eyes

Critically acclaimed author, curator, and visual artist reflects on life’s terror and beauty, finding hope amidst the harsh realities of chronic illness. Press Release… I Give My Eyes.

PHILADELPHIA

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Renaissance man of creative leanings, Brian H. Peterson has written  a new collection of stories, essays, poetry, and images,  drawing on his lifelong dedication to creativity and the arts. As a writer, photographer, musician, and teacher, Peterson’s more  than five decades of “in the trenches” experience fills the pages of his new title, “I Give My Eyes…” (Apr. 6, 2018, Due Santi Press, Bethlehem, PA).

A reflection on faith, art, and Peterson’s ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease, “I Give My Eyes…” employs bittersweet humor, clear-eyed  nostalgia, and a rhythmic prose style that creates a memorable and beautifully nuanced read. Art lovers and artists, seekers of substance, and anyone who enjoys holding a beautiful book in their hands will have a deep affinity for this title as readers get to know a man who’s dedicated his life to the things he loves.

An Interview With Brian H. Peterson:

eyes

  1. How did you decide on the contents  and composition of “I Give My Eyes…”?

That’s a bit like asking an apple tree how it makes an apple. My wife and I used to “own” an apple tree, a beautiful, gnarly old thing in our backyard. Every August it produced meaty, wormy fruit that dropped to the ground with a plop, attracting deer from near and far, driving our two dogs utterly bobo. Occasionally I wondered what it feels like to blossom and bear fruit in such a vast quantity. Does the tree sort of squeeeeeeze them out of its tiny stem-lets? Does it think, in tree-lingo, “Let there be apples?” Or does it bow its tree-crown low, listen to the  wind in its branches, feel the sunlight feeding its leaf-engines, and just enjoy being an apple tree? And then the apples appear?

Of course, people and apples took very different paths up  the evolutionary tree. Sometimes I have to struggle like a madman to make something both cogent and beautiful. Sometimes the apples just appear, as if they’d always been there and only needed to be seen for what they are. Once in a while there are just no apples to be found. This book was somewhere between “just appear” and “madman.” A whole lot of work to get to the place where the fruit just shows up on its own. I guess that sums it up. Except to say, I gotta feel really really good about being me, all the way down to the subatomic level, or I’m liable to start making strawberries. Even the hungriest deer would take one sniff and start looking for the real thing.

2. What is your favorite memory from your time as a museum curator?

I started out life as a teacher, and in the classroom I was connecting with people every day. This soul-to-soul conversation disappeared when I became a curator. Sure, there were gallery talks, reviews, lectures—but I missed that sense of dialogue, comradeship, and shared journey. As years flowed by, I tinkered with ways to re-create that back-and-forth, but was never satisfied with the results. The truth is, I wasn’t ready to make the necessary leap into the unknown. It took me nearly twenty years to get the confidence and clout to actually do it.

The “beauty show” began as a reaction to criticism from a major foundation that our exhibit program was not avant-garde enough, not hip or trendy or cool enough. In a fit of pique, I came up with a concept that was exactly what those funders were telling us not to do. How about a project on beauty? An exhibit that explored beauty creatively using living artists (poets and photographers), and tried to honor its complexity and contradictions instead of reducing it to theory and aesthetics?

One component of the show gave visitors an opportunity to finish the phrase, “As beautiful as . . .” The responses flowed to my desk once a week, and each time they arrived, I was more amazed. The words were clever, well -spoken, courageous, inventive, thoughtful. And they were perfectly in tune with the rather mysterious experience of beauty I was trying to share. I had no idea who these folks were, except they were fellow human organisms who happened to see the show, and they got it. They understood. We had connected.

So I put a few examples in “I Give My Eyes…”, because they just needed to be shared. It was deeply satisfying that an exhibition I dreamed up for a less-than-noble reason could stimulate such a beautiful conversation. That was a high point of my museum career, and probably the best thing I did.—Making Magic: Beauty in Word and Image [James A. Michener Art Museum, 2012]

How does this book expand upon your previous titles?

It picks up a couple of threads and spools them out further, but early on I decided to write this one as if the others didn’t exist. I needed that sense of innocence to keep it honest and real.

What advice would you give young artists starting their careers? 

Be patient and don’t be afraid to pay your dues. In addition to making it honest and real, it needs to be good. The standards of excellence are daunting but grappling with them tends to separate wheat from chaff. Oh, almost forgot. Have fun. Step back from the process of engagement here and there, look around, and feel the joy of being an apple tree. That’s my biggest, maybe my only regret.  I was so concerned with the daily struggle that I didn’t  enjoy it enough.     

5. What is your favorite career accomplishment?

I survived. And through it all I kept my creative work alive.

     

 

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Brian H. Peterson has more than forty years’ experience as a curator, critic, visual artist, musician, and arts administrator. His photographs are in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Amon Carter Museum, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Denver Art Museum, among others. As the Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator at the Michener Art Museum (1990–2013), he managed the exhibition program, curated historic and contemporary exhibitions, and was the editor and principal author of the landmark publication Pennsylvania Impressionism (2002). The author of two prior collections of essays—The Smile at the Heart of Things (2009) and The Blossoming of the World (2011)—Peterson has contributed critical writing to the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, American Arts Quarterly, and the Photo Review. In retirement he has taken up videography while continuing his work as a writer and photographer. His 1981 song cycle “Moon Songs,” based on the poetry of E. E. Cummings, was featured on the CD Modern American Art Song (2015) with mezzo-soprano Sharon Mabry.

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