Both my friends José Álvarez Cornett, and Richard Jacobs invited me to write about my teacher Dore Ashton (1928-2017).
Thank you guys. It has been a nice little ride into my early twenties. What a gift it is to be able to fly back. A smile drawn in my face, my heart pumping a little faster, my whole body from skin to bones, should I say soul, filled with the emotion of the world opening in front of my very eyes. I was on the shores of adulthood. Art School in New York City. Art School friends. There could not possibly be a more exciting place to be.
Dore Ashton is indeed on these shores. Cooper Union, ground floor, past the Art Gallery somewhat hidden, was her classroom a not too big room fit for slides and film projections. That space was anything but dark, maybe obscure for there was so much to be discovered. And there she was, this lean, not tall, nervous in the way she moved and very very knowledgeable mature woman. She had a clear northeastern accent and a somewhat strange way of pronouncing the “s” en “sh” sounds.
I knew who she was. As for myself I was a shy, very sensitive and passionate young woman. I took an Art History class with her -XX Century Art- and a Art History Seminar. They were both fascinating. We did not have a text book for the XX C Art History class, we were constantly referred to original documents, i.e. texts written by artists themselves, poets, writers, historians and other thinkers. We were also asked to watch movies. Appalled and overwhelmed I was, we were bombarded with sources. How could we possibly read them all with so much more going on? There was the very city, fascinating libraries (Cooper Union´s and NYU´s just few blocks away), literally hundreds of Art Exhibits and The Met, The Guggenheim, MoMA, the Whitney, Soho and the up town Galleries. We had studio classes and also Art History, English, Anthropology and so on. I just took notes and read as much as I could, I dwelled in books hours on end when writing my papers.
Dore was not just knowledgeable, as any true teacher, she made us think. She would ask and had us ask ourselves questions, reflect upon the very nature of Art and Art creation, look around and acknowledge what was happening around us with a curious, alert, critical eye. She took advantage of every opportunity, national and international news, art exhibits, a concert, a conference, a book she was reading or writing, to make a point on being aware of the various dimensions of the human endeavors. Connections made, associations drawn. When it came to reading our papers, they would always return to us with thought provoking notes on the sides, either further developing an idea or statement or encouraging us to continue researching sources and/or topics. She was very critical, even very opinionated, as Richard says. We knew that supporting every statement she made, there was solid investigation and much thinking. Not less that is what she demanded of us.
I was in my Senior year, I could not take any more classes with her. We would bump into each other in hallways, she would salute me warmly and make remarks here and there, including on my Senior Art show. I was too shy to ask for more. To my surprise I was invited to attend her wedding party. A small gathering of people, her closest friends I assume. It was on a small lower East side apartment if I remember well. It was filled with art works and books. I offered her a drawing of mine. She danced happily with the groom, she loved dancing, she talked in a joyful light way.
A few months after graduation I went back to Venezuela to seize my life as an artist. Apart from working in my studio, my first job was as an Art And Art History teacher at a newly found and very special high school. My Art History classes were totally inspired by Dore´s. I would bring music, philosophy and poems, scientific findings and I also commented on the daily news. My goal was to make them love art and the wonders of human creations, as much as I did.
Years went by, I did not get back in touch with Dore. She is and has been more present than I would have ever imagined. Life has wonderful ways to have us come back to the pivotal people of our journeys. Two years ago, on the Rothko retrospective at the MFAH, she was present on every opening talk at the auditorium, she was also there with me revisiting beloved Rothko. I got myself one of her well known books “ About Rothko”… THANK YOU, Dore Ashton.
These lines were beautifully edited by Isabel Zubizarreta Otero. Thank you Isa.