Physical Manifestations of Questions

A couple of years after I finished my MFA, I remember seeing a public artwork that was someone’s MFA thesis project. I was floored by the ambition this artist had, envious of her access to materials and funding, but ultimately, I was struck by the investigation itself. It would not have occurred to me, as I worked on my degree, to ask such questions. I was pursuing big questions, as grad students often do, but not ones that assumed access to materials such as granite, historic buildings, or insurance. If these resources had been available to me, or had I known that they were, how would I have indulged my curiosities differently, and what questions might have emerged? What would my curiosities have looked like? 

It can be difficult to imagine how our questions could be different. Contemporary artworks are often the physical manifestations of questions and investigations. Looking and describing them can provide insight into how we all work with questions as material.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to ask a question, and how those questions can be shaped by the tools and resources that we imagine are available to us.

Scholars across disciplines explore this - whether a question precedes the tool or the tool inspires a particular question. And of course it isn’t an either/or situation, but rather a relationship among thoughts and materiality that shift and exert force in varying amounts.   I've been enjoying looking the British Library's Flicker stream of public domain images, and this geologic illustration helps to visualize relationships among forces, and how they are inextricable from discovery.

Image above is taken from page 110 of 'La Terra, trattato popolare di geografia universale per G. Marinelli ed altri scienziati italiani, etc. [With illustrations and maps.]'


Kate Joranson

Business Reference Librarian, Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh Kate Joranson studied art at the University of Wisconsin, earned her MFA at Ohio State University, and an MLIS at the University of Pittsburgh. As both a librarian and an artist, she enjoys the accidental nature of looking for one thing, and finding something else. As a blogger, she cultivates collisions and connections among seemingly disparate interests. Snow drifts, messy kitchens, market research, and pink scaffolding are all topics you may encounter on her blog, where she explores search engines as a medium. Also: small business owner, gardener, knitter.