The Relationship between Profession and Practice

UC Denver - 2011

Two words/concepts to consider when thinking about the work we do:

Profession – “a calling” the act of openly claiming a belief or opinion.

Practice – practicing and expression of a calling. To apply.

The belief that I hold is that there exists a reciprocal relationship between nature and culture.

How I recognize this relationship takes place will seem at the very least, unconventional to many of you, and unfathomable to some…

If creativity is not a chief characteristic of civility, rather a chief characteristic of the wild, then we create not out of our belonging to civilization but from our belonging to the world. Understanding the origins of creativity helps make sense of Thoreau’s words, in “wildness is the preservation of the world.” His concern for the preservation of “wildness” has imbedded in it the concern for the loss of origins. The wild, for Thoreau, did not mean wilderness or wildlife, although these places and beings embody wildness. Rather, wildness holds within it the lessons of learning, the inspiration drawn from adventure, the birth of creativity, not repetition. From knowing wildness we come to know the fullness of the self, all that we are and can become. To lose wildness in ourselves is ultimately to lose our place in the cosmos, to lose the ability to understand and appreciate all in the world. Wildness is something we grow further and further away from as we become more and more civilized.

I put this belief into practice through several ways of creating: making and designing buildings, making art in form of monoprint and photography and jewelry. My most time-consuming work however, is teaching. Teaching provides a mode of practice that allows me to work most purely from the principles of my beliefs.

Artemis Institute is the nonprofit organization I founded that offers Remote Studio. Remote Studio is a semester long live/learn for-credit immersion experience that focuses on the relationships between culture, nature and the creative process for design students.

It would take longer than we have here tonight to explain the theories behind the program pedagogy. In an effort to set the tone for the work I will present
I would like to discuss two concepts that I discuss with the students from the beginning at Remote Studio. These two concepts thread the experience and work together resulting in a full program of learning when these two concepts are understood and engaged by the students.

Mindfulness and Mindlessness

These concepts describe attitudes we have about living in the world. Both are worth considering. As we wake every morning and begin to our day, we have choices about the attitude we adopt toward our thoughts and actions.

The choice we make about our attitude can in-turn affect our choices and directions with respect to our thoughts and actions, to be engaged in life or simply living life without consideration of the “living”

Mindfulness: When we are mindful we are essentially living in a purposeful way. Living with intention. To live with purpose requires an engagement with our rational abilities, we must consciously consider the world we are moving through, to reflect upon the LIVING.

Mindlessness on the other hand arises from another mental activity, the subconscious. For years I thought mindlessness was the opposite of mindfulness, thoughtlessness. Thoughtlessness being the rash way of being in the world, without care or regard. And in a way mindlessness is an opposite to mindfulness, but not with the negativity it suggests. The writer Annie Dillard describes mindlessness in a story she wrote called “Living Like a Weasel” – what Dillard is making a point of in this story is how wild creatures live in the moment, not engaged in reflection, of the past or future. How they are authentic beings defined by their essential qualities. All creatures and things have essential qualities and characteristics, and if we respond to these conditions. Living by them – we are exactly that, we are constantly becoming” ourselves without reflection. Mindlessness is like art in action, it is living a creative life. Mindlessness is the being in the world from which our inspirations come from.

Where as, Mindfulness, grows out of reflection upon our inspirations. Both, mindfulness and mindlessness, are necessary to live in the world in an authentic way, both are engaged manners of living. Mindfulness is living with intent and reflection from which new ideas and work comes from, Mindlessness – is simply the being in life from which we are in the world. The experiences and feelings from which the values and actions that come out of mindlessness eventually lead to meaningful actions and creative activities.

What does this have to do with Remote Studio….remote studio is a full immersion program, a live and learn environment. Underlying the idea immersion is the potential for a complete transformation or reconfirmation of how we want live, that should grow from the experience of the “immersive” Living of Remote Studio. This is the WORK of the program that occurs in various ways throughout the semester.

Each of you are holding in your hand a piece of the place of Montana. Your engagement with this bit of a place, its tactile qualities can bring you to a state of reverie, the pre-concscious experience, or reflection, the conscious consideration of what this is you are holding, It is your choice. Both are valuable states of mind to the creative process.

They can provide: Awe and mystery, or intent and answers.

As we move through the rest of my presentation, consider these two operations: mindfulness and mindlessness.

The program has 4 indentifiable, but fully interrelated components. All require a student to move back and forth between states of mindlessness and mindfulness to gain valuable experience and knowledge.

Backcountry experiences.
Readings and discussions
Making of vessels
Design and construction. (civic responsibility)

Where we are…

Yellowstone Eco-system
Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park (Established)
Jackson Hole, Wyoming

What we experience – place – what you are holding in your hand.


Teton Valley

Remote studio

Backcounty trips (learning through place, naming place by features)

Mill Creek
Fire and Snow

Gallatin Range

Drainage and views

Pine Creek Lake

Snow in summer


Top of the world


Did we bring everything?

Wind Rivers
Getting smoked out
Creates new adventure
(long drive/fast hike)


Learning about Art and Environment

Spiral Jetty – uncontrollable nature

Nancy Holt – spontaneous joy – vastness
TT Williams

Buck Skin Gulch –

15 miles of natural architecture
testing limits
learning space, scale, light, proportion and texture


Containing ideas
Learning about place
Creative practices – personal reflection, expressing personal views


Process – facilitation
Creative process

USFS – sustainability
Milling and conservations
CCC- responding to place vs mimicry of style

Milling wood
Ease of maintenance
The unexpected creek

North Star Ranch

Clients change their mind
Yoga (mindfulness)
Group enthusiasm

Small projects mean small work?

Gorilla design/build
Reuse, conserve, rebuild
Finding expression within the limits of given form
Sustainable materials – 3 form / fly ash
PRE-FAb Pavilion
Learning through the relationship between landscape and shelter
Material choices

Outdoor education
Re-use of materials
Bar-b-quing til 11pm

More with less. Less $ less people
Focused students
Rituals _ Monday night wings
OF the Place not about the Place

***All of this combined to living a life of engaged experience and intention.