Last week I spent a brief couple of days at Ohio University as one of the speakers for the Third Annual Schuneman Symposium held in conjunction with Ohio University’s School of Visual Communications and the School of Journalism. The symposium is named for its benefactor, R. Smith “Smitty” Schuneman, who, with his wife Pat, and their son Bill, attended the symposium.
Smitty Schuneman was my teacher and mentor while I was studying at the University of Minnesota between 1960-1964. He was the finest kind of teacher one could hope for: an enthusiastic, energetic disciplinarian who asked for your best and settled for nothing less. He and Pat, have been treasured friends for 50 years.
So last Wednesday I stood in the lovely theater of the student union building and projected work from my book “Five Decades.” Their projection was quite good and that’s kind of a crap game now that we’re in the digital age. If one goes to speak somewhere, one is at the mercy, so to speak, of what ever digital projection system exists and some of it is simply goddamn awful. The old days of having a dark room or auditorium with a Kodak Carousel tray and a bright bulb (and one in reserve in case the one in the projector burns out) and some well made duplicate transparencies, are over. It’s all digital now but all digital projectors, of course, are not equal. I did a talk to some creative writing students at the University of Montana one night last fall and the projector was so expletive bad I couldn’t believe it. So I simply looked at my computer, which was, of course, very good, and read excerpts from my book. I couldn’t bear to look at the big screen. It would have been sickening.
What I found last Wednesday was a fault not in the projection, nor in my choice of pictures to show and talk about, but in my failure to be able to complete at the end of my presentation a few words I’d wanted to express to the students that filled that theater. It was a wonderful audience of young enthusiastic men and women eager to go out into the world of visual communication, a world that has changed so very much since I entered into it 47 years ago. My presentation ran a bit long because Smitty made such a nicely detailed introduction and there were speakers scheduled to follow me, thus there was time for only a question or two from the audience and I’d really hoped to give them more time for questions. It’s not often I get a chance to speak to such a young, enthusiastic audience of bright and inquisitive minds.
So I tried to tell them how important it is to care.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But if you don’t really care, if you allow yourself to be indifferent, there’s no way you will do superior work, unless, of course, you are a genius and I personally don’t know anybody who is. I can’t overemphasize the importance of caring. And by that I’m not saying one must love the subject at hand; you might hate it, but one way or another you have to care about what you do.
And then I tried to tell them, no–I tried to wish them–the greatest gift they might possibly discover for themselves and that is that when they go out to earn a living that they find something they truly love to do. But I couldn’t quite get that last sentence out. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s that one’s emotions take over at a certain point and unfortunately that can come right when one wants to be articulate and that’s hard to do if one’s emotions are taking away one’s voice. So I waved a thanks for their applause and turned away, defeated, as it were, by the intensity of my best wishes for them. Knowing how lucky I’ve been over the years to have increasingly loved my work life, sometimes overwhelms me. As difficult as it has been for others who aren’t totally able to share in it, I have loved my work. There can be no greater reward, I think, than to be blessed in that way. I just couldn’t get the words out but I hope they felt what I meant to say.
For what I was able to say during that presentation you might try the site of Ohio University’s streaming it out live that afternoon, although when I tried to view it I couldn’t get it to go all the way to completion. I’m not sure why.