THE ART OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY CLUB HOSTS EXHIBITION OF WORK
BY RETIRED PHILOSOPHY CHAIRS
Art is now a priority for retired philosophy professors John Bruce, left, Doug Odegard, centre, and George Todd.
An unusual group exhibition now showing in the University Club brings together the paintings of three retired faculty who have much more in common than talent with a paintbrush.
Profs. John Bruce, Doug Odegard and George Todd are all former chairs of the Department of Philosophy. They shared a professional specialization in the philosophy of art and art theory when they were teaching at Guelph, and each has made the creation of art a retirement priority.
The show runs until May 15 and includes watercolours, oils and oil pastels that reflect the distinct painting style of each artist.
The philosophers' trilogy really began with Bruce, who taught both Odegard and Todd at the University of Western Ontario in the early 1960s and later hired them for Guelph's Philosophy Department, established in 1965. Bruce was chair from 1965 to 1970 and assumed a similar responsibility in the Department of Fine Art for an interim period of a few months. Even then, he was active in writing poetry, sketching and painting.
In 1974, Bruce published a novel called Breathing Space that is set in rural Ontario, and his paintings also draw heavily on the Ontario landscape. After retirement, he wanted to engage in more physical work, so he turned from words to stones in an effort to interpret his natural surroundings. On a farm property near Durham, he has built several stone buildings and walls. Photographs of his stonework are included in the University Club exhibit.
The self-taught stone mason says his retirement project "has been a great experience because it turned out to be sort of a counterpart of academic and intellectual life, yet a reflection of similar problems and creative excitement." A philosopher trying to unscramble a particular moral problem is not that far removed from a stone mason encountering complex architectural problems, he says.
Odegard, on the other hand, paints primarily faces - both human and animal - dealing with a variety of topics and themes. The interest dates back to his teenage years when he often drew cartoon strips, but he put away the sketchbook when he started university and didn't pick it up again until his retirement from Guelph six years ago. He followed Bruce as chair of the Department of Philosophy in 1970.
From sketching to painting, Odegard says his drawings gradually became images that seemed to mean something and to capture visually a kind of knowledge. "Artistic endeavour puts you in touch with a kind of reality that is difficult to access otherwise," he says.
His painted faces explore philosophical issues such as the existence of mind, soul or spirit. "As a philosopher, I thought I had arguments that there is a unique spirit in human beings, but you can bring that out more vividly as an artist. I would never admit it as a philosopher, but I think now that there are things you can't express in words."
Odegard has explored faces in several media, but only once has he done an actual portrait - a self portrait. "That is an anxiety-filled process," he says, but one that everyone should be forced to do at some time in their life. "When you come out the other side, you've learned something about yourself."
Todd would agree that art, like philosophy, is a demanding pursuit. He adopted the latter after his first year of university when he decided he was not cut out to be a physical education teacher after all, and has been painfully learning the former since he retired from U of G in 1989.
Todd was chair of the Department of Philosophy from 1973 to 1981, then served a term as chair of the Department of Fine Art. He admits that he tried his hand at drawing only when prodded by students who took his courses in art theory and asked about his own artistic endeavours. He first enrolled in a studio drawing course at U of G, then joined a community artists' group, where he says he was eventually forced to pick up a paintbrush.
The problem - and ultimately the best feature - of both experiences was that no one would tell him what to do, says Todd. Like many of Guelph's fine art students, he felt lost at first, but eventually came to appreciate the significance of that freedom. "The freedom of learning for yourself is one of the beauties of art. "You have to learn it for yourself; there isn't any other way."
Most of Todd's work depicts scenes from his travels abroad, and his current efforts are inspired by a recent 20-week sojourn in Ireland.
How great thou art? Visit the University Club to find out.
BY MARY DICKIESON, PHOTO BY MARTIN SCHWALBE