About two dozen elementary students from Brunswick’s Harriet Beecher Stowe school visited the Bowdoin College Museum of Art last week to talk to William Wegman about his art and his pet Weimaraners, and to explore his current show, Hello Nature.
Tasha Sandoval ’13, who helped organize the event — which was a collaboration between the McKeen Center and the Museum — said the humor and playfulness of Wegman’s show was one of the inspirations behind inviting the students. She recruited college students to help lead the fourth- and fifth-graders on a scavenger hunt of the exhibition, where they were tasked to find different objects in the pictures or answer questions such as, “Why do you think she has a pine cone on her nose?”
All the elementary students were selected for the event based on their artistic interest and talent, and they came prepared to engage Wegman in a lofty discussion about his theories of art and his creative process.
“What do you think art is?” one girl asked.
“Whatever you call art, is art,” Wegman answered, adding that some of the back-and-forth arguments about what constitutes real art can get quite silly.
A good number of the questions from the young students were technical questions, or more pointedly, how Wegman got his dogs to do what they did in his photos. When Wegman said that there are people you can’t see behind the dogs helping support them, some of the children let out little gasps of astonishment. “It’s always part of the fun, figuring out how you’re going to make this crazy thing,” Wegman said.
The students were also concerned about the dogs’ welfare and comfort, art teacher Emily Moll said. Wegman said he wouldn’t have done this work for so many years if the dogs minded. He said he liked working with his dogs because they liked working. Weimaraners were bred to help hunters locate prey. “They have a stillness when they’re trying to tell me where something is,” he said. “I use these instincts in my work. They’re mostly sitting still and looking in a certain way.”
He said early in his art career, he shied away from using dogs in his pictures because he thought it was a cliche, especially taking photos of dressed-up dogs. But when he began to stand the dogs up, he became more interested in using them as models since they evoked for him mythological creatures, part human, part beast.
One girl said she wondered about the photograph of the girl with a pine cone on her nose. Wegman admitted that a lot of his art is for fun. “Some things I do I just try to be lighthearted,” he said. “With other things I try to be grandiose. But I think I’m better at being lighthearted.”
Wegman then asked the students about the work they did. A boy was asked about the kinds of drawing he did. “Airplanes,” the boy answered. “Maybe some of the time, boats. I usually draw a lot of boy’s stuff.” Other students told Wegman the materials they preferred to work with: clay, tinfoil, pipe cleaners.
Wegman then added his own preference: “I like to find things that already have pictures on them, and change the implications of them.”
Following his time with the children, Wegman gave a lecture on his early films and attended a Museum reception.
Photos of the reception and lecture by Emily Tong ’11