Mark MessengerMark Messenger

Imagine walking into the Diablo Valley College library and seeing a sculpture on display, and then finding out that very sculpture was featured in a current Chinese magazine for art collectors. Talk about a small world. And it really happened.

The artist is Mark Messenger, an art professor at DVC for the past 15 years. He began work on the sculpture in May 2009 in the DVC studio, then drove the sculpture to Joseph, Oregon to work on it during a summer residency at the LH Project in the Wallowa Valley. At the end of the summer, he drove it back and worked on it in his home studio during the 2009-2010 school year, completing it in the summer of 2010.

According to Messenger, his sculpture was part of an international ceramic exhibition, The Ceramics Annual of America (CAA), held at Fort Mason in August 2010. It involved artists from around the world, including China, and the event got a lot of attention. The article in the Chinese magazine was rooted in this exchange. Messenger did not know his sculpture was included in the magazine until after it was published, when he was notified by John Natsoulas of the Natsoulas Gallery in Davis, one of the organizers of the CAA.

Messenger said he has a student from China, Binan Zhang, in his class this term, and she translated the magazine article for him.

“The text examines the differences and similarities in how ceramic materials and techniques are used in China and America, and the specific artworks featured provide examples,” he said. “From what I could gather, my sculpture provided an example of combining low fire temperatures for a specific color palette with stoneware sculpture clay for strength.”

Messenger says all he knows about the magazine is that “it serves as an educational device for collectors. I was honored to be included.”

“As an artist,” Messenger said, “positive international press is always good. It can help open new opportunities with galleries, museums, collectors and other institutions and encourages making more artwork. As a professor, it provides exposure for my college and contextualization for my students, many of whom come from other countries.

“I have been proud to work at DVC because of its long and unique history of dedication to the liberal arts and to the studio arts in particular,” he continued. “In this climate of cuts and compromise, I think it is significant to note that creative problem solving is perhaps most specifically outlined and consistently practiced in the fine art discipline. These classes, in particular those which are lecture/lab combinations, focus on understanding and referencing precedent, exploring and applying innovative strategies of production and, ultimately, coming up with something new that is relevant. Sounds a lot like a recovery plan to me, so long as we are able to hold our philosophical (and ultimately practical) ground beyond the present tyranny of quarterly reports.”

Messenger’s sculpture will be on display in the DVC library until April 16. It will then be moved to Davis to be part of the exhibition 30 Ceramic Sculptors at the Natsoulas Gallery, to be held in conjunction with the 22nd annual California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art.

“Given that I teach art,” Messenger said, “the message behind this is not so much my particular sculpture, but the importance of art education. The intellectual skills art fosters don’t provide a quick fix, but neither are they isolated. In concert with the skills emphasized in other disciplines, the collective and long-term rewards are profound.”

He continued, “As limited examples, relatively few individuals in math and science classes are going to become professionals in those fields. But each of us faces complex issues for which precise analytic reasoning is crucial, not to mention the more immediate benefits of balancing finances or understanding health issues. Likewise, relatively few individuals in PE classes become professional athletes, but who can deny the positive effects of personal discipline, team mentality or sensitive leadership?

“We all enjoy the benefits of art, but few of us will become professional artists. Nonetheless, everyone has daily opportunities to apply creative problem solving. We either become practiced in this art, or fall back on habitual solutions. Bottom line: are we producing specialists, or are we educating well informed, creative problem solvers?”