The Diorama Tragedy of 1984
tracing the origins of current artistic practices
j a r e d l I n d s a y c l a r k
There were a few collections in those Ann Arbor, Michigan days: my rocks, my shells, my He-man guys, my M.U.S.C.L.E (millions of unusual small creatures lurking everywhere) men, my woven construction paper springs, my garbage pail kid cards, my folders, my eraser dust savings…you know, normal stuff. The way I organized and stored them was just as important as the objects themselves. In fact, when it came to playing with toys I was more of a curator than a kid. This distinction was pronounced one afternoon when a neighbor came over to play He-man. I reluctantly allowed Prince Adam and Battlecat into his hands only to furiously repossess them two minutes later after they had been abusively dirtied and grass-stained in a tousle. He wasn’t a good friend anyway. Durable plastic war hero men with solid muscular limbs were not a thing to be treated roughly. Rather, they were to be carefully arranged and admired for the small sculptures that they were.
So it was that as a new Cub Scout I was excited for the assignment to bring a diorama to the pack meeting. I really had no idea what a diorama was, except that it sounded like it played right into my strengths. I ambitiously stacked every treasured stone from my rock collection into a precariously balanced form I thought of as a ship with a broad sail. Larger coarse fossils and small smooth agates sat balanced in a mound on a shoebox lid. I refused the tyrannical notion of gluing these precious objects together and opted for re-stacking the sculpture several times on the car ride over to Angell school. Re-building the thing had begun to agonize me and after the tightrope walk to the display table the agony heightened into embarrassment. That’s when I learned that the definition of diorama was foreign to my expectations.
Diorama : a meticulously crafted model scene conceived and built to a greater or lesser degree by the parents of 8 to 11-year-old Cub Scout boys.
My confidence in my talents sunk into my shoes, pulling my head down with it. Already red-faced, I lost it when I was called-up for some sort of participation award with the expectation of bringing my artwork to the stage. Didn’t they understand that my work could not be touched without disastrous consequences? My eyes pleaded to my mother, “Shouldn’t I leave it at the table?” Trapped by my obedient nature, I gingerly lifted my masterpiece. Of course it slumped into a pile. The rest is blurry – the climax of the tragedy selectively blanked-out - because I’m pretty sure there was some ill-concealed crying going on.
Obviously scarred, I abandoned the fruitful artistic direction of stacking, arranging, and collecting until now, twenty years later. It’s remarkable that my artistic career made it past “the Diorama Tragedy of 1984. Luckily my drawing hadn’t been traumatized. I focused on my plans to become the next Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield. That Garfield! It was clear to me that he was not only the most hilarious, but also the best -drawn comic cat out there. My best friend, Alex Bigelow, liked to draw too, but he never believed that I made my drawing of Garfield and Pookie without tracing, (even though I obvioiusly had blown-up the scale). Man, was he going to eat his heart out when we grew up and I had the Garfield gig!
small build in progress
studio shot with roundies and tube collection in background