I’ve been in advertising and creating art in one way or another through photography and design for the better part of my life. I still love learning new techniques and discovering new ways of doing things. To that end, I recently spent some time talking to Theodora Richmond over a cup of coffee at Mary Margaret’s Tea and Biscuit … and I must tell that you I was enlightened by our conversation.

Theodora is the instructor of Art Appreciation at the DeSoto campus of South Florida State College. Our short discussion revealed to me that understanding is the key to appreciation. For instance, how in the world could a painting of Campbell’s soup cans by Andy Warhol be called art?

Well, according to Theodora, here’s how that came about: “Throughout history, art had always had some kind of constraints placed on it, either by a government, aristocracy, or religion.

“After World War II,” she continued, “the whole world was in tatters. Our entire social structure was being examined, as such this became one of the most exciting periods in the world of art. European artists came to the United States and everyone thought that we needed a new way of looking at and creating art, without constraints. So, for instance, a French artist named Marcel Duchamp started a movement called ‘Dadaism,’ where a person could take a common object like a bicycle and call it art. From that point we moved into ‘Cubism,’ where an artist broke the subject apart and reconstructed it.”

She continued: “Performance art came out of these movements by combining theater and art. In the beginning, people would get together in groups called ‘Happenings.’ For instance, at a poetry reading a person would stand up in front of the group and shout out random words like ‘bicycle’ or ‘post office.’ These ‘Happenings’ were very common in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Today, performance art is a specialized form of fine art. Artists use their bodies and inanimate objects to convey artistic expression, and relate directly with the wider social world. It eliminates the art as an object and concentrates on the event itself. Nothing durable is created, rather the artists bring ideas to the viewers. The only record is in the remembered experience and the recorded photographs.”

I just attended Theodora’s Performance Art presentation at South Florida State College. It was well organized and the 23 students who participated were professional in their approach to the subject. The title “Well Read/Red Students” made perfect sense. Each student was outside, on the ground reading red books on red mats, ergo “Well Read.” They were all dressed entirely in red, therefore “Red Students.”

Going back and looking at the individual photos I had taken, that helped me recognize the artistic expression of the event, of what was being portrayed. I must say that knowing the history behind what the SFSC students and Theodora were doing made all the difference in my appreciation of the program. I say again, understanding is the key to appreciation.

And for that, thanks, Theodora Richmond.

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