb. A runner. An artist that makes art that makes a difference.
“The amazing thing about running is that you’re literally throwing your body through time and space. There’s always a vulnerability with it. There’s always a possibility that something could go wrong,” Matt shared. He went on to connect this to the vulnerability and risk involved in creating art. And like with running, when we fall down, we get back up and keep going.
Paige referenced another important link, “Only you know that fine line between challenging yourself and denying your nature. Like with running, the difference between ‘this is just uncomfortable’ and ‘I’m really in pain’. As artists, it’s the same thing. It has to be connected to me while still pushing the boundaries of what I know and love.”
The class will culminate with everyone running the Flying Pig 10k on May 6. Frank and Stacey DeJulius, owners of Fleet Feet Sports and race sponsors, generously picked up the tab for the registration fee.
Should you be in attendance on the day, running or spectating, keep your eyes and ears open for a colorful band of runners. Maybe they’ll be mumbling poetry, drawing as they run, or meditating on their process as they throw themselves through time and space.