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Arneson to deliver fall Mellby Lecture

By Amelia Schoeneman '12
October 17, 2011

St. Olaf Professor of Art Wendell Arneson has a simple philosophy for life: stay awake.

He attributes the wisdom to fellow artist Agnes Martin, who, he says, "believed the meaning of life is to be sensitive, to pay attention to the wonderful things around you."

Arneson's observations of the things all around him have informed his artwork. He has incorporated his own memories into his work, using his art to reflect on his different life experiences.

Arneson will talk about how new and old memories connect with the evolution of his work when he delivers the fall Mellby Lecture, a retrospective on his past 15 years of painting and living titled "Remember to Remember." The lecture will take place on Wednesday, October 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Buntrock Commons, Viking Theater. It will be streamed live and archived online.

A reception will follow in Dittmann Center, where an exhibit of Arneson's paintings titled Back and Forth, a retrospective will be on display until October 23. The exhibit reflects on Arneson's artistic journey since 1970.

A professor of art at St. Olaf since 1978 and the Oscar and Gertrude Boe Overby Distinguished Professor, Arneson describes his painting before coming to the Hill as reflecting the natural landscape and memories of his home. He attributes the transformation of his work to a key moment in his life: when he and his wife made the decision in 1994 to adopt internationally.

"It changed intuitively who I am and became, not necessarily reflected in the colors or images of the work, an intuitive part of the pieces," Arneson says. Looking back on first considering adopting, preparing and finalizing the steps, and the time now spent with their two young daughters, Arneson feels that "it has influenced me before, during, and after the adoption process."

Arneson aims to engage Mellby Lecture attendees in similar reflections on memory and the past. Displaying visuals of his work "that reflect my memory will connect viewers to the images through comparing and analyzing the work, thus allowing others to enter their own memories."

The body of the talk will be divided into four parts. The first three sections — a discussion of memory affecting Arneson's work and one's daily life; the use of images and symbols in his work; and a look into the process or the conversation he has with his paintings — will lead into the fourth: a self-reflective look into what informs the meaning of his art.

"On one level, the seed of my work is personal, but in producing the work, it transforms into a dialogue," Arneson says.

Those exposed to Arneson's art have access to his personal memories and the opportunity to enter their own personal dialogues on memory. "Art opens a door or a window through which a viewer can enter," he says. "Once inside, they can find a layer of meaning in their own life ... their own spiritual and cultural memory, memories of family, and of identity."

The Mellby Lectures
The annual Mellby lectures are named in remembrance of St. Olaf faculty member Carl A. Mellby and were established in 1983 to give professors the opportunity to share their research with the public. Mellby, known as "the father of social sciences" at St. Olaf, started the first courses in economics, sociology, political science, and art history at the college. He was professor and administrator from 1901 to 1949, taught Greek, German, French, religion, and philosophy, and is credited with creating the college's honor system.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or