showing|thinking: A Visual Journey into the Thinking Mind

Agnes Scott College’s Dalton Gallery has opened its annual signature exhibition showing|thinking, which is currently on display through April 18, 2016. Each year the show explores the creative act of thinking by selected individuals of college. 

Comprised of materials across mediums, the installations are wonderfully wild journeys through the featured participants’ minds, offering unique portraits of the process of ideation. This year’s exhibition features Calvin Burgamy, educational technologist; Kojo Griffin, Kirk visiting artist; Elizabeth Kiss, president of the college; Amy Lovell, professor of astronomy; and David Thompson, professor of theatre. The following is a conversation with the imaginative and talented minds behind the 2016 showing|thinking exhibition, Nell Ruby, professor of art and director of the Center for Digital and Visual Literacy, and Leah Owenby, fine arts faculty administrative assistant and manager of the permanent collection.

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showing|thinking is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. How did the idea for the show first begin?

NR:  The first year that we did showing|thinking it was kind of an in-between project. A show had fallen through, and the then-director of the Dalton Gallery talked about how she was always doing sketchbook things. We thought let’s do a show that talks about how we come up with ideas.

First only the art and art history faculty participated, and everyone was nervous about it because they thought, “We don’t do this; we don’t show work when we’re not finished!” And you don’t—in academia, there is this tradition of expecting someone to come out with the perfect thing, and it has to be perfect because you’re going to get such criticism for it.  People were very nervous; it’s a vulnerable position to be in. 

How did students respond to the first exhibition?

NR: The students were amazingly affected, and that is what made me think we’ve got something here. It demystified professors and humanized us for students, taking us down from our “thrones” and turning us into people who have bad drawings and drafts, people who aren’t perfect.

Later we asked ourselves how can we expand it to show what everyone does in the liberal arts, so we started inviting people in other disciplines. We felt that this is something everybody does—the creative work we do as original thinkers isn’t part of just being a part of the arts.

How are the people selected for being featured?

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LO: It usually starts with one of the faculty or the director being inspired by a conversation or chance meeting with a potential participant. It might be that she learned something interesting about the participant's field of scholarship or a side project or hobby that is also a part of their overall process. Like math professor Larry Riddle’s  Riddle's amazing cross-stitches; he works on them as he is thinking about a larger problem. Or it could be the drafts upon drafts upon drafts of papers that others may produce in writing for publication, and that sparks the inspiration and the invitation to collaborate.  

Other than providing materials, what else is required of selected participants?

NR: There are three things that participants are invited to do: they give us a quote, they give us a process statement on how they come up with their ideas, and then we have a conversation. The conversation is held during community hour. Everyone sits in a circle for the conversation, and there is an outer circle outside the inner one for people who just want to listen. Students in the art and art history department develop the conversation questions. All the participants featured in the show take part in the conversation, and we talk about the process of coming up with ideas. It’s always a little bit stiff and always really interesting.

How do viewers find or make meaning of the different installations in showing|thinking?

NR: I think we’re not used to not knowing the answer, and I think that’s one of the gifts of art is that there is no right answer. It really is more of an invitation. Art is a way to speak without speaking, and it plays on your intuition and on your senses in a way that you can’t deny it. There is no right or wrong. It’s going to affect you differently than me, so putting stuff out that in a way is kind of haphazard draws people into it at different places.

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How would you say this year’s show different than previous ones?

NR: Partially it’s different because we included the president, but the other thing that’s different is that we have included a staff member. Up until now, we have featured faculty, but we really want to be more inclusive, so the idea of having administrators and staff appealed to us. Everybody thinks originally; to function, everybody has some sort of design of how they come to their ideas.

showing|thinking is about processes. What is the creative process behind producing and designing the exhibition?  

LO: The process begins with a conversation with each participant, in which we ask them to begin work on a statement about their own process and provide a quote that they find inspirational or descriptive of their approach. For some, this may be the first time they've ever thought about their process, so it's really interesting to watch as they discover things about themselves that they may not have noticed before.  As the gallery director continues to meet with the participants, we learn more and more about how they think and work.  We might collect items from their office, bits of inspiration from their studios, notes from meetings or drafts of articles.  As we collect information and items, ideas begin to form about how we might create installations and displays in the gallery that communicate parts of each participant's process. Often, these have a sort of Duchampian quality to them, in the sense that ready-made objects are sometimes displayed as art, like Megan Drinkwater's mixer (bread-making is one of the ways she combats writer's block). Or, art is made with those items as the medium, such as the Strategic Planning Advisory Council meeting notes in President Kiss' section of the current exhibition.

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Anything surprising in this year’s installations?  

LO: We try to surprise patrons with every iteration of this exhibition. Each area gives something of a "behind-the-scenes" glimpse of the person's scholarship and even their life. I think gallerygoers will learn something new about each participant that may surprise them!

showing|thinking 2016 is free and open to the public and is on view through April 18. Visit the Dalton Gallery’s website,, to learn more and find out information about current and future arts events.