Update on My Social History of Rhetorics Project

Wednesday morning, I woke up early to drive up to the Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa, Canada–a 3+hour drive in good conditions.  Luckily, the weather cooperated and I made good time.  I even managed to make it through border control without a passport–flaky me forgot it at home.  The art gallery was my dream archive.  I drove up with the intention of seeing five of Carl Beam’s images that the gallery had exhibited in a virtual exhibition I saw on-line.  When I got there, however, I found out the gallery had close to 85 of Beam’s images plus a large folder filled with exhibition catalogues, many of which I had tried to access from other galleries via email, newspaper articles, on-line articles, etc. about Beam’s work.  It was amazing.  My experience at the gallery was much like going to the other archives I have been to, yet without all the rules and regulations that make me feel uncomfortable.  Essentially, one of the curators placed me in a private room with a set of white gloves and a large table, where I could plug in my lap top.  Originally, I was given the five images I requested to see, but then as I started to explain my project with the curator, he told me they had 85 of Beam’s images that I might want to see.  I, of course, said yes, so the curator slowly pulled out various images that ranged both in size, content, and media and eventually brought me the folder of textual material on Beam that he just happened to come across as he was poking around in their storage space.  He even made copies of the texts for me as I perused the images and took notes.  Needless, to say, I spent the entire day at the gallery.     Looking at such a large body of Beam’s work gave me a real sense of what Beam was up to.  My husband asked me if I was as moved by Beam’s work in person as I had been when I first came upon his images on the Internet.  My response to Beam’s work was more intellectual than emotional.  Beam’s work challenges you to think and make sense of the icons, indices, and symbols he uses to create messages through his art.  When I returned home from Canada, I spent much of the night perusing the textual material I came home with.  One article notes that Beam says is not trying to create beautiful work.  He wants viewers to think deeply about the political and social messages he creates through montage, collage, juxtaposition, irony, repetition, amplification, omission, and even through is handwritten messages found painted on many of his canvasses.   I agree and think Beam succeeds.  I am not sure it is possible to walk away from Beam’s work without having been provoked to think more deeply about how master narratives of history have been told, how linear thinking and “Western” logic and science has benefited some and disadvantaged others, and how technology is a culprit in environmental destruction.   I look forward to working closely on this project in the upcoming weeks.  Also, in terms of methods, I think I will “do historiography” as Enos challenges us to do as well as practice rhetorical criticism.  I want to demonstrate how Beam rewrites history through his art and uses both discursive and non-discursive rhetoric to trigger cultural memories and make logical and emotional appeals. I plan to situate his art in what Powell and others have identified as trickster rhetorics as well as modern conceptions of epideictic rhetoric.  Therefore, genre analysis will play a major part of my rhetorical analysis, I think….



Filed under cultural rhetorics exam, historiography exam

5 responses to “Update on My Social History of Rhetorics Project

  1. Eileen Schell

    It’s great to hear about your trip to the gallery. It sounds like it was a very fruitful venture. I would love to see more of his work. Did you get a chance to read some of the writing he does on the pieces? You mentioned before that reading the writing was impossible on some of the prints/images on the web. Was it possible to decipher the writing or is it the kind of writing where deciphering is not the point–the point is more inscription?

    Looking forward to hearing more, and thanks for blogging your response.

    I also can’t believe you got into Canada without a passport!

  2. legries

    Yes, I could read all of his handwriting. He definitely wants us to decipher his words. Sometimes the words index the images; other times, it’s as if he is writing himself into history; still other times, he’s critiquing linear thinking. He always writes in purple or red ink on the canvas and his writing is always in cursive. Questions I will attend to in my essay: is why does he write himself onto the canvas? Why does he want his thoughts articulated on the page? One reason has to do with subjectivity. Beams wants his art to be subjective. He wants to be present on the canvas. There are many reasons for this desire, which I will unpack in the essay. Interesting stuff!

  3. Hey Laurie… I’ve been thinking about phenomenological analysis tonight as I stumbled upon your blog entry. From what you’ve shared about Beam already – here and in conversation – it seems that Beam is highly… participatory in his work, inserting himself, making arguments with his placement of self. And I wonder how this positionality influences the meanings possible from his depiction/descriptions of culture and cultural memories? I wonder if Phenomenology of Perception might be useful for you (as I think it might be useful to me, too, to read)…
    Mostly – I’m excited that you’re excited! Carry on!! Can’t wait to read it…!!!

  4. revasias

    Hi L. It is wonderful to know that you had the time you needed to evaluate the artifacts and spend time with your “other half.” It is interesting to think that Beam was not trying to produce beautiful works. Given the medium and its visual/emotional appeals, I believe that he had to give great thought to how he wanted his work to be received. If beauty was not his first approach, he had to be aware of the possible “backlash” of his work. It just makes me think of his motives to present the culture/history/relevance of a people which is bigger than its commercial value.

  5. Anong Beam

    Hello, my name is Anong Beam, and I am Carl Beams daughter, I read your blog, and thought if you had any questions about texts, I can read all of his script writing,( he taught me how to write) good luck with your project, and could you please email me a copy when you are finished.
    Thank you

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