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Monday, October 02, 2006

Meet William Christenberry

William Christenberry, 5 Cents—Demopolis, Alabama, 1980

GVI, where friend Bob is Creative Director, was recently commissioned to film 17 short video interviews with American artists for the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Luce Foundation Center. Sixteen are being shown on kiosks at the Luce Foundation Center and one is online. It's a brief chat with Southern artist and photographer William Christenberry, who teaches at my alma mater the Corcoran (or at least did when I was there). Here are some of William Christenberry's books.

It's not long enough to be essential, but I especially like the part about the discouragement his parents didn't give him. (Artists are like certain other subsets of American culture in that they're not always born to members of their own culture—they have to grow up and go find it. Whether they happen to have a parent who is encouraging and respectful is almost entirely a crapshoot, with the odds very much not in their favor. I'm sure that for every Julia Warholia or Jose Ruiz Picasso there are a dozen or a hundred parents who oppress their childrens' artistic natures thinking they need to prepare them for "a real job," never suspecting (or trusting) that art will be their real job and what they do for a living will be their avocation. (Which is a shame, but regretting the situation is like wanting something to be done about the thunder.))



Blogger Paul Butzi said...

On the subject of 'real job' and 'avocation':

But yield who will to their separation,
my object in living is to unite
my avocation and my vocation
as my two eyes make one in sight.

Only where love and need are one,
and the work is play for mortal stakes,
is anything ever really done
for Heaven and the future's sakes

Robert Frost, "Two Tramps at Mud Time", last two stanzas.

That's easily my favorite poem of all time. The whole thing is at

5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'It's not long enough to be essential'

Long enough to have me order his book from cool guy...

I also ordered that Drottningholm Ensemble Vivaldi recording you mentioned last month... the sample you posted gave me goosebumps... (and I don't really care for classical music)

And then your friend also shot a video for Steve Albini, my musical hero when I was a student in the 80s...

Great site Mike...



5:29 PM  
Anonymous pohanginapete said...

Following Paul's comment: when I tell people I'm about to head overseas for an extended period, the most common response I get is something like, "Is this work or holiday/play/leisure/...?" It's always hard to answer, as those distinctions have little meaning for me. It's simply what I do; how I live. Some people understand, a few don't. I suspect the subtext of the question is, "Are you paid to do this?"

7:15 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Hah Paul, I was just thinking of the exact same poem, my favorite too, and also mentioned it today at dinner.

Although contending for 1st place is The Guttural Muse by Seamus Heaney.

Paul (Irish Group Photograph that you printed for me) McEvoy

7:26 PM  
Blogger David Emerick said...

Bill is still at the Corcoran and still ignored by the photo department.


7:40 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"Bill is still at the Corcoran and still ignored by the photo department."

Yeah, what's up with that? I remember that, now that you mention it. You're a faculty member, aren't you? Do you have any inside insight? I think there was a guy named Bob Epstein in the Ceramics Dept. who was a pretty good photographer too, actually did editorial work for some pretty major clients. But there was no crossover allowed there either.

--Mike ('85)

8:21 AM  
Blogger Barry O'Connor said...

Thanks for this--he's one of my favorites. Funny how someone can be doing something so well for so long and only now gain wide recognition for it. Christenberry was also recently interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered.

8:26 AM  
Blogger David Emerick said...


I am no longer at the Corcoran. I really don't know how Bill fell out with the photo dept. I think it was primarily egos and such. It was a real bees nest. I spent a bit of time with Bill in his studio, very nice guy.

I am pretty sure Bob is gone now too. He was a good photographer too and ostracized by the dept.

Tough place to teach right out of grad school!



12:02 PM  
Blogger Chris Combs said...

PJ/'06. Sure he's still there?

12:18 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Allow me one pedantic remark: Picasso first name was Pablo.

Keep on te good work Mike.

2:31 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Jose Ruiz Picasso was Pablo's father.


6:44 AM  
Blogger Photo-T said...

I had the pleasure of hearing WC give a talk and also had the pleasure of sitting with him and having a conversation. I aspire to be the gentleman he is, as well as hoping to make even a few pictures as memorable as most of his are.

5:09 PM  

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