Laurie Anderson's commencement speech on art, science and space

Gayle from the School of Visual Arts in NYC sez, "Acclaimed multimedia artist Laurie Anderson gave the commencement address this year at the School of Visual Arts' (SVA) graduation ceremony, held at New York City's Radio City Music Hall on May 10. In a speech that was at turns thoughtful and lighthearted, she interwove stories from her own career beginnings, including lessons learned while studying at SVA with Sol Lewitt, anecdotes from her experience as NASA's first artist-in-residence and advice for the 2012 graduates, encouraging them to relish the freedom inherent in being an artist. Anderson explained, 'The reason I'm an artist is that it's one of the few things that you can do in this world in which you are totally free -- absolutely no one tells you what you can do and what you can't do.' Anderson ended her address with a treat for the audience: she played a tune using what she called "a pillow recorder" as a make-shift harmonica. Afterward, Anderson accepted an honorary degree presented by SVA Board Member Janet Knox."

NASA cancelled the Artist-in-Residence program after Anderson's tenure, thanks to an unnamed senator's austerity witch-hunt, and Anderson makes a good case for what an artist adds to a venture like NASA. She's a fascinating and insightful speaker, and manages to say intelligent things about art without being esoteric or opaque, which is a rare gift.

5. Commencement Speaker's Address: Laurie Anderson (Thanks, Gayle!)


    1. Not a problem – Anderson’s never been concerned with flattery.  Trust me on this.

  1. to paraphrase: “You need to make something to find out what you want to make.”
    Truer words were never spoken. Probably.
    This comment is a working model.

    1. A visual artist in support of a mission is totally different from an artisit-in-residence who is not tasked for visuals for a mission. The “visual stategist” may be an artist, true. But this is not an artist-in-residence.

  2. It’s a pillow speaker, which being a voice-coil speaker, also works as a microphone that fits in your mouth. 

    1. Are you sure that’s what’s happening? I thought it was a bit simpler than that: the speaker was playing a pre-recorded piece, which she was altering by altering the shape of her mouth. 

      1. I just watched it again. The device is an old-fashioned iPod, and it appears that she is playing the song and modulating the sound from the speaker with her lips. There is a bit of delay between a new note and her mouth opening. So yeah, you’re right.

    2.  my wager-  she played the notes on a small keyboard through the pillow speaker and bent the notes through mouth shape, like a harmnica.

  3. I nominate William Proxmire as my suspect for “the unnamed senator.”

    Whenever he needed attention he’d issue a “Golden Fleece” award to berate some science project.

  4. Sad about NASA no longer having an artist in residence, but you know what? It’s 2012 and a new day has already dawned for private space exploration. I wonder if Space X has an artist in residence program?

  5. I was there in person and enjoyed Laurie Anderson’s talk and performance piece.  The highlight for me, tho, was seeing my daughter Laura Knetzger graduate with honors from the School of Visual Arts! 

  6. I am surprised that an artist who has scrupulously avoided bearing any really serious witness to her time is now exhorting young artists to do so. Better late than never, I guess. Still, no surprise that she’s taken with Occupy, another all signifier and no cattle kind of undertaking. Like her work.

    1. Oh, get over yourself.  She does what she wants, and many people like what she does.  What ground have you broken that you feel you can piss on her?

      1. I guess there might be some substance in your reply if my comment were about her failure to break new ground or over whether or not a lot of people find her gimmicky, shallow work interesting. Reread and try again.

        1. You edited your original post.  Now you’re saying something very different to cover your earlier bile.  How tediously un-clever.  And now your off in an Occupy whine.  Like I said before, get over yourself.

    2. Either you are a nihilist or you know nothing about her work. She has always been a witness to her time in the most challenging ways. But her work is much more than that, she has continually worked to reveal our deepest, most troubling communal delusions. 

  7. and I have to say this, though I don’t really get it… Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed have apparently been extraordinarily tolerant or kind with my schizophrenic kindergarten friend when he travels to New York. Conversely, when I travel to the homedorf, my schizophrenic kindergarten friend makes frequent sense.

  8. Brilliant speech!
    Thanks for posting Cory.

    My all time favourite performance is Laurie Anderson doing Home of the Brave in Melbourne, Australia, on 27 March 1986.
    The show was delayed by an hour, to allow people through the city to get to the Arts Centre.
    Melbourne had it’s first taste of what’s now described as “terrorism”that night.
    The show was more poignant to me, as my hometown also lost it’s perceived innocence.

  9. So, I’m sitting at graduation and the speaker starts going “huh huh huh huh huh huh” and then says “O, Superman . . .” and I’m thinking, wait, am I tripping balls, or what?

  10. What’s wrong about being “esoteric”? Even science is obliged to go “esoteric” (Quantum Physics, 100th Monkey Phenomenon, Zilberbaum’s matrix, etc.).

    What does LA have to teach us about “art”? She has been widely promoted and glamorised — she has no subvesrive or fresh feel to her “art”, she is from an old age of blue-eyed, artificially promoted elite-pleasers.

    As for NASA, who frigging cares about NASA: ALL of us see (and often interact) with entities zig-zagging and appearing disappearing in the skies, who the hell gives a flying fig about a fake institution designed as a facade covering the truth about extraordinarry technology (and other facts…)being conealed from the people… (and my anger is not directed at Corry guy who’s articles i do appreciate greatly..)

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