Parallel Lines

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Call it synchronicity, coincidence, or the collective unconscious at work, but a creative experiment titled 10 Days by Herb Jackson ’67 and Alan Michael Parker yielded a new form of interdisciplinary collaboration and compelling results.

Abstract artist Jackson retired this spring as the Douglas C. Houchens Professor of Fine Arts. Longtime friends, he and poet and novelist Parker have always considered professional collaboration, but the inherent limitations of collaborating through different mediums gave them pause. “The problem with interdisciplinary collaboration is that it becomes hierarchical—someone is reacting to someone else,” said Parker, professor of English and director of creative writing. “One art form becomes subservient to another, and you get into a situation where you’re unduly sacrificing aesthetic decisions.”

To allow for mutual freedom, the pair came up with a plan. They picked 10 specific days over 15 months, and on each day, independently created a painting or poem. The only preordained parameter for the works was scale: each of Parker’s poems would fit on a page of 8-by-11- inch paper, and Jackson’s drawings would be 7 by 10 inches.

They showed their pieces to no one, and no one knew about the undertaking. On a project day, the only discussion between poet and artist was to indicate completion— Parker would send an e-mail that said “Day 3?” Jackson would respond “done.” Jackson said, “We never communicated—or did we?”

The public unveiling of the work showcased an uncanny unity of effect between the paired pieces. Parker said, “The results were spooky.” For example, for day 9, Parker’s poem told of teenagers dropping cement dust on passersby, and Jackson’s palette corroborated his partner’s poem. The work is a light blue, almost white—an extreme departure from the bright palette of purples and reds in the rest of the series. Likewise, the ladder-like horizontal lines of Jackson’s painting for day 10 coincided with Parker’s poem about climbing into his childhood tree house.

The diptychs were displayed in the Spencer Lobby of Chambers Building, and a book of the poems and paintings is available for purchase at the college store.

When asked if they would repeat the project, Jackson said, “This was a one-shot deal. But you can do it with someone if you’d like!” A group of 20 students have already taken Jackson up on his offer with a response titled One Day, for which student visual artists and poets paired up to follow their professors’ formula.

—Kelly Beggs

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