I first met Norman Cornett at an exhibition of my paintings, and noticed him because he took the time to look. Since then, I have met with him, read his art critiques, and developed a respect for his educational methods. I saw an excellent film his students produced after one of his summer workshops, and appreciate his methods as an educator. I consider him an excellent translator of the visual language; an academic who questions the artificial boundaries of departments and faculties; and a man who understands the life-affirming nature of art and therefore its ethical potential for human commonality and learning. Utilizing art and artists, he asks the difficult questions, challenges the standards and conventions of the Madhatter’s tea-party of academia, and thereby gains my respect as an isolated artist/educator at McGill. I hope others will muster the courage to speak up for academic freedom at McGill, and continue to ask why.
Why was he fired? Why are we scared to speak up? Why are we so afraid to challenge the status quo? The lack of place for the visual artist and free thinker at our university is ironic in light of the work of the respected McGill researcher in psychology and physiognomy, Edward de Bono:
“It might be wondered where the artist comes in. In his search for new ways of looking at things, in his dedication to breaking down the old conventions of perception, is not the artist the supreme user of lateral thinking? In the world of art, it would seem that lateral thinking is going on all the time under the more self-satisfying name of creative thinking. The artist is open to ideas, influences, and chance. The artist seeks to develop an intense awareness. The artist tries to escape from the accepted vision of things, often by deliberate use of unreason.”
“Escape from the accepted vision of things often by deliberate use of unreason?” Why, that sounds like the criticism directed at the freestyle teaching methods of Norman Cornett, doesn’t it?
Visual artist, adjunct professor of freehand sketching
McGill School of Architecture