FUSE Workshop Recap: Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and “Catalyst Ranch” Part 2


Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and “Catalyst Ranch”

We entered the institute and were greeted by Annie and Brendan who gave us a brief synopsis of what we were embarking on for the day. The group sat quietly. We ate pastries and drank coffee and juice. That took what felt like about 4 minutes…


“The Rock” by Robert Blume (1944-1948)

Before we knew it we were in the museum in front of a World War II era painting by Robert Blume entitled “The Rock.” The colors were beautifully painted. Reds, blues, grays, earth tones… The composition was masterfully executed. The subject matter was of a group of industrial era workers in a production line working frantically, banging hammers, shoveling, moving rocks… They were twisted in cartoon-like and rubbery movements and their work seemed to be directionless and oppressive. To the right of the scene was a dilapidated Victorian era house with plumes of smoke in front of it from a bonfire created by one of the workers. To the left, a more modern looking construction site in the background representing more of the international style of architecture. And centrally sat the rock from which the painting got its title. It was on an unstable pedestal with the skeleton of an unknown animal just beneath it. The painting communicated chaos, desperation and oppression.


Annie led the discussion asking us what our impressions were. We discussed our initial reactions… what colors we saw first, what feelings we experienced, etc. and as a group we critiqued the work. What made the discussion compelling was a self-consciousness that Annie fostered. Throughout the day she repeatedly encouraged us to understand our own reactions to the pieces we were observing. She encouraged us not to point at the pictures but to try and express our thoughts with words. Rather than focusing on what the art “meant” or what the artist was saying, we as a group were looking into ourselves and identifying our own reactions. There was no right or wrong. As a design professional, I found it a refreshing contrast to what I am used to.


Brendan then geared the talk more in the direction of how we can use the same kind of dialog in our everyday business environment. We considered the idea that many times in a more corporate setting, there needs to be a right way and a wrong way. Ultimately this is how we filter things down to the lowest common denominator and get to the “bottom line.” Annie advised us that many times we need to be going through these thoughts on our own while at work because many times business people see little value in open ended discussion. “Keep the party in your head…” She said.

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